Archive | May 2021
DISCOURAGING BEARS FROM PAYING YOU A VISIT
When most Georgia homeowners fuss about the problems caused by wild animals making a nuisance around their home they are typically referring to the likes of white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and eastern chipmunks. However, some of us also have to contend with an animal that takes being a nuisance to a new level. The animal I am talking about is the black bear.
Some 4,100 black bears live in the Peach State. Most of these large animals never have a conflict with humans. However, as the state’s black bear population grows, and humans continue to convert bear habitat into residential areas, it is highly likely that human-bear encounters will increase. However, when a bear destroys a valuable bird feeder, explores a front porch, or scatters trash across a yard people often become frightened and are left wondering what can be done to ensure such events will cease.
According to Adam Hammond, Georgia’s state bear biologist, “Avoiding problems with bears is usually simple, though it may not always be convenient.”
In an effort to assist homeowners deal with bear problems, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and 14 other state wildlife agencies have developed an educational program named BearWise. Below you will find six BearWise recommendations that will help you safely deal with bears in your yard.
- Never feed or approach a bear.
- Secure food, garbage, and recycling. Since bears are attracted to food odors, don’t store garbage or other food-related items outside.
- Remove bird feeders when bears are active in your area.
- Never leave pet food outdoors.
- Thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. In addition, store grills insecure locations.
- If you happen to see a bear close by, notify your neighbors. If you and your neighbors take preventative measures, bears will not be able to find food and will look elsewhere for a free meal.
One the other hand, if you and your neighbors do not take preventative measures to discourage bears, chances are bear problems will become more frequent. This, in turn, can lead to increased property damage and potentially dangerous encounters between humans, pets, and bears.
More detailed information can be obtained by visiting www.bearwise.org
FEEDING SUET IN HOT WEATHER
Suet has long been considered a food that should only be fed to our bird neighbors in the winter. The reasons for this are during hot weather suet easily melts creating quite a mess, turns rancid, and when smeared on a bird’s feathers harm their ability to repel water. In addition, when it melts, its aroma has a tendency to attract unwanted visitors. Nowadays, however, if you know what you are doing, it is possible feed birds suet throughout the year.
Suet’s reputation of being only winter food offering surfaced back in the day when the only suet available to bird enthusiasts was animal fat preferably trimmed off the carcasses of cattle. Folks either would buy raw suet from the local butcher as feed it as is or render it themselves. Today suet is difficult purchase at the grocery store. Consequently, most of us buy blocks of rendered suet at stores that sell bird products.
Pure suet is an outstanding bird food. However, since it does melt when temperatures reach 90˚F and above, it should be avoided in hot weather. With that in mind, if you want to offer suet to birds in warm weather, turn your attention to suet labeled no-melt or no-drip suet. The only suets of this type that I have found are not what you can technically call pure suet since they contain a variety of other foods. One term that is often used to describe them is bird pudding.
For a number of years, I have fed a bird pudding containing peanut butter and peanuts. The birds are so fond of it I offer it to them throughout the year. Consequently, in addition to attracting a wide variety of winter residents, feeding it to them during the spring and summer has provided me some fantastic viewing opportunities that I would have otherwise missed had I limited using it only during the colder months.
For example, one afternoon last week the bird activity around a wire feeder containing suet laced with peanut butter and peanuts was exceptionally high. In roughly an hour, the feeder was visited by two hairy woodpeckers, a brown-headed nuthatch, gray catbird, cardinals, house finches, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, and Carolina chickadees.
I particularly enjoyed the visits of the hairy woodpeckers and Carolina chickadees. Since I do not often see hairy woodpeckers in my yard, spotting two was quite a treat. First, an adult arrived and ate for quite some time. While it was dining, an immature hairy woodpecker suddenly landed on the Shepherd’s hook holding up the feeder. The youngster landed near the top of the long metal pole and immediately slid down about a foot before flying up to the top of the rod for another try. As expected, he slid down the post again. It was amusing to watch as the bird vainly tried several times to hold on to the slim metal pole. Finally, it gave up and flew directly to the wire feeder and began feeding.
As for the Carolina chickadees, as well as I can remember, I have never seen four of them converge on a feeder at one time. All that changed when four flew in and ate suet together. They would peck at the food for a few minutes and fly off only to return in a few minutes.
I am convinced this was probably a family group.
If you try, feeding suet from now through summer, use no-melt or no-drip suet. Place your feeder in the shade and monitor the food very closely. If you notice it is melting or turning rancid, remove it. The safety and health of our feathered neighbors should always be your paramount concern.
HEAL-ALL IS POPULAR WITH BUTTERFLIES RIGHT NOW
Recently I participated in the Annual Spring Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count. All of the participants I have talked to since the count have told me that they found more butterflies on a wildflower known as Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris) than any other plant.
The plant is also known by a number of other names such as prunella, carpenter’s herb, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, and self heal.
Heal-all has long been recognized as a nectar plant used by butterflies, bees and other nectar feeders. However, many books dedicated to attracting butterflies either do not mention it at all, or, if they do, provide little information pertaining to the plant.
Depending on whom you talk to heal-all either is a native or naturalized plant in Georgia. However, at least three varieties of heal-all grow in Georgia.
During the count, we found the plant growing in sunny (the plant will also grow in partial shade) areas along roadsides, disturbed sites, and small unmowed tracts. In most cases, the plants were growing in dry soil.
In spite of its value as a nectar source, it is rarely planted in gardens. In years past, this was not the case. Back in the day, the plant was grown more as a medicinal plant that for its small, showy lavender flowers.
Blossoms appear on thick cylindrical spikes. The plant’s square stem-bearing flowers typically reach a height of a foot or more. The plants we encountered are now in full bloom. Deadheading the blossoms will extend the plant’s blooming period.
Those gardeners that utilize the plant for butterflies often incorporate it in natural gardens or use it in borders. Heal-all can even be grown in larger containers.
Plants can be divided in spring or grown from seed. If you want to prevent them from seeding, cut off the flower heads before they produce seeds.
If you have some unmowed spots on your property, you might find heal-all growing there. If you cannot find heal-all growing near your home, and want to see what it looks like drive slowly driving down country roads. Chances are you will find patches of heal-all. If you stop to look at one or more of the heal-all stands, do not be surprised if you find several species of butterflies feeding on heal-all nectar.
After you become acquainted with heal-all, you can see why I feel it is an underrated nectar plant.
IS HUMMINGBIRD FOOD MADE IN A MICROWAVE SAFE FOR THE BIRDS?
Recently, reports have surfaced claiming hummingbird nectar prepared in a microwave is harmful to the health of the hummingbirds that consume it. Is this claim true?
The internet sites making this allegation provide little information to substantiate the allegation. One site alleges that when a sugar solution is heated in a microwave the chemical composition of the sugar molecule is altered. This, in turn, has a deleterious effect on sugar’s nutritional value to hummingbirds.
This belief may stem from the fact that it has been widely reported that food heated in a microwave can reduce the levels of such things as vitamin C, some antioxidants, and omega fatty acids.
I have checked a number of sources trying to run down the source of this allegation. To date, I have not been able to uncover a single study that substantiates the claim. In fact, as of this posting, even the prestigious Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology’s website does not warn hummingbird enthusiasts of any danger associated with boiling hummingbird nectar in a microwave.
Until this issue is resolved, if you are among the folks that use a microwave to prepare hummingbird food, you might want to use the microwave to heat the water you are going to use to make nectar. Then remove the water before adding the sugar to create the food. This eliminates any possibility that the food value of the nectar is compromised by the boiling process.
As you probably already know, you need to use extreme caution when adding the sugar to the boiling water. Water heated in a microwave to this temperature has a tendency to “explode” when touched with a foreign object. This extremely hot water can burn the preparer’s hands.
Whenever I am able to determine whether this claim is true or false, I will let you know.
SUPER LIST OF NATIVE PLANT DEALERS
With your help, during the past several weeks we have been developing a growing list of native plant dealers. Recently a fellow blogger (whiteandredroses) submitted an extensive list of native plant dealers.
Here it is: https://gnps.org/georgias-native-plants/sources-native-plants/
CAT’S EAR IS A SHOWSTOPPER
Whenever cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) is blooming, the shear abundance, and beauty of its bright yellow blooms dominates the landscape. Currently cat’s ear is blooming in lawns, along road shoulders, and scores of other places across the Middle Georgia. Since it grows throughout much of eastern North America, it may be growing in your corner of the world too. However, in spite of the fact that it so abundant, I suspect when most folks see large stands of cat’s ear waving in the spring breeze, they think they are actually looking a patches of dandelions.
From a distance, this wildflower looks much like a tall dandelion, however, there several differences between the two plants. Here are a couple of things to look for that will help you tell a cat’s ear from a dandelion. The flowering stalks of a true dandelion are unbranched and hollow; those of the cat’s ear are branched and solid. In addition, the cat’s ear leaves are hairy while those of the dandelion are smooth.
Many also call cat’s ear false dandelion. However, most folks familiar with the plant refer to it as cat’s ear. The plant got its name from the hairs found on the plant’s leaves. These hairs are supposed to resemble the true hairs found in a domestic cat’s ear.
This wildflower is not native to the Peach State. It is actually an import from the Old World and North Africa.
In spite of its abundance, the plant does not provide an abundance of food for pollinators. While cat’s ear blossoms are occasionally visited by butterflies, they most often provide pollen and nectar for native bees. I find one of the plant’s most interesting traits is that it opens and closes its flower every day. Each morning the blossoms remain closed until the stand receives around an hour of sunlight. They the close again late in the afternoon. Back in the day, some farmers would say that it was not time to begin haying until the plant’s blossoms open. Then at the end of the day, the closure of the blooms signaled the time to quit haying.
My yard is full of cat’s ears. If you haven’t treated your lawn with a herbicide, I suspect cat’s ear growing in your yard too.
NOW IS A GREAT TIME TO BEGIN PLANTING ZINNIAS
Zinnias are among my favorite plants. Whenever I plant them, I cannot help but recall pleasant memories of planting them as a child many years ago. Now that I am a wildlife gardener, I am fond of them because the add beauty to my yard and are great wildlife plants too. With that in mind, my wife and I are preparing to plant zinnias for the first time this year. That’s right I said for the first time because my wife and I plant zinnias multiple times a year.
We plant patches of zinnias in our gardens as well as in large planters. The crop we are planting now will begin producing flowers in sixty to seventy days. Once the plants bloom, we prolong the time they bloom by deadheading spent blossoms. By planting zinnias once week for several weeks, we are ensuring that we will enjoy zinnia blossoms and our wildlife neighbors will have access to the food they provide well into the fall.
My wife and I have had the best luck attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and our nectar feeders using single-flowered varieties. They provide hummingbirds easy access to the plant’s nectar. In addition, many butterflies seem to prefer feeding on the relatively flat surface offered by the flat landing area found on the blooms of old fashion varieties.
While butterflies visit zinnias for their nectar, hummingbirds also eat the tiny insects often found on zinnia blooms. In fact, it has been suggested they visit zinnias as much for the protein provided by insects as they do nectar.
My wife and I also enjoy watching American goldfinches visit our zinnias during the summer. The birds spend day after day pulling the petals off zinnia flowers to reach the seeds found at base of the petals.
I think it is great that zinnias enhance by backyard wildlife viewing opportunities by attracting hummingbirds, scores of butterflies and American goldfinches.
I hope you will plant them in your garden this year. If you do, I will be surprised if they do not offer you some great wildlife viewing too.
LOOKING AT NECTAR PLANTS THROUGH THE EYES OF A HUMMINGBIRD
My wife and I enjoy gardening for hummingbirds. In an effort to provide them with a source of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible, we provide them a multitude of plants. The list of nectar plants includes such hummingbird favorites as zinnia, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, lantana, coral honeysuckle, scarlet sage, lyre leaf sage, red buckeye, hollyhock, columbine and many more. These plants provide us with an ever-changing mosaic composed of different colors. Often when I gaze at this gorgeous setting, I cannot help but wonder what these plants look like through the eyes of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit these flowers countless times.
Research conducted by researchers representing the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard, University of Maryland, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and the University of British Columbia has revealed our ability to see colors pales in comparison with that of hummingbirds. Princeton University Assistant Professor Mary Caswell put it this way, “Humans are color blind compared to birds and many other animals.”
The research discovered hummingbirds appear to be able to detect pure ultra-violet from a combination of colors such as ultra-violet plus red and red as well as ultra-violet plus green from pure green. Ultra-violet plus red and ultra-violet plus green were undetectable to the researchers.
Many scientists believe the reason why hummingbirds are able to see far more colors than us is linked to the fact that a hummingbird’s eye contains four different types of cones whereas humans have but three. The fourth type of cones detect near ultra-violet light (UV). Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye.
The ability to detect near UV light is beneficial to hummingbirds because many nectar plants display colors in the near UV light range. Consequently, such plants stand out more to hummingbirds than they do to humans.
I am certain that this research represents another step toward our greater understanding of the hummingbird’s ability to see colors. Wouldn’t it great to catch a glimpse at the colors of the natural world through the eyes of a hummingbird?