Over the past few weeks, birds have been serenading us with a chorus of songs. More often than not, we never catch a glimpse of the songsters that are filling the air with their pleasing notes. This can be frustrating if we cannot identify birds by their songs and calls.
Learning to identify the vocalizations of birds can seem impossible when you consider Georgia is home to hundreds of species of birds. For many, the easiest way to begin learning bird songs and calls is to translate these sounds into words.
If you are interested in trying this technique, here is a short list of translations you might find helpful.
Northern Cardinal – cheer, cheer, cheer; purty, purty, purty or
what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer
Eastern Bluebird – cheer, cheerful, charmer
Eastern Towhee – drink-your-teeee or tow-whee
Tufted Titmouse – peter, peter, peter
In Georgia, bluebirds will begin nesting as early as late February. However, throughout most of the state, bluebirds typically do not initiate nesting until March.
It is obvious; if you have been planning to put up a bluebird box or two, do not delay any longer.
Each year I eagerly await spotting my first butterfly of the year. Living in Middle Georgia my first butterfly sighting usually occurs in February. This year the big event took place February
The first butterfly I saw was a sleepy orange. This was not surprising as the sleepy orange is one of the most common butterflies seen in my Middle Georgia backyard. Unlike most other species, some adult sleepy oranges overwinter as adults. On warm winter days they will emerge and fly about only to return to a safe, dry place once the temperatures drop.
This sleepy orange looked somewhat different from the last one I saw last fall. The undersides of the hindwings of those butterflies were bright yellow with brown markings. In contrast, the butterfly I saw was the winter form of the sleepy orange; its underwings were tan.
With warm temperatures forecast for at least the next week or so, coupled with the fact the sleepy orange can be seen throughout much of the state throughout the year, one might just show up in your backyard in the near future.
Most Georgia homeowners are not fans of greenbrier. Greenbrier vines constantly try to smother our shrubs, trees, and gardens. Whenever we get near them, their thorny vines seemly try to leap out and snag our clothing or prick our skin. However, would you belief this menacing native vine is a source of winter food for backyard birds? It is true.
Greenbrier’s shiny dark berries are gobbled up by more than 40 species of songbirds including backyard favorites such as the hermit thrush, American robin, northern flicker, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, northern cardinal, and sparrows.
You have probably noticed some of the birds that feed in your backyard rarely dine above ground. They seem perfectly content to feed on the seeds tossed or scratched out of elevated feeders. These birds are part of the backyard cleanup crew. One of my favorite members of this the crew is the eastern towhee. The eastern towhee is a bird that spends much of its life close to terra firma. During the winter, the towhees that inhabit my yard can routinely be heard uttering their familiar “towhee” or “joree” call from the thick shrubs that border the north and south sides of my property. Even then, the birds are calling within less than ten feet of the earth.
While quietly walking about my yard in winter, I often hear them scratching through the leaf litter that accumulates beneath the shrubs. At times, I have been lucky enough to witness this fascinating behavior as they searched for seeds hidden beneath the leaves. It is truly amazing how much energy the birds put into this activity. If you see it, you will be surprised how high and far they can toss dead leaves.
During the winter seeds, berries and other plant material comprise 80 percent of their diet. Most of these seeds are found away from our feeders. These foods include loblolly pine and sweetgum seeds, acorns, yaupon, red cedar, honeysuckle, waxmyrtle, and yaupon berries, as well as the meats of pecans and hickory nuts.
Beneath my feeders, in addition to white millet and sunflower seeds, eastern towhees also dine on a variety of seeds including corn, canary and thistle seed.
Since eastern towhees are ground feeders, it is important that we keep the hulls and seeds that accumulate beneath our feeders from becoming contaminated with fungi and bacteria. Each year untold numbers of birds that frequent bird feeding areas die from eating contaminated seeds. If you regularly remove large accumulations of seeds and hulls and toss them into the garbage, you will be helping keep your yard disease free and ensuring towhees and other members of the cleanup crew will be eating healthy foods.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to be a citizen scientist is to take part in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
Participation in the count is free and does not require you to leave home or take a lot of time away from your hectic schedule. In fact, you do not even need to be an expert bird to help. In addition, if that is not enough, this is something you can do with your entire family.
This year the count will be held Friday, February 16 through Monday, February 19.
The count is the brainchild of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The survey was originally designed to provide biologists with valuable information regarding the status of more than 600 species of birds that winter in North America.
Five years ago, the GBBC went global. As such, in 2017 214,018 citizen scientists from more than 140 countries took part in the count. This army of birders spotted 5,940 species of birds. Some 671 species were seen in the United States alone. A total of 210 species were counted in Georgia.
If you would like to join the growing numbers of folks taking part in the GBBC, the first thing you need to do is take a gander at the GBBC website online (birdcount.org). There you will find details as to how you can sign up for the event as well as the procedures you need to follow.
Next, select an area(s) you wish to survey. Many people simply count the birds they see in their yards. Others tally the birds found in their neighborhood, city, park, or county. Then on the day of the count, you spend as little as 15 minutes counting the birds you see. If cannot identify everything you spot, simply tally those you can. A count can be held once or on each day of the count period. After each count is completed, you go online and enter your data. That is all there is to it.
I hope you do take part this year. Your data will provide valuable data that will used by biologists to better understand the distribution and status of the birds with whom we share the world.
For some reason, I have heard more folks complain they are having a tough time attracting birds to their feeders than I have in years. If you are in this camp, here is a tip that sometimes solves the problem. For reasons we do not understand, white bread has the ability to attract birds when nothing else will. It is particularly effective in luring birds to brand new feeders.
The birds don’t seem to care if the bread is fresh and stale, they will eat both. If you try to feed them brown bread, though, you quickly learn feeder birds much prefer white bread.
I can remember the time when feeding bread was frowned upon because it was considered a poor source of nutrition. Nowadays since the grocery store shelves are stocked with enriched bread, I do not hear these warnings anymore.
The ideal way to feed bread to your feathered guests is to break it up into small pieces. These pieces can be placed on feeding tables and trays or simply scattered on the ground.
One of the neat things about bread is most of the birds that visit our feeders will eat bread. In addition, it is even consumed by birds we rarely see at our feeders such as hermit thrushes.
As is usually the case, I cannot offer you a 100% guarantee this solution will work for you. However, it has been my experience it works more often than not. Give it a try, what have you have to lose?