One of the advantages of stocking backyard bird feeders with seeds throughout the year is that you give yourself the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of birds that do not winter in Georgia. During the last couple of weeks, many bird enthusiasts have been treated to the sight of rose-breasted grosbeaks dining at their feeders. Meanwhile, a much smaller number homeowners are currently also feeding indigo buntings.
Although the indigo bunting nests across the entire state, it is rarely seen at our bird feeders. However, those that are seen are often spotted during the spring and fall migrations.
According to John James Audubon early in our history, southerners commonly called this bird the indigo-bird. To this day, it is sometimes also referred to as the blue canary. When you see an adult male, you quickly understand why it could easily be mistaken for a canary dipped in blue paint.
During the spring, you have a chance of seeing adult males, immature males, and females. The adult male is truly a stunning bird. It is our only all blue bird. However, adult males often appear in several shades of blue. An adult male’s color is dependent on the direction and intensity of the sunlight bathing its feathers.
An immature male is a bird that hatched the previous year. In the spring, it is cloaked in brown plumage highlighted with patches of blue. They do not develop their indigo plumage until their second year of life.
Females (both adult and immature birds) will appear brown.
The males are the first to arrive at our feeders. Thereafter they are shortly joined by the females.
Typically, the indigo buntings that make their way to our backyards in the spring are loners. In fact, I have never seen more than one indigo bunting at time in my feeding area at this time of the year. However, others have reported small flocks of buntings feeding in their yards.
While indigo buntings will feed at elevated feeders, I have always had the best luck attracting them by scattering seed on the ground.
Indigo buntings feed on a number of small seeds such as white millet and canary seed. On occasion, they will also dine on fresh fruit. They will also eat pecan chips and peanut hearts.
If you have never tried to attract northbound indigo buntings to your yard, why not try to do so this year. Just think you just might have both rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings feeding in your backyard at the same time. Now that would be something you would long remember!
The whip-poor-will’s ability to snatch large flying insects such as moths and beetles from the air with its extremely large mouth is legendary. However, it is a lesser-known fact that this accomplished aerial predator will also dine on food captured on the ground. Among the delicacies eaten by the birds while standing on the ground are worms, ants and a variety of other invertebrates.
Currently, rose-breasted grosbeaks are passing through Georgia on their spring migration home to their breeding grounds. During this special time of the year, we are treated with the opportunity to see what is perhaps the most beautiful bird that graces our feeders—the male rose-breasted grosbeak.
The bird is adorned with bold black and white plumage. The undersides of its wings are rose pink. If that isn’t enough to dazzle your eyes, he also sports a brilliant red triangle emblazoned on its white breast.
At first glance, all adult male rose-breasted grosbeaks appear to be identical. However, if you look more closely, you will realize that you can actually tell one from another.
In order to accomplish this seemingly impossible task, focus your attention on the red triangle emblazoned on the breast of each male. It will quickly become apparent that each marking varies in size, shape, and brightness.
This will enable you to determine how many males are using your backyard as well as how long individual birds linger before resuming their migration.
Everyone that feeds birds is very familiar with sunflower seeds. In fact, I would venture to say it is the seed most often fed at seed feeders. Literally tons of sunflower seeds are sold specifically as birdseed. Typically, we offer sunflower seeds to our bird neighbors in variety of traditional types of feeders ranging from feeding tables to hoppers. If you want to add a new facet to your feeding regime, why not plant a living sunflower feeder?
Last year my wife and I stumbled across this idea when she planted a strip of ornamental sunflowers in our backyard. She sowed a strip of sunflowers along the inner edge of a long meandering flowerbed that snaked its way across a small portion of our yard. The mixture she planted included five varieties of sunflowers that were purported to represent a kaleidoscope of autumn colors and sizes. The mixture lived up to its billing. Some of the plants attained a height of only two to three feet. Others grew to be seven to eight feet tall. The sunflower blooms ranged in color from pale yellow, orange, and burgundy to red. To tell you the truth, I had no idea sunflowers came in some many attractive colors.
Our initial plan was to let the seed heads dry at they finished blooming. During the winter, we intended to offer the seed heads to the birds visiting our feeders. As it turned out, the birds had other plans for our attractive strip of sunflowers. Before the sunflower seeds (technically called fruit) had a chance to dry, birds began plucking them from form the plants’ large seed heads. This transformed the sunflower patch into a living sunflower feeder.
By far American goldfinches ate more ate more seeds than any other birds. However, house finches and northern cardinals also ate their share.
To say the least, we were not disappointed with the way things turned out. The sunflowers were simply gorgeous and the birds seemed to relish extracting unripe kernels from the seed heads.
We particularly enjoyed watching male American goldfinches, in full breeding plumage, visiting the sunflower seed heads on a daily basis. What a treat! Like most of you, most of the American goldfinches we typically see dine at our feeders in winter. At that time of the year, they are a drab yellowish-green.
If you decide to plant a living sunflower feeder in your backyard this summer, we suggest that you dedicate a patch of ground solely to sunflowers. The sunflowers are easy to grow, however planting them in close proximity to a variety of other much shorter plants proved to be a mistake. By the time the sunflowers were blooming the shorter plants were shrouded out by the taller sunflowers.
If you decide to plant a living sunflower feeder, I hope it will bring you as much enjoyment as the one we planted last year brought us.
One of the many fascinating relationships that exist between the birds that inhabit our backyards is one that exists between the gray catbird and the brown thrasher.
During the spring and summer, these secretive birds often share backyards that feature an abundance of dense shrubs, vines, and small trees. Both of their birds feed and nesting with this labyrinth of vegetation. Often the birds compete with one another for the same nesting habitat. They are also known for their fearless assaults on any human or animal that appears to be a threat a nest containing eggs or young.
However, the gray catbird exhibits a behavior during the nesting season that baffles ornithologists. It seems occasionally gray catbirds will visit thrasher nests and actually break, and eat eggs. Several theories have been developed to explain this activity. Some experts are of the opinion catbirds are trying to discourage much larger brown thrashers from nesting in that location. Others suggest that catbirds consider thrasher eggs to be a source of food. Who knows?
Meanwhile this is just one more example how little we know about the fascinating lives of our backyard neighbors.
Monarchs are already being seen in the Peach State. My wife and I saw our first monarch of the spring a little over a week ago. I hope that many more with visit our yard in 2020. While I am certain our gardens will be visited by this popular butterfly, according to a survey conducted on the monarch’s wintering grounds, chances are we will not be seeing as many monarchs as we did in 2019.
It seems the annual survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico, National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, World Alliance-Telmex Telcel Foundation, and local communities in the monarch’s wintering area.
This year’s survey of the monarch’s wintering grounds situated in the mountainous region of central Mexico revealed the butterflies were occupying just seven acres of habitat. In comparison, monarchs were wintered in 15 acres during the winter of 2018-2019. This tells monarch specialists the monarch population plummeted 53% from the previous winter.
According to Lepidopterists involved in monarch research and surveys, the precipitous drop in monarchs is linked to extremely low temperatures prevalent in South Texas in March and May 2019. These temperatures slowed down the growth of both monarch eggs and caterpillars. This, in turn, reduced the numbers of monarch adults that continued the migration on north to produce the 2019 crop of monarchs across much of North America.
The survey leaders that conducted the study emphasized they felt this decline was temporary and the better weather (e.g. less drought, normal temperatures) would enable what is arguably our most recognized butterfly to rebound.
Let’s hope they are right.
It is common knowledge that wild pollinators will visit flowers displaying a kaleidoscope of colors. However, it you carefully watch the number of times they visit the flowers in your garden, you will notice wild bees, butterflies and hummingbirds seem to feed more often at flowers imbued with certain colors more often than others. This information can prove to be invaluable to anyone planning a pollinator garden.
As we all know, hummingbirds prefer red flowers above all others. However, they are also partial to purple, orange, and pink blossoms. On the other side of the coin, they are not big fans of yellow flowers.
Such is not the case with wild bees. Yellow flowers are favored by these insects, as are those that are white, violet, and blue.
Our backyards are home to an amazing variety of butterflies and moths. In recent years, homeowners have been trying to provide these fascinating insects with a variety of plants that serve as host plants. Most of these efforts have focused on establishing herbaceous host plants. Ironically woody plants such and shrubs are trees are rarely recognized for their value as host plants even though, they often host more butterflies and moths than any other plants found in an average yard. Leading the list of trees that serve as host plants for moths and butterflies in Georgia are native oaks.
Throughout the country, native oaks host at least 557 species of moths and butterflies. More than 20 species of oaks are native to the Peach State. Many of these oaks commonly grow in our backyards.
Here is a short list of some of the butterflies and moths that use oaks as host plants: red-spotted purple, Horace’s and Juvenal’s duskywing, banded hairstreak, white M hairstreak, clymene moth, imperial moth, cecropia moth, rosy maple moth, and polyphemus moth.
If you are interested in providing host plants for a wide variety of moths and butterflies make sure, your home landscape includes one or more species of native oaks. With that in mind, do an inventory of the trees growing in your yard. If you already have willow, water, white, live, or other species of native oaks in your yard, you already providing a wide variety of butterflies with a place to lay their eggs. If not, when you are planning additions to your yard add a native oak to the list. This one investment will yield dividends for years to come.