Archive | January 2021

BACKYARD SECRET — WHERE DOES THE DOWNY WOODPECKER GET ITS NAME?

        There are at least two different explanations as to why our smallest woodpecker is named the downy woodpecker. 

       Some say the bird’s name refers to the downy white feathers that run down its back.  These feathers contrast with the thicker, dark feathers that cover the rest of the bird’s back.

       Others suggest that the bird is named for the downy nasal feathers seen around the base of the bird’s bill.

DON’T GIVE UP ON AMERICAN HOLLY BERRIES

       If you are fortunate enough to have an American holly (Ilex opaca) growing in your yard, you might wonder if this tree really does live up to its reputation of being an outstanding wildlife food plant.  This is because countless bright red berries can still be seen hanging among the thorny leaves of this native evergreen.  It seems as if birds and other wildlife simply do not eat them. 

 

       The truth of the matter is the tree’s berries are eaten by a variety of birds.  In fact, they are considered an important source of food for a long list of birds that includes, but is not limited to, the eastern bluebird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, cedar waxwing, American robin, northern mockingbird, northern flicker, and northern cardinal.

       The reason these berries are often seen on a holly tree in early January is, in order for the berries to be more palatable to birds and other wildlife, they have to go through a number of freeze-thaw cycles.  This helps guarantee that birds and other wildlife will have a source of food well after many berries and seeds have disappeared.

       Since this is the case, late in the winter or early spring, it is not uncommon for a flock of robins, cedar waxwings or other birds to devour all of the berries found on a small holly tree in a single morning or afternoon.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES ARE HERE RIGHT NOW!

       Not too long ago, I would never have believed that Baltimore orioles would become regular winter residents in Georgia.  However, if they offer the right food Georgia bird-feeding enthusiasts can honestly say they now have a legitimate chance of enticing a Baltimore oriole to their yard during the coldest months of the year.

       This is truly remarkable, considering that Baltimore orioles have historically wintered from southern Mexico southward to Columbia.  If you have any question that the Baltimore oriole is expanding its winter range, simply look at recent data collected during the Great Backyard Bird Count.  During the 2020 edition of the count 302 reports of wintering Baltimore orioles involving 976 individuals were received.  The vast majority of these reports (95%) were submitted from volunteers living in a broad band of coastal states ranging from Virginia to Texas.

       This year I have received reports of Baltimore orioles feeding in backyards from College Park to Glynn County.  I am certain many more birds are going unreported. 

       While Baltimore orioles eat a wide variety of foods during the winter, you probably stand your best chance of attracting one these birds if you begin offering grape jelly at your feeders.  This recommendation is based on scores of reports I have received over the years from individuals that successfully hosted orioles in their yards.

       I might also add that most of these fortunate folks highly recommend that you use Welch’s grape jelly.  This belief is based on their contention that less expansive jellies do not contain as much fruit juice as Welch’s.  I might add that I personally cannot attest to the validity of this claim.

       If you decide to try to attract a Baltimore oriole to your yard with jelly, you can display it in any number of ways such as in a feeder specially designed for this purpose.  You can also place the jelly in small plastic containers.  I use the small containers used by restaurants to serve sauces.  I simply fill the containers with jelly and place them in the corners of a hanging platform seed feeder.

       If you are successful, instead of briefly glimpsing these birds as the pass through your yard on migration, you will be able to see one of our most colorful birds on a regular basis.  What a treat!

CHIPPING SPARROWS REGULARLY VISIT MY FEEDERS THROUGHOUT THE WINTER

       Each winter one the birds I most enjoy seeing at my feeders is the chipping sparrow.  I am not sure why that is the case.  Perhaps it is because this sparrow is undoubtedly my most abundant feeder bird.  Throughout the winter flocks of chipping sparrows, varying in size from a dozen or so to upwards of 100 or more birds descend on my two backyard feeding areas.  Yet again, maybe my fondness for these tiny brown birds stems from the fact that they have healthy appetites, and I do indeed enjoy watching birds feed on my food offerings. 

       The chipping sparrows that visit my yard prefer white millet above any of the other foods that are available to them.  Since the birds regularly feed on the ground, I scatter white millet seeds all around my feeding areas.  However, they will also eat white millet seeds from elevated feeding trays and feeders.

              If you would like to vary the chipping sparrow’s diet, offer it a seed mixture that contains large quantities of white and red millet.  The chipping sparrow will also consume suet, scratch feed, bits of cookies and breadcrumbs, doughnuts, cornbread, peanut hearts and crushed pecan.  It will also dine on mealworms.

       When you watch these small birds feed, it easy to be lulled into believing they are not consuming much food. Actually, they are eating a seed every few seconds.  Studies directed at chipping sparrow feeding habits have revealed that during the winter a single chipping sparrow can consume 2.25 pounds of seeds.  This is a lot of food for a bird that is only 5.25 inches long.

       Although I realize I am picking up tab for these voracious eaters, I will never complain. They have repaid me many times over by providing me with hours of enjoyment.