Archive | May 2018

THE HUMMINGBIRD-SPIDER CONNECTION

       To many, hummingbirds and spiders represent a classic example of beauty and the beast.  In spite of that, spiders play a key role in the life of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The thing that bonds these two very different creatures together is the spider web.

       Spider webs are extremely strong, sticky, and flexible.  Remarkably, based on weight, the strength of the web’s high tinsel strands is equal to steel.  Spiders use their amazing webs to capture food.

       The ruby-throated hummingbird visits spider webs to steal small insects that are captured by the web’s sticky fibers.  In addition, they will also actually prey on small spiders. 

       When the female rubythroat is building her nest, she plucks bits of the web to construct her nest.  In fact, spider webs are one of key materials used in nest construction.  The fibers help anchor the nest to the limb on which it is built.  They also cement the other construction materials that form the nest.  In addition, the stretchy fibers allow the nest to expand.  This is extremely important as it helps prevent rapidly growing young hummers from falling out of the nest.

       Spider webs also pose a risk to hummingbirds.  Each year countless hummingbirds become ensnared when they become entangled in a spider web as they try to glean nesting material or food.  In addition, others accidentally fly into a spider web spread across a woodland path or bed of flowers.

       When this happens, the likelihood of a hummingbird escaping a spider web is slim.  In some cases, when a spider senses a bird is caught in its web it will crawl to the bird and rapidly wrap it up in webbing just as it would a beetle or butterfly.

       In other instances, the spider simply allows the bird to struggle until it dies.  When this occurs, spiders will often cut an entrapped bird loose from the web and let it fall to the ground.

       If an ensnared hummingbird is extremely lucky, somebody will notice the bird and attempt to set it free.  In the vast majority of the cases, if the bird is found soon enough, it can be saved. 

       Should you ever find a hummingbird struggling in a spider web, immediately remove it.  Take the bird to a cool, shady location and remove ALL of the fibers adhering to the bird’s body.  This process can take several minutes.  Whatever you do, do not squeeze the bird as you are working.  Simply hold it loosely in one hand and gently peel away the tacky threads using a pair of tweezers.

       Once you have finished, hold the bird in your hand, and allow it to drink hummingbird nectar offered in the plastic lid to a soft drink bottle.  Dip the bill into the liquid.  In most cases, the bird will immediately extend its tongue into the fluid and begin feeding.  Never leave the bill in the liquid for any length of time.

       Feeding the bird before it is released will enable the hapless bird to regain some of the energy it expended while struggling for its life.

       When the hummingbird seems to have regained its strength, place the bird on the palm of your hand.  When it is ready to fly, it will suddenly begin rapidly beating its wings and fly away.

       If the bird doesn’t immediately respond after you have removed all of the spider webs from its feathers, place it in a brown paper bag and loosely fold the top of the bag.  Place the bag in a cool place.  Then check on the bird from time to time.  Once the hummingbird begins fluttering inside the bag, you know it is ready to be released.

       Believe me it is truly rewarding to see a hummingbird you rescued from certain death fly away.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: Earthworms are to main food of the eastern mole

       Two species of moles inhabit Georgia.  The eastern mole ranges across the entire state except northeast Georgia.  In this corner of the state, it is replaced by the star-nosed mole.

       The eastern mole prefers eating earthworms; however, it will also devour snails, centipedes, and both adult and larval insects including ants.  In fact, this rarely seen backyard resident will even burrow into ant mounds in search of tangy ants.

      

THE EASTERN TAILED-BLUE BUTTERFLY IS A PETITE BEAUTY

Although the eastern tailed-blue is one of our most beautiful butterflies, it is often overlooked simply because it is so small.  This butterfly is about the size of the fingernail on your little finger (0.75-1.0″).

The wings of the male are powdery blue on top. On the other hand, the topsides of the females’ wings are brownish- gray.  The undersides of both the male and female’s wings are silvery gray and speckled with dark spots.  The hindwings of both display one or two orange and black spots near the trailing edge of their hindwings.  In addition, a short thread-like tail extends beyond the border of each hindwing.  Since these tails are so fragile, they often break off.

       Eastern tailed-blues are weak flyers are spend their entire lives within a few feet of the ground.  Consequently, if you are not looking for them, they often go undetected.

       Eastern tailed-tailed blues commonly visit flowers in our backyards.  However, they also inhabit fields and abused landscapes.   

       The list of host plants for this butterfly includes beggarweed, bush clovers, and clovers.

       The eastern tailed-blue can be seen throughout the state. This petite butterfly annually produces several generations (flights).  However, the best time of the year to see this butterfly is from March into October.

       Currently the eastern tailed-blue is the most abundant butterfly flying about my neighborhood.

BACKYARD SECRET: In Georgia, purple martins rarely nest in anything but gourds or nest boxes.

      The purple martin is a cavity nester.  Historically it nested in such places as woodpecker holes, natural cavities in trees and even in the crevices of cliffs.  Purple martins nesting in the western United States still utilize these traditional nesting sites.  However, since sometime prior to 1900, such is not the case in the eastern United States.  Here our largest swallow appears to have completely abandoned naturally occurring nesting sites. 

       In all of my years working as a wildlife biologist, I never encountered purple martins nesting in a natural cavity or woodpecker hole.  However, years ago I found a pair of purple martins nesting in broken light fixture at a convenience store. 

       As I pumped gas into my vehicle, I watched a purple martin bringing food to its young housed beneath the plastic cover over a fluorescent light illuminating the fueling area. 

       If you have ever seen martins nesting in anything other than nest boxes or gourds, please let me know.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS EAT MORE THAN SUNFLOWER SEEDS.

For the past several weeks, rose-breasted grosbeaks have been migrating back to their breeding grounds.  Whenever some of these birds stop and refuel in our backyards it is a real treat. 

       The male rose-breasted grosbeak is particularly striking.  Indeed, the black and white male, adorned with a bright red chevron on its breast, is among the most striking birds that visit our feeders.

       If you have been fortunate enough to host rose-breasted grosbeaks, you know that its food of choice is sunflower seeds.  In fact, more often than not it is the only offering it will eat.

       However, when you take a look at the overall diet of the rose-breasted grosbeak you quickly realize this long distant migrant eats much more than sunflower seeds. In fact, the principal food on their menu is invertebrates; these animals comprise 52% of its diet.  Rose-breasted grosbeaks favor beetles above all other invertebrate, however they also dine on everything from ants to butterflies and moths.

       Other foods gobbled up by rose-breasted grosbeaks include; wild fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries; they make up 19.3% of the food they consume. Other food items important to the birds include wild seeds (15.7%), cultivated fruits and plants (6.5%) including corn and peas), as well as tree buds and flowers (6.5%).

       These revelations once again prove that we only catch brief glimpses of the private lives of many of the wildlife that inhabit our backyards.

 

 

BACKYARD SECRET: Orchard orioles

        Measuring only 7 1/4″ in length, the orchard oriole is the smallest oriole found in North America.

       Chances are, if you find an oriole is nesting in your yard, it is going to be an orchard oriole. Orchard orioles breed statewide from late April to mid-June.

       Orchard orioles can be frequently seen using birdbaths for bathing and water. 

       Although this oriole rarely visits seed feeders, they will  drink nectar from hummingbird feeders.

       Also, look for them feeding on nectar contained in trumpet creeper blossoms.

       If you want to catch a glimpse of one of the beautiful little orioles, don’t procrastinate; they leave Georgia for their winter home as early as July.

SHOULD I CHECK MY BLUEBIRD BOXES?

       With bluebirds now nesting across the state, I am often asked, “Should I check my bluebird boxes?”  When this question is posed I always tell folks that, if it done properly, checking bluebird nesting boxes can actually be beneficial to the birds.  Let me explain.

       Unlike many birds, the eastern bluebird is more tolerant of human activity around their nests than many other birds.  This tolerance allows the close monitoring of the success of the birds’ nesting efforts.  By so doing we can help thwart situations that can lead to the failure of a nesting attempt. 

       For example, we can keep house sparrows from taking over a box by tossing out the sparrow’s bulky nesting materials.  If this is done enough times, the aggressive, unprotected, invasive house sparrows will finally give up and leave the box alone.

       (Never remove the nest of a native cavity-nesting bird.)

       Also, wasps will occasionally attempt to build a nest on the underside of the top of a box.  If wasps are allowed to build a nest inside a box, bluebirds will abandon it.  With that in mind, if you find a small wasp nest, remove it. 

       If you plan to monitor a box, make sure the box can be easily opened.  Too often boxes are made in such a way that the box cannot be opened from the top or side.

       Make every effort to make nest box checks as brief as possible.  In addition, it is always best to check boxes when temperatures are mild, winds are calm, and it is not raining.

       Checks can be safely performed weekly up until the hatchlings are 12 or 13 days old.  Checks made after that time can result in the youngsters prematurely bailing out of their nests.

       If you monitor you boxes on a weekly basis, you will know when a nest is built, when a female lays all of her eggs (females lay one egg a day until the clutch is complete), incubation has begun, the approximate age of the hatchlings, and how many young bluebirds successfully fledge.

       Here are some facts that will help you understand what you will be observing.  Typical clutch size is 4-5 eggs; Incubation lasts 12-14 days; Time of fledging: anywhere from 17-21 days.

       The North American Bluebird Society recommends the nest be removed after the young fledge.  If a bluebird wants to use the box later, a new nest will be constructed in short order. 

       However, dispose of the old nesting materials some distance from the nest site.  This will help keep potential predators from discovering the location of the nest.

       Keep in mind, eastern bluebirds will nest up the three times a year.

       If you have additional questions about checking, please let me know.