Archive | April 2018

BACKYARD SECRET: THE CHIPPING SPARROW SINGS INCESSANTLY DURING THE BREEDING SEASON

       The chipping sparrow is one of our most common backyard birds.  It is interesting to note, that during its breeding season, which begins in early April and peaks in May and June, it is also one of our most vocal breeding birds.

       Biologists have determined that during this special time of the year a male chipping sparrow sings its song approximately 330 times per hour throughout a day that begins well before daylight.

       Talk about stamina! 

THE DAWN CHORUS IS A MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA

       One of Mother Nature’s most exquisite concerts is the dawn chorus.  This event takes place across the state each day throughout the spring.  In spite of the fact it can be heard in rural areas, suburban neighborhoods and cities alike, it remains largely unappreciated.

       This is due in large part to the fact it is staged when many of us are still in bed.  The event can begin as early as 4:00 a.m. and is largely over by the time the sun peeks above the horizon.

       During this magical time of day, the air is awash with bird songs.  In fact, in many locations, so many birds will be calling it is difficult to tell one songster from another.    

       The music is created almost exclusively by the males of scores of songbirds including the likes of American robins, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, vireos, wrens, bluebirds, wood pewees, wood thrushes and many more. 

       While their songs vary widely, they are all singing for the same purpose.  They are putting all other males of their species on notice that they have set up a breeding territory in that locale and they had better not even think about entering their realm and try to steal their mates. 

       Females, on the other hand, are intently listening to the males’ songs.  It seems they are attracted to the males displaying the finest, loudest, and most energetic vocalizations.

       If you have the desire to be in the audience for a dawn chorus, you have to forgo some sleep and be sitting in a lawn chair in your backyard well before daylight.  If you get up early enough, you will hear the open volley of sound made by just a few birds.  However, as dawn approaches more and more birds will begin calling. Once this loud crescendo of sound reaches its peak, the symphony will begin to fade.  By dawn, you will hear nothing more than a smidgeon of the birds you heard an hour or so before.

       Of course, the numbers of birds contributing to the dawn chorus will vary widely from place to place.  For example, if you reside in a rural area, chances are you will hear more birds than you will in a subdivision.  However, regardless of where you live you will hear more birds than you probably ever imagined live close by.

       This fact was borne out recently on a visit to my daughter’s home. She lives in a large subdivision near Augusta.  During the day, I   typically hear a half a dozen or so birds calling around her home.  However, recently one morning I got up around 5:00 a.m. and stood on her front porch for a few minutes.  As soon as the front door closed behind me, I was immediately amazed by how many birds I was hearing.  One of the principal species singing was the American robin.  Robins seemed to be calling from everywhere.  There seemed to be dozens of robins within earshot.  However, by the time the school bus was pulling into the neighborhood, things had returned to normal and the songsters were engaged in their normal daily routines.

       Here are a couple of things to listen for if you are in the audience for more than one spring chorus.

        The participants in the spring chorus will change throughout the spring.  Early on, the songsters will be resident birds.  As spring moves toward summer, they will be joined by Neotropical migrants. 

       In addition, if you find your seat well before the concert begins, you will note different species will pipe in earlier than other species.

       Believe me; all it takes is being in the audience for one dawn chorus to realize it is truly a musical extravaganza.

      

      

      

BACKYARD SECRET: Native Americans Were The First To Discover Purple Martins Would Nest in Gourds

        When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States they found gourds (sometimes called calabashes) erected nearby many Native American villages.  The gourds were hung near the encampments in an attempt to attract nesting purple martins.  They knew nesting martins would vigorously defend their nest sites from any bird perceived to be a threat to their eggs or young.  By so doing, the large swallows would inadvertently help keep crows, vultures, and hawks from stealing drying meat and hides hung near the gourds used as nest sites.

       The new settlers were quick to adopt this practice and erected gourds and later manmade martin houses around their own homes. 

       The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon noted in his journals that he could always tell the fineness of an inn’s accommodations by the quality of the martin housing provided by the tavern’s proprietor.

BACKYARD NECTAR ROBBERS

A little more than a week ago while I was admiring the showy pink blossoms blanketing the large George Tabor azalea bushes encircling a chestnut tree in my yard, I noticed scores of large carpenter bees visiting flower after flower.  When I moved closer to floral show I realized that after the carpenter bees landed on the blooms, they immediately made the way down the outside of the blossoms to the junction of the petals and green sepals.  As it turned out, the hefty bees were robbing nectar from the large trumpet-shaped flowers.

       It seems carpenter bees are too large to fit through the throats of the bright pink blooms to reach the nectar located at the base of the blossoms.  Faced with this problem, most other nectar feeders would abandon their quest for the nectar. 

       Such is not the case with these carpenter bees.  These bees have the uncanny ability to obtain the nectar from the outside of a blossom.  What I was observing was the bees chewing longitudinal holes at the base of each bloom and then dipping their tongues into the flowers’ sugary nectar.

       Since I first noticed what was taking place I have closely examined a number of azalea blossoms and found any number of feeding portals created by the carpenter bees.  In addition, my wife saw a wasp using a feeding hole after the carpenter bee that created it left.

       Insects such as the carpenter bee are called nectar robbers simply because they feed on nectar without pollinating the flowers.

       If you would like to witness this odd behavior, on a warm, sunny day, look for carpenter bees flying about your azaleas.  When you spot them, watch where they go.  After they leave, look for the feeding holes created by the bees.

        I think you will agree you do not have to leave the confines of your yard to witness fascinating animal behavior.

BACKYARD SECRET: PINE SISKINS WILL EAT PEANUTS

   If you have been fortunate enough to host pine siskins at your feeders this past winter, the small, sparrow-like birds probably fed on thistle (Niger) or sunflower seeds.  Although I did not see a pine siskin at my feeders this year until today, it has been my experience when the birds do appear, they rarely feed on anything else.

        However, after feeding birds for decades I have also  learned that birds will surprise you.  For some unknown reason, they will suddenly eat something you never expected they would touch. 

        This lesson was reinforced today.  Throughout the winter, I have watched tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, and even American goldfinches regularly chisel out bits of peanuts from the feeder. 

        For some reason, today a pine siskin joined a female American goldfinch pecking away on peanuts.  What made the bird’s choice even more unusual was the fact the bird did not visit one of the two nearby feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds.

        Perhaps the bird tried the peanuts and did not like them and I will never see it again..  Who knows? One thing I do know is, if a siskin shows up at my peanut feeder again, I will be ready to photograph the event.