Archive | June 2018

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER SAMPLES SUET

If you are lucky, each spring a pair of great crested flycatchers will choose to nest in your backyard.  During their brief time with you they will dine on a protein-rich diet of spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, butterflies, moths and other assorted invertebrates.  These critters are so important to these large, loud flycatchers they comprise more than ninety-five percent of their diet.  About the only other food they consume is a smattering of fruits and berries.

In spite of the fact these birds often live within sight of your feeders, they rarely drop in and sample the cuisine you offer at your backyard bird cafe. In fact, until recently I had personally never heard of a great crested flycatcher feeding at a feeder.

That changed recently when Ron Lee, a Henry County backyard wildlife enthusiast, reported he witnessed a great crested flycatcher feeding on suet.  The bird did not dine on suet offered in a mesh suet feeder.  Instead the hungry ate bits of suet littering the ground beneath the feeder. 

Wow! I wish that I had witnessed this rare event.

It will be interesting to see if this proves to be a onetime event or the bird will continue to take advantage of this new food.

I think it would be great if this great crested flycatcher is a trend setter and other members of its feathered clan will follow its lead and begin feeding at our feeders too.

BACKYARD SECRET: WORKER HONEYBEES CHANGE JOBS

            Since the only honeybees most of us see are those that visit flowers foraging for pollen and nectar, it is natural to assume that this is the only task these tireless workers perform during their lives.

       The truth of the matter is female workers begin their lives taking care of the tiny larvae in the hive.  Then, when they reach the ripe old age of two to three weeks, they suddenly become for foragers and leave the confines of the hive to collect to food.  Once they make this career change, they will perform this job throughout the rest of their lives.

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A PROGRAM FOR YOUR CLUB, CHURCH OR CIVIC GROUP?

For more than 45 years, I have been making presentations dealing with Georgia wildlife across the state of Georgia. Currently, I am giving talks dealing with backyard wildlife and plants. Here is a list of the programs I am currently offering:

Gardening With Georgia Native Plants

Hummingbirds Our Dazzling Flying Jewels

Hummingbird Havens

Butterflies – Georgia’s Fragile Beauties

Inviting Butterflies to Your Backyard

Georgia’s Backyard Birds

Living With Nature

A Natural Partnership

Backyards Can Be Special Places For People And Wildlife Too

Georgia’s Backyards – The New Frontier

Feeding Birds – A Menu For Success

Backyard Wildlife Watching

              If you would like additional information regarding any of these programs, or would like to book a presentation, let me know.

Send email requests to: backyardwildlife@yahoo.com and my team will get back with you to set and schedule the appointments.

BACKYARD SECRET: GRAY CATBIRDS SEEM TO RECOGNIZE BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD EGGS

       The brown-headed cowbird does not build its own nest or raise its young.  Instead, it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds and leaves the arduous job of raising its young up to them.

       The brown-headed cowbird lays its eggs in the nests of more than two hundred species of birds.  The list of birds parasitized by this nest parasite includes backyard favorites such as northern cardinals, brown thrashers, and northern mockingbirds.

       In many cases, although their eggs look very different from the eggs of the unsuspecting host birds, the hosts accept them as their own.  As such, they end up raising cowbird hatchlings along with their own young.

       Interestingly, gray catbirds are rarely parasitized by brown-head-headed cowbirds.  Biologists believe this is because, unlike far too many birds, catbirds seem to be able to distinguish color and size differences between their own eggs and those of the cowbird.  As such, when a nesting catbird discovers a brown-headed cowbird egg in its nest, it unceremoniously removes it.

CHECK FOR BIRD NESTS BEFORE TRIMMING SHRUBS

        During the spring and summer, one of the worst things you can do is begin trimming a shrub around your home before checking to see if it harbors a bird nest. 

       The reason of this is common backyard birds such as cardinals, brown thrashers and mockingbirds routinely nest in the thick shrubs growing around most homes.  If you do not take this simple precaution, you stand the very real chance of exposing eggs or hatchlings to the weather and predators. 

       A few days ago, I decided to trim a loropetalum that had grown so tall it shrouded a window. However, before I cut the first branch I peered into the loropetalum’s thick foliage.  There suspended between the plant’s tangled branches was a cardinal nest. 

       At first glance, the nest seemed to be little more than a tangled mass of twigs.  However, as I looked more closely I could see that the female cardinal that had built this nest had also used a number of other building materials such as leaves, grasses, and strips of bark to fashion her nest.

       The nest contained only one bluish white egg marked with brownish splotches.  A gaping hole in the fragile egg indicated that a bird probably destroyed the egg.  A number of birds will peck holes in the eggs of another bird.  It was clear this nest was abandoned.

       The fate of this nesting attempt was not surprising.  It has been estimated that predators destroy upwards of 75% of eggs and young found in open nests such as this.  In the case of the northern cardinal, studies have revealed only 15-37% of all their nests fledge young.

       With such a low success rate, one might wonder why cardinals are so abundant around our homes.  One reason might be cardinals nest as many as four or five times a year.

       Since the nest in my loropetalum as was obviously abandoned, and cardinals typically nest in a different location each time they renest, I went ahead and trimmed the shrub. 

       On the other hand, if I had found the nest contained undamaged eggs or hatchlings, I would have put off my trimming for another day.

       With nesting cardinals facing such overwhelming odds trying to raise a brood of young, the last thing I want to is increase their chances of failure.  I know you feel the same way.

CAN MOCKINGBIRDS TELL ONE PERSON FROM ANOTHER?

The results of research conducted by University of Florida biologist Doug Levy suggest that it appears northern mockingbirds can indeed differentiate between certain people.

       In a simple experiment that could have been conducted in any yard where mockingbirds are nesting, Levy instructed a research assistant to walk up and touch an active nest four consecutive days in a row.  The researcher discovered the nesting pair was slow to react to the individual on the first day.  However, they became agitated more quickly when this large potential predator approached their nest each day thereafter. 

       Then, on the fifth day, when a different person approached the nest, he noted the birds became alarmed just a slowly as they did when the first interloper touched the nest for the first time.

       He concluded the mockingbirds quite possibly recognized the differences between the first and second research assistants.  It also suggests that this ability helps this popular backyard bird survive close to people.

       Perhaps this helps explain why mockingbirds we routinely see in our yards on a regular basis allow us to approach them more closely than they do strangers.