Archive | May 2017

THE MOCKINGBIRD YOU THINK YOU HEAR SINGING IN YOUR BACKYARD MAY BE A BROWN THRASHER

Both brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds inhabit backyards across the state.  However, while both are excellent songsters, the songs uttered by the brown thrasher are often attributed to the northern mockingbird. One reason for this is the voices of both birds sound quite similar.  However, whereas mockingbirds seem to sing more often from an open perch, brown thrashers seem to have a tendency to sing more frequently from the sanctuary provided by thick shrubs and other dense vegetation.

As a result, whenever you hear a beautiful mockingbird-like song sung by a bird that you cannot see it is human nature to assume it is being performed by a mockingbird.  In truth, that may not be the case.   Once you learn how to separate the songs sung by both birds, you will never confuse them again.  The brown thrasher repeats the phrases in its songs twice.  In comparison, the northern mockingbird repeats the verses in its songs three or more times.  Once you can identify the songs of both birds, chances are you will discover that both of this accomplished vocalists have long been serenading you.  If that is the case, I think it is only fitting that both birds are given equal credit for helping make your backyard such a special place.

BUMBLEBEES ARE HARD AT WORK IN YOUR BACKYARD

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

    This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur. 

        My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur.  My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

      If you have never taken the time to watch bumblebees, I urge you to do so.  The more you learn about them, the more you will be convinced that they are important backyard wildlife neighbors.

HUMMINGBIRDS, AN ORCHARD ORIOLE AND A DAY OF FIRSTS

Both ruby-throated hummingbirds and orchard orioles reside in my backyard during the spring and summer.  Over the years, these birds have been key players in some of my most memorable wildlife sightings.  Recently, they transformed what was otherwise a typical spring day into one I will never forget—a day of three firsts.

This trio of events began while I was standing beneath a cherry tree listening to the songs of gray catbirds and orchard orioles. 

All of a sudden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to a nearby patch of Wendy’s Wish salvia and began thrusting its bill into the plants’ long, slender, maroon blossoms. 

Although the plants had been blooming for several weeks, this marked the first time I had seen these new additions to my backyard visited by rubythroats. 

Then, early in the afternoon, as my wife and I were standing in our sunroom I happened to spot a bird land on a stalk topped with a torch-like cluster of red hot poker blooms.  I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused on the bird.  Much to my surprise, the bird proved to be a female orchard oriole. 

       As my wife and I watched, the bird pushed her bill upward into a number of drooping, slender, orange-red blooms.  The oriole fed at two more stalks of the odd flowers before flying to a nearby birdbath where she drank before flying off. 

       This sighting was my second first of the day.  While my wife and I planted the red hot pokers to provide nectar for hummingbirds, until then, we had never seen red hot poker blossoms visited by an orchard oriole

       To top it all off, late in the afternoon, my wife was watering plants on our deck as I stood on the ground between the deck and a nearby flowering dogwood tree.  While talking to my wife a flash of red originating from something on the ground not twenty-five feet away caught my eye.  When turned my head toward the source of the red color, I realized that the afternoon sun had set the gorget of a male rubythroat aglow.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that a pair of hummingbirds were mating.  I called to my wife in hopes she too would see the bird.  When I walked a couple of steps toward the deck, the male lifted a couple of feet off the ground, hovered, and then returned to its mate.  A few minutes later, they both flow away.

       My wife and I were spellbound.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine we would witness anything like this.

       I was indeed extremely fortunate to experience three firsts in one day. 

       Each day when I walk into my backyard, I wonder what I will see next.          

THREE OF THE VERY BEST PLANTS TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

Here is my list of the three plants that should give you the best chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard this summer.

LANTANA – The variety I prefer is Miss Huff.  This cultivar will produce flowers from late spring into fall.  Additionally, it will survive winter when the thermometer plummets into the single digits.

RUBYTHROAT VISITING MISS HUFF LANTANA

Miss Huff will reach a height of four to five feet and will spread outward as far as you will allow it.

Throughout most summers, Miss Huff does not require any water.  In fact, if you give it too much water, it will produce an abundance of foliage and fewer flowers.

The plant is carefree during the growing season.  However, the tall canes should be removed over the winter.

BUTTERFLY BUSH – This shrub is a great addition to practically any yard.  Although most butterfly bushes bear flowers ranging in color from purple, white, orange, yellow, to almost black.

In addition, miniature varieties can be grown in planters.  This offers those of you that do not have very large yards or live in condominiums the opportunity to attract hummers and butterflies to your patios or other small spaces.

Deadheading spent blooms encourages the shrubs to continue producing crops of flowers all summer long.

In winter, it is a good idea to cut the shrubs back within a foot to a foot and a half of the ground.

Butterflies will nectar on butterfly bushes more often than will hummingbirds.

ZINNIAS – Zinnias are an old time garden favorites that are still extremely popular among gardeners.  Butterflies seem to prefer flat-topped varieties as opposed to those with rounded flowers.

Plant this annual in bunches, as butterflies seem to be attracted more to mass plantings over single flowers planted here and there.

Deadhead the flowers and the plants will produce a new crop.

After flowering season has passed, do not cut down the spent plants.  American goldfinches and other birds will eat the dry zinnia seeds.

 

 

ODD RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD BEHAVIOR

       Recently I had the honor of speaking at the Spring Garden Symposium in Plains.  Plains Chautauqua, the Magnolia District of the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail sponsored this wonderful event.

       One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy making presentations such as this is that it gives me the opportunity to meet fantastic people that enjoy and appreciate nature.  In addition, over the years, I have learned volumes about wildlife and plants from the folks that I meet at these events.  Such was the case in Plains.

       This time, a woman from Oglethorpe recounted to me something she witnessed taking place just outside her window that added to my knowledge about ruby-throated hummingbirds.

It seems that she just happened to notice a rubythroat fly up to a planter filled with various plants, including a cotton plant festooned with balls of cotton.  As she watched, the hummingbird flew up to a cotton ball, dislodged a snippet of cotton fibers and fly off.  She said she could not believe what she saw until the bird returned again and again for bits of cotton.  I told her that I had never heard of a ruby-throated hummingbird collecting bits of cotton.  I also said that I believe there is a good chance the bird was using the soft, white cotton fibers to line its nest.

       A quick check of the literature revealed that rubythroats are known to line their nests with down collected from a number of plants such as milkweed, thistle, and ferns, but not cotton.

       I am convinced that people throughout the state are harboring a wealth of information about wild plants and animals that is unknown to the scientific community.  In this case, the woman that reported a hummingbird collecting cotton fibers may be the first or only person that has ever witnessed and reported this odd behavior.

       I find it exciting to know that, even though we are living in the early twenty-first century, there are so many unsolved mysteries swirling around the natural world.

       If you have ever seen something unusual such as this, please let me know.  The knowledge you possess may help us better understand and appreciate the plants and animals with whom with share the world.