Archive | October 2018

THE POKEWEED IS A GREAT SOURCE OF FOOD FOR BIRDS

                Whenever we discuss feeding birds in a backyard setting invariably the discussion centers around offering birds seeds, suet, and other offerings in feeders hung outside our homes.  While supplemental feeding is important, the foods provided by native plants is often far more valuable to our feathered neighbors.  One of these native food plants is the common pokeweed.

                One of the reasons it is rarely mentioned is because few people are inclined to plant pokeweed in a garden.  Although it possesses colorful stems and berries, I suspect most homeowners deem this large, gangly perennial plant unworthy of growing alongside a bed of zinnias, or towering above their roses.  However, the plant’s reputation of being a weed belies its value as a plant that produces food relished by a host of birds.

                For this reason, my wife and I permit pokeberries to grow in idle spots around the perimeter of our property.  These are places we where we allow native vegetation to flourish.  These areas are occasionally mowed to prevent the intrusion of tree saplings.  We also remove any foreign invasive plants that happen to appear.

                If you decide to encourage pokeweed plants to grow in an idle corner of your property, you will have the opportunity to view scores of hungry birds dining on plant’s dark purple, juicy berries.  The birds you are most likely to see are year-round residents such as northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, European starlings, mourning doves, American crows, red-bellied woodpeckers, and northern cardinals.  In preparation for, and during their fall migrations, birds that nest here and elsewhere in North America, also gobble up pokeberries to help fuel their hazardous journey to their wintering grounds.  The list of neotropical migrants that dine on pokeberries includes the gray catbird, eastern kingbird, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery, summer tanager, and hooded warbler.  Later when the migratory birds that winter in the Peach state arrive, they rarely pass up the opportunity to feed on what pokeberries remain.  These birds include the likes of the hermit thrush, cedar waxwing as well as fox and white-throated sparrows.

                Chances are you have never seen some of these birds in your backyard.  With that in mind, if you want to enhance your chances of catching glimpses of these birds without leaving the confines or your property, while providing a nutrient-rich source of food for birds and other wildlife, find a place for common pokeweed on your land.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: THE CHIPPING SPARROW WAS ONCE CALLED THE HAIR BIRD

Back in the day when horses were our main form of transportation, the chipping sparrow was called the hair bird because horse hairs were often found woven into their nests.  Nowadays since horses have given way to cars, chipping sparrows rarely use horsehair to construct their nests anymore.  However, deer and cow hair are sometimes found in the nests of this common sparrow.

CLOUDLESS SULPHURS SWARMING TURK’S CAP

        The cloudless sulphur is a common resident in my backyard.  However, from late summer into fall, it is one of the most abundant butterflies my wife and I see nectaring at the flowers growing in our flowerbeds.  However, the numbers of cloudless sulphurs we spot throughout most of the spring and summer pale in comparison to what we are seeing right now.

        A couple of days ago, as soon as I stepped out onto my deck, my eyes were immediately drawn to all of the cloudless sulphurs feeding or hovering above our Turk’s cap.  When I approached the plant it seemed cloudless sulphurs were everywhere.  This prompted me to try to count the multitude of butterflies that had congregated on this single, sprawling shrub.  This proved to be quite a chore, as I could not see the entire plant at one time.  However, after several attempts the best that I could do was count at least 28 of the large, bright yellow butterflies.

        The cloudless sulphurs had descended on this perennial shrub to feed on the nectar harbored in its brilliant red, swirled flowers.  

        Until recently, the clear yellow butterflies had to share this bounty of nectar with a swarm of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  In fact, before most of these amazing little birds moved on south toward their winter homes, rubythroats far outnumbered cloudless sulphurs dining at this drought-resistant shrub.

        This sight of so many clear yellow butterflies feeding at the stunning red flowers against a backdrop of dark green leaves is truly breathtaking.  However, as much as I wish this spectacle would not end, I know, from experience, I had better enjoy it while I can. Soon many of these butterflies will continue towards their winter home.

        If you want to set the stage for this colorful event in your backyard, make a point of adding Turk’s cap to your home landscape.  If you do plant Turk’s cap in your yard, have a little patience.  There is no way you are going to attract large numbers of cloudless sulphurs right away.  In my case, as the shrub grew larger from year to year, it produced more blossoms, which, in turn, caught the attention of more cloudless sulphurs.

        If you are eventually as successful in attracting as many cloudless sulphurs as I have been, I am certain you will feel your patience was handsomely rewarded.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.