Archive | November 2018

CAROLINA WRENS USE HORNET NESTS AS WINTER ROOST SITES

      The Carolina wren is one of a number of birds that roost in cavities during the winter.  These sites provide the birds with protection from rain, ice, and snow, cold winds, as well as frigid temperatures.

       It is well-known fact Carolina wrens roost during the winter in such locations as potting sheds, livestock barns, garages, hanging baskets, bird nesting boxes as well as tree cavities.  Remarkably, they also use the abandoned papery nests of bald-faced hornets. 

       This odd behavior has been documented in at least two states.  More than 90 years ago a West Virginia naturalist collected a bald-faced hornet nest and hung it in a shed.  Sometime later, he noticed a pair of Carolina wrens had apparently modified the entrance hole of the nest to enable them to easily enter and leave the football-sized nest.  He went on to report Carolina wrens used the hornet nest as a winter roost site for the next five years.

       A researcher in North Carolina reported that, over the course of a decade, he stored abandoned bald-faced hornet nests beneath a porch.  During this period, at least one Carolina wren roosted in the nests each winter.

       To my knowledge, this behavior has not been documented in Georgia.  If you have witnessed Carolina wrens roosting in a hornet nest in the Peach State, I would love to hear from you.

WHITE-THROATED SPARROW ALERT

       When the temperatures begin to drop and the woodlands don their multi-colored cloak of yellow, orange, and red, I find myself eagerly awaiting arrival of those birds that make the long trek from the north to winter in my backyard.  Yesterday my wait for the first of these special visitors to arrive ended.  The first bird to show up this year proved to be a white-throated sparrow.

       Although I was not lucky enough to see it, I heard its clear, unmistakable call.  As far as I am concerned, it is arguably the sweetest bird song we Georgians are likely to hear each winter.  Some are convinced this sparrow seems to be saying, “Pure sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.”  However, may others believe it is repeating the phrase, “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”

       Now that I know white-throated sparrows are here, I hope I will soon catch a glimpse of this distinguished member of the sparrow family.  The white-throated sparrow is a cinch to indentify.  Like many sparrows it displays a gray breast as well as black and white stripes down the length of its head. Likewise, the feathers on its wings, back, and tail colored varying shades of brown.  There are, however, a few field marks that set it apart from its kin.  Adult white-throated sparrows also have snow-white throats.  In addition, bright yellow patches adorn the birds’ lores (the areas located just in front of the eye).

       During the time I host these birds, they spend most of the day on the ground beneath the thick shrubs that border two sides of my yard.  Here they scratch away leaves looking for something to eat.

       When they venture out into my yard, they prefer to feed on the ground.  The birds are especially fond of white millet, which I scatter on the ground.  They will also dine on canary and sunflower seeds, cornbread, and suet.

       Banding studies have found that once whitethroats winter in a yard, they are apt to return to the same location the following year.  In fact, some white-throated sparrows have been known to return the same backyard up to six years in a row.

       I hope that you will be lucky enough to have white-throated sparrows winter in your backyard this winter.  If they find your yard to their liking, you will soon learn why I think they are so special.

 

YELLOW JACKETS SEEM MORE PRONE TO STING IN FALL

       Throughout most of the year, it seems that we have a truce with yellow jackets.  For the most part, these small, yellow, and black wasps will not attack unless we antagonize them in some way or just happen to venture too close to their nests.  However, have you ever wondered why, from late summer into fall, folks seem to be stung more often by yellow jackets than at any other time of the year?  If so, read on. 

       There are a few plausible reasons why the chances of being stung by yellow jackets increases as the days are cooler the foliage transforms from green into a kaleidoscope of color.

       Entomologists tell us yellow jackets are simply more abundant in autumn.  At this time of the year, a yellow jacket nest may contain upwards of 800 individuals.  Faced with this overcrowding, the members of the colony become less tolerant of one another as well as humans and other animals alike.

       Some biologists suggest this behavioral change may also be linked to the insect’s switch from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates.

       Realizing these insects are more apt to sting without provocation at this time of year, we all need to use caution when changing the nectar in our hummingbird feeders or working about our yards.         

       This threat will slowly diminish as the sterile female workers begin dying with the approach of winter.  Interestingly, the only yellow jackets that survive the winter are the queen.