Archive | May 2020

BLACK BEARS AND BIRD FEEDER — A RECIPE FOR TROUBLE

        Some 5,100 black bears live in the state of Georgia. While they are not what you would call backyard wildlife, during the warm months of the year, they are known to make forays into backyards in search of food. When this happens, it does not bode well for the bears or us.

       Although black bears are seen throughout the state, biologists have discovered Georgia is home to three distinct bear populations. One population calls the north Georgia mountains its home. A second population lives in central Georgia in the Ocmulgee River drainage. Another population roams in and around the vast Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast corner of the state.

       Naturally, those Georgians that live in or nearby any one of these populations has the greatest chance of having a bear show up in their yards. However, they can be seen in some unexpected locales such as urban areas like Atlanta and Macon. With that in mind, it is a good idea to know what you should do to discourage bears from visiting your yard.

       Most black bears appear in backyards looking for food. Being an omnivore a black bear can eat just about anything. Since the animal cam possess an excellent sense of smell, thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. Also, refrain from storing household garbage outside. Bears are drawn to the intoxicating scents of cooked meat and garbage.

       Bears are fond of pet food too. Consequently, if you feed your pets outside, don’t leave any uneaten food in the yard overnight.

       Bears also love birdseed and suet. It is understandable why they are drawn to these delicacies. Both foods contain lots of protein and fat. In areas where folks are regularly plagued with visits from hungry bears, it is recommended that feeders be taken in at night. If you face such a problem, it is a good idea to clean up all uneaten food that collects below the feeders. Some people even go to the trouble of spraying the ground beneath feeders with ammonia in hopes it will help eliminate the scent of the seeds.

       Once a bear locates a backyard that features bird feeders, it has found a bonanza. Where else can a bear gorge itself on a bounty of easily accessible food with little effort? Consequently, the bear will return as long as the food is available. The only way you can counter these feeding forays is to remove all potential food from your backyard. Even then, it may take some time before a bear moves on in its relentless search food. In its wake, it will likely leave you with damaged or missing feeders and bent poles that simply could not withstand the onslaught of a hungry bear.

       If you do happen to see a bear in your backyard, do not try to approach it. Bears are much stronger and faster than you are. On top of that, why in the world would you want to approach a wild animal that can weigh as much as 300 to 500 pounds anyway? If a bear feels threatened, you stand a chance of being hurt. Fortunately, there have only been two verified cases of bears attacking humans in the Southeast, and to my knowledge, they did not take place in a backyard.

       While the chances of a bear showing up in your yard are slim, many backyard bear encounters take place every year. If one does show up, make every effort to ensure this wild experience safe for you and the bear.

              For more information concerning bears, email the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division at http://www.georgiawildlife.com or BearWise at http://www.bearwise.org. BearWise is an educational program designed by bear biologists from all of the 15 state wildlife agencies in the Southeast.

FROGS AND FISH DON’T MIX IN SMALL BACKYARD PONDS

       If you are trying to encourage frogs to breed in your small backyard pond, it is best not to stock your pond with fish, with the exception of the perhaps a small number of mosquito fish.

       It seems many species of fish will eat tadpoles. In addition, young fish will often compete with tadpoles for food.

 

SWEET WILLIAM CAN BE A GREAT BUTTERFLY AND HUMMINGBIRD PLANT

       My wife and I are always eager to try a plant that has the reputation of being a gorgeous ornamental as well as great hummingbird and/or butterfly plant. One such plant we have added to our gardens is Sweet William. Since Sweet William has long been a favorite of Georgia gardeners, I don’t know why we had not planted it before.

       Sweet William is a member of the carnation family. It grows from five to 36 inches tall. The flowers are arranged in tightly packed bouquet-like clusters comprised of upwards of 30 or more blooms. The plants serrated petals ranging in color from purple to white, red, pink, or variegated. On top this, the plants easily hybridize and produce a wide variety of other color variations.

       Sweet William blooms in the Peach State from late spring until the first autumn frost. During this blooming period, individual plants can be encouraged to continue producing blossoms by deadheading.

      The old-fashioned garden favorite is native to Europe. Nobody knows for sure where the plant got its name. One of the most popular theories is it is named for England’s eighteenth century Prince William. Others suggest the floral beauty is named for William Shakespeare. I guess we will never know the answer to this quandary.

       You can establish Sweet William in your garden from either seed or seedlings. If you plant seeds in spring to early summer, or set out plants in September or October, you will have to wait until the following spring to enjoy their showy blossoms. It you do not want to wait that long for the plant to blossom, you might want to consider buying plants and transplanting them to your garden soon after the spring’s last frost. In addition, if you sow seeds in the fall, they will germinate into plants that will bloom the following year.

       I should mention, if you allow Sweet William plants to go to seed, they will readily reseed themselves. That being the case, they will quickly spread throughout a garden.

       Sweet William will grow in a variety of soil types but seems to do best in well-drained, slightly alkaline soils.

       In the spring of 2019, my wife sowed Sweet William seeds around one of our birdbaths. Only one plant produced a single flower last year. However, the plants overwintered and this spring (2020) rewarded us with an abundance of pink, red, and white blossoms.

       For my wife, this floral show brought make memories of the Sweet Williams blooming in her grandmother’s garden years ago. In addition, they enabled me to take some stunning pictures of cardinals, thrashers and other birds visiting the birdbath to bathe and drink. The contrast between the birds’ plumage and the colorful flowers is stunning.

       As for pollinators, as you can see from the accompanying picture, butterflies are already partaking in the nectar found in each Sweet William blossom. Hummingbirds and native bees have also been seen visiting the plants.

       That being the case, this experimental planting seems to be a success.

BARN SWALLOWS HAVE A LONG ASSOCIATION WITH MANKIND

       If we were to travel back through the mists of time, we would find that barn swallow nested in sinkholes, caves, and on rock crevices and cliffs. This significantly limited the breeding range of this swallow. However, while many species of birds have not adapted to the spread of humankind across the globe, that is not the case with the barn swallow.

       For example, here in North America the barn swallow has a long association with humans. It is believed that the barn swallow probably attached their mud nests to Native American structures.

       The historical record tells us that it did not take the barn swallow long to take advantage of manmade structures built by European colonists in North America. A Swedish naturalist that traveled throughout what is now the Northeastern United States during the mid-1700s wrote that he found barn swallows nesting beneath overhanging rocks, as well as “on the edges of perpendicular rocks.” He went on to say the birds also nested in stables, as well as both inside and on the sides of dwellings.

       This habit has greatly expanded since that time. Nowadays practically all barn swallow nests of plastered in manmade structures ranging from beneath bridges, on the sides and rafters of barns, inside culverts, in and on tool sheds, in basements and the sides of our homes. There seems no limit to the number of places where these birds will nest.

       Over the centuries, barn swallows have become extremely popular. The barn swallow is the national bird of both Austria and Estonia. In many cultures, when a barn swallow builds a nest on a barn, it is considered good luck. In Estonia, legend has it that anyone that commits the crime of killing barn swallow will go blind.

       A Native American legend relates that one day a barn swallow had the audacity to swipe fire from the Gods. The story goes on the say the bird then presented fire to humans. In an effort to thwart this act of thievery, the Gods shot flaming arrows at the bird. One of the arrows struck the bird at the base of its tail. The arrow subsequently burned away the bird’s central tail feathers. As a result, ever since the barn swallow flies about the land displaying two long tail feathers.

       Remarkably, the barn swallow has the distinction of being of having the greatest range of any other swallow. Its breeding range stretches across North America, Europe and winters in both Africa and South America.

       I think you will agree it appears that the barn swallow’s relationship with us is not going to wane with time.

THE CLICK BEETLE IS AN ODD BACKYARD RESIDENT

      The click beetle is one of literally thousands of insects that inhabit backyards throughout the state. However, most of these animals live in anonymity. Today Kim Walton, the web master for this blog, spotted her first click beetle in her backyard. This unusual insect was seen on a deck post.  

    The large eye-like markings displayed by some species of click beetles give the insect an ominous look. However, the click beetle is not prone to bite or sting. In fact, if Kim had touched it, the beetle probably would have immediately fallen to the ground and played dead.

       This insect is also known by a number of other names such as the snapping beetle, and skipjack. This is because, if place a click beetle on its back, it will flip itself into the air and land on its feet. This strange athletic fete is associated with a loud clicking noise.

       At times while adult beetles are burrowing into rotting logs, and butt their heads against hard wood, their head butting creates a tapping sound. Legend has it this is a sign of death.

       Adult click beetles feed on a variety of foods that include flowers and their nectar, as well as soft-bodied insects such as aphids.

       The click beetles larvae are known as wireworms. The larvae are true predators that hunt the larvae of other beetles, and a wide variety of tiny invertebrates. They will also consume both roots and seeds.

       Although click beetles are not as fearsome as they may appear to be, they are definitely a member large, diverse community of plants and animals that inhabit our backyards.

BACKYARD SECRET—SOME BARN SWALLOWS WILL KILL THE NESTLINGS OF OTHERS

       The barn swallow nests throughout the entire state. More often than not their mud nests are attached to some manmade structure such as a bridge, barn, or even on the side of a house. Aside from the fact that some folks don’t like the mess nesting barmy swallows leave behind after they have nested on the underside of a front porch, they are considered welcomed neighbors. In fact, some consider it good luck to have a barn swallow nest on the side of their house or barn.

                                                   BARN SWALLOW NEST

       When you delve into the nesting behavior of this popular bird a dark secret emerges. It seems that, from time to time, unmated male barn swallows will actually kill the young of a nesting pair. Right about now you might be wondering why such an act occurs. The answer is biologists believe unmated males commit this deed in an effort to mate with the mother of the young whose lives he has taken.

       Who would have ever imagined such a thing might take place in their backyard?

HUMMINGBIRD MOMS ARE SPECIAL TOO

       On the second Sunday in May we celebrate a very special person in our lives. Yes, I am referring to our mothers. These very remarkable individuals shower us with love and devote their lives to raising us to become all that we can be. Today, while I was sitting on the deck of my home thinking about how much my mother has meant to me, a female hummingbird appeared at a backyard feeder. As the bird fed, it occurred to me that female ruby-throated hummingbirds are also special moms.

       Each spring they return from their winter homes to raise another generation of rubythroats. When you stop to think about it this is not an easy task. Without the help of her mate, each female must construct an amazingly delicate nest in one to ten days (it takes longer if she does not rebuild an old nest). This requires her to make countless trips to gather the untold numbers of items needed to fashion her nest. The building materials range from bud scales, to the down from dandelions and thistles. The nest is held together with spider webs. She then plucks lichens from nearby branches and uses them to adorn the nest’s exterior.

    After the nest is completed, she then lays two eggs and subsequently begins incubation. During the 12-14 days it takes to incubate the eggs, she will spend anywhere from 60%-80% of her time keeping her eggs warm.

       Once the young hatch, she then dedicates the next 18-22 days of her life to feeding the voracious youngsters. This may require her to visit up to 1,500 flowers a day to collect nectar. In addition, she must also capture thousands of small insects and spiders and feed them to her rapidly growing youngsters.

       If all goes well, the two young hummingbirds will take to their air and begin feeding themselves. However, in places like Georgia, the female may repeat the whole process again before leaving on her fall migration.

       I am sure that as we celebrate Mother’s Day, thousands of female rubythroats proving they are indeed special moms too.

ATTRACTING THE PINE WARBLER TO YOUR BACKYARD

      The pine warbler is a permanent resident in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. As such, chances are it is a bird that can be seen in practically any backyard in the state. This is especially true if pines are growing either in or nearby your yard. Pines are used by the bird for both nesting and feeding. However, since many of these activities take place high above the ground in the trees’ dense canopy, the bird is often a stranger to some backyard wildlife enthusiasts.

       I hear the pine warbler more often than I see it. The song is easy to remember since it is a musical one-pitch trill. To me the bird’s song reminds me of a louder, more musical rendition of the song of the chipping sparrow.

       The male pine warbler begins singing in earnest in late winter. Here it is May and it is still singing. In fact, I heard one loudly singing this morning.

       The pine warbler’s diet consists mostly of invertebrates, such as ants, cockroach eggs, small flying insects, bees, beetles, and even spiders.

       However, the pine warbler holds the distinction of being our only warbler that regularly dines on seeds. For this reason, it visits our backyard seed feeders more than any other warbler.

       As you might expect the pine warbler dines on pine seeds, it also eats the seeds of a variety of other plants.

       The pine warbler is also fond of fruits and berries. That being the case, if you are interested in providing the pine warblers living in your neck of the woods with fruits and berries, here are a few native plants that fit the bill: persimmon, Virginia creeper, muscadine, wax myrtle, sumac and flowering dogwood.

       Most pine warblers are seen visiting feeders. Such is the case in my backyard. The bird will dine on a variety of seeds such as the crushed meats of pecans and other nuts, millet, scratch feed, and peanuts. However, by far, the pine warblers that visit my yard prefer sunflower seeds far and above all other seeds.

       Pine warblers also dine on suet and peanut butter. Although most folks offer suet only during the colder months of the year, pine warblers will eat suet at any time of the year.

       Don’t forget to maintain a clean birdbath throughout the year. The pine warbler will both bathe and drink at a birdbath.

       Well, I hope this brief piece will help you attract a pine warbler to your yard. The beauty of these suggestions is that, if you incorporate these tips into your backyard wildlife plan and, for some reason, never see a pine warbler, all is not lost. This is because many other birds will benefit from your efforts.

ATTRACTING THE WOOD THRUSH TO YOUR BACKYARD IN SPRING

      Although the wood thrush nests throughout most of Georgia, the only realistic chance of seeing or hearing one in our backyards is when the birds are migrating. Let’s look at what it takes to have a wood thrush encounter in the spring.

       A major reason why they are so difficult to attract in spring is they migrate northward two to six times faster than they do heading toward to their winter residence is the fall. This means they don’t dally long when they do make a stop in the Peach State.

       When they do make a stop in Georgia backyards at this time of the year they are apt to select areas where they have the best chance of finding natural foods. They seem to prefer yards surrounded with hardwood and mixed forests that are characterized by trees 50+ feet in height, and a well-developed understory of native plants standing above a fairly open moist forest floor blanketed with leaf litter. When they are fortunate enough to locate such places, they will forage among the rotting leaves that litter the ground for a variety of invertebrates such as spiders, beetles, ants, and other animal foods.

       The wood thrush is typically hesitant to visit a feeder. However, folks that have the best luck attracting this master songster to their yards feed them directly on the ground or on feeding tables and platform feeders placed close to the earth near native woody cover.

       The menu items the birds seem most fond of include small pieces of white bread, tiny chunks of suet, raisins, hulled sunflower seeds, and peanut butter mixed with cornmeal. On rare occasions, they will also eat mixed seed from an elevated feeder.

       In many cases, the wood thrush seems more inclined to visit a birdbath than a feeder. This is especially true if the birdbath is placed near or on the ground near native shrubs. Some have reported they entice the wood thrush to their feeding/watering area by scattering raisins around the rim of a birdbath.

       If you are successful in luring this magnificent forest dweller to your yard, you may step outside your backdoor on a spring morning to the sounds of the flutelike notes of what many consider the most beautiful song uttered by a North American bird, “echo-lay.” Once you hear it, you will quickly realize that your efforts to attract a wood thrush to your yard were well worth it.