Archive | March 2017


For those of you who have not yet seen a hummingbird, I am happy to report that ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived back in Georgia.

From the handful of reports that I have received to date, it appears that the birds are late this year.  In my case, a bird finally arrived in my backyard nine days later that the typical March 18 arrival date.

Here is a summary of the reported earliest 2017 arrival dates for six Georgia Counties:

Bibb – March 26, Forsyth – March 26, Monroe – March 23, Pulaski – March 23, Upson – March 22, Taylor – March 22. If you have not yet reported the date the first rubythroat made an appearance in your yard this spring, I would appreciate it if you would let me know when it arrived.

2017 Spring Gardening Symposium

Are you interested in tips on attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wild pollinators? Make plans to attend the Spring Gardening Symposium in Plains on May 5. I will be making a presentation entitled Inviting Butterflies To Your Backyard.

We hope you will join us for an exciting workshop on spring planting, pollinators, hummingbirds, planting demonstrations, and how to make a container garden. Lunch is included.

In addition to great speakers and demonstrations, we will have a plant sale featuring milkweeds, perennials, shrubs and trees that provide nectar and host for pollinators.

Details about speakers and registration forms are online at or


Over the years, more often than not, my wife and I typically see our first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year at our Monroe County home on March 18.  However, friends in Colquitt and Bluffton in southwest Georgia usually see their first hummer during the second week of March. This year has been different.

A rubythroat has yet to make an appearance in our backyard this spring. As such, this is the longest we have had to wait for a hummer to show up.

Eloise and Bill Doty reported that their first rubythroat suddenly appeared at a feeder hanging in their Taylor County backyard at 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of March 23. Sadly, they have not seen the bird since.

When I let Bill and Eloise know that their report was the first I have received this year, they advised that Mary Ellerbee told them she saw a ruby-throated hummingbird at here Upson County home March 22.

I would love know if the birds are late in arriving this year or folks simply have not taken the time to report their sightings.

With that in mind, please let me know when a rubythroat arrives in your backyard.


For the past several weeks, one of the most common butterflies in my backyard has been the red-banded hairstreak. Although, I expect to see this butterfly later in the year, it appeared earlier than normal in my Middle Georgia backyard. I suspect this is due to the abnormally warm weather that has dominated our weather this winter.


Although, this tiny butterfly (wingspan: 0.75-1″) is one of the smallest butterflies I see in my yard, it is every bit as beautiful as much larger butterflies such as the common buckeye.

The red-banded hairstreak can be spotted in backyards across the entire state.  It has several flights (generation) from as early as February, in the warmer regions of the state, through early November.

Like most of our butterflies, in between times when a flight is taking place, this tiny butterfly is sometimes hard to find. Then, suddenly you seem to see them everywhere.  With that in mind, if you are not able to find one in your backyard right now, before long you should spot one.

The red-banded hairstreak is light gray in color. From above they are drab gray. Fortunately, most of the time we see them with their wings closed.  As such, from below their wings are truly striking.  The butterfly’s gray underwings are accented by a jagged, red band that highlighted on the side toward the trailing edge of the wing with a slender black and broader white line.  Each underwing is equipped with two extremely thin, short tails.  One or more of these fragile tail filaments are often missing in older individuals.

For some odd reason, adult red-banded hairstreaks often gather atop trees in the late afternoon and evening.

This butterfly differs from most others because it lays its eggs in the dead leaves beneath its host plants (staghorn, fragrant, and winged sumac and wax myrtle).  Strangely, when the caterpillars hatch, they do not feed on the green leaves of its host plant, preferring instead to dine primarily on the decaying leaves found on the ground beneath the plant.



It seems like everyone wants a pair of bluebirds to nest in their yard.  Consequently, it is not surprising that far more bluebird nesting boxes are sold across the country than those designed to attract other cavity nesting birds.  However, for many, whether or not bluebirds will use a box is often a hit and miss proposition.  If you are one of those folks that have not been fortunate enough to have bluebirds use a box you provided for them, it might be because bluebirds may not consider your yard to be prime breeding habitat.



In the world of the bluebird, the male selects the breeding territory and the female picks the place where she will nest.  In Georgia, male bluebirds may begin scouting for spots to stake a claim on a breeding territory as early as February.  These territories can range anywhere from two to twenty-five acres in size. 

       If a male bluebird decides that your yard is part of his nesting territory, you are half way home.  Nesting will not take place until the female also agrees with his choice.  Part of this process takes the form of the male carrying nesting material into and out of each potential nesting cavity in the breeding territory. After the female inspects all of the sites, she may actually build her nest in a number of cavities before making a final decision and begin laying eggs.

       The eastern bluebird will not nest just anywhere.  When it comes to backyards, they prefer those that are open and park like.  If trees and shrubs are present, they should be scattered and interspersed with low-growing vegetation.

       The male is looking for an area that contains at least one potential nesting site.  These can be abandoned woodpecker holes, cavities in wood posts, hollows in trees or nesting boxes.  Some territories harbor numerous nesting sites.

       In suburban/urban landscapes, bluebirds seek areas that feature open lawns and suitable nearby perches.  The perches are used for a variety of purposes such as hunting, defending a breeding territory, from other bluebirds, as well as spotting approaching danger. 

       Bluebirds prefer to hunt for insects and other prey on or near the ground within a twenty-foot radius of their perch.  As such, your yard should have several perches.  Power lines and tree limbs serve as ideal perches.  With that in mind, trees pruned so that there are no leaves and branches within eight to ten feet of the ground.

       Also, the quality of the feeding habitat can be greatly enhanced if a weedy border is maintained around the perimeter of a yard.  These areas harbor far more food than vast expanses of manicured lawn.

       Water is also a critical component of a bluebird’s breeding territory.  If a stream or pond is not nearby, install and maintain a birdbath.  When selecting a bath, choose one that is an inch to an inch and a half deep.  Such baths are used for both drinking and bathing.

       If this description of ideal backyard bluebird breeding habitat does not describe your yard, do not despair; other cavity nesting birds need places to nest too.  My recommendation is to go ahead, put up a box, and see what happens.  It is possible that another bird such as a brown-headed nuthatch, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, or Carolina chickadee will find your backyard to be perfect for its needs.




With a bewildering array of hummingbird feeders on the market today, it is not surprising that I am frequently asked, “What type of hummingbird feeder should I buy?”

Whenever this question is posed, I tell folks that I personally prefer feeders that are easy to clean, have perches, and feature components that are red.

I like a feeder with perches for two reasons.  While I have no data to prove it, I am of the opinion that hummingbirds seem to linger longer at a feeder that is equipped with perches. Since on an average, hummingbirds feed for one to two minutes five to eight times an hour, I want to enjoy the birds’ iridescent beauty for as long as I can.

In addition, if a feeder does not have perch, a hummingbird is forced to hover while it feeds.  Hovering requires the bird to expend more energy than any other form of movement.  As such, I want a hummingbird to use as little energy as possible while it is trying to dine on the energy-rich nectar offered at my feeder.  This is important to a creature that has an extremely high rate of metabolism.  This rate of metabolism is so high a hummingbird often consumes 50 percent of its weight in food each day.

The reason I am a fan of feeders that are easy to clean is simple–cleaning a hummingbird feeder is a chore.  If there is any way to cut down on the amount of time I have to spend keeping a feeder clean, I am all for it.

It is extremely important to keep feeders clean.  If a feeder is allowed to be contaminated with fungi and bacteria, it becomes a health hazard for the hummingbirds that use it.

With this in mind, I select feeders that are easy to disassemble and do not have hard to clean areas where bacteria and fungi are difficult to remove.

All my feeders feature some parts that are red.  Although hummingbirds will feed and flowers of varying colors, for some reason, they are drawn to red objects. This is illustrated by the fact that sometimes they will hover if front of a woman wearing red lipstick, or a person wearing a red hat.

Although some beautiful feeders will never hang in my backyard simply because they do not possess the features I am looking for, I never have a problem finding a suitable new feeder. More importantly, the hummingbird seems to love them.



As we all know, nectar is the primary food eaten by ruby-throated hummingbirds. However, did you know that they also dine on tree sap and tiny invertebrates? It is true.  In fact, small animals can make up ten percent of their diet.  The list of diminutive animals ruby-throats prey on includes spiders, caterpillars and bees, mosquitoes, gnats, aphids and even fruit flies.



Now that March has arrived, the annual spring invasion of the ruby-throated hummingbird has begun.   

       The first migrants begin trickling into the state during the first two weeks of the month. With each passing day, the number of birds flooding into the state swells as the migration advances steadily northward.

   The birds reach Colquitt, located in the southwest corner of the Peach State anywhere from March 11 to 13.  In comparison, I usually see my first ruby-throated hummingbird in my middle Georgia backyard on March 18.  However, it is not unusual for friends living along the border between Georgia and Tennessee to spot the first hummingbird of spring until April 1.

       The males are the first to arrive.  Some seven to ten days later, the females begin showing up at our feeders.  However, do not be surprised if the first rubythroat you happen to see is a female–the often happens to me.  This simply means that I either failed to notice the first males that passed through my neck of the woods, or they simply passed by my backyard without giving it a second glance.

       Some people go the great lengths to ensure that the first migrants make a stop in their yard.  For example, knowing that rubythroats are attracted to red, homeowners have been known to attach red flagging tape to some of their shrubs in hopes of decoying the birds into their yards.  The rationale is that, as the tiny migrants fly by. they might mistake the red tape for red flowers and drop in for a visit.  Although they know the birds will quickly discover they have been duped, they hope the birds will find their feeders laden with sugar water and stick around for a sugary meal or two.  I cannot say whether this ruse actually works, but I am sure that it doesn’t hurt to try.  

       The approach I take is to make sure that the birds have a feeder stocked with fresh nectar when they do appear.  This is easy for me; as I keep at last one hummingbird feeder out all winter in hopes of attract a wintering hummingbird.

       If you don’t try to entice winter hummingbirds to take up residence in your yard, and have been meaning to put out a feeder for the northbound migrants–do so now.  I cannot tell you how many times people have told me they have seen their first hummer of the year hovering at the exact spot where a hummingbird feeder hung the year before.  When this happens, they experience a feeling of guilt. Then they scramble to take a hummingbird feeder off the shelf, fill it with nectar, and hang it before the bird departs for a more yard that is already offering hummingbirds an early spring meal.

       If you do not want this to happen to you, act now. I am sure that the last thing you want to do is begin the hummingbird season on a sour note.  Believe me, the invasion has started; and it is only a matter of time before the ruby-throated hummingbirds’ first aerial assault of the spring will be directed at your yard. Let’s all hope we will be blessed with a long and enjoyable hummingbird season.