It is hard to believe that the colorful insects that are often called flying flowers possess wings that are actually transparent. Let me explain.
It seems that butterfly wings are composed of a rugged material called chitin. This same substance comprises the exoskeletons of all butterflies. The thin layers of chitin found in a butterfly wing is actually transparent. The colors seen in a butterfly’s wings stem from literally thousands of loosely attached tiny scales covering each wing. Some 600 scales/sq. millimeter blanket the surfaces of the wings of some butterflies. These scales contain pigments that reflect light. The colors we see on the wings of the butterflies we spot flitting around our yards are the result of the types of scales and the amount and kinds of pigments they possess.
Butterflies constantly lose scales as they age. Consequently, some of the individuals of the same species we spot are less colorful than others. When we see pale versions of species, we know these individuals are much older than those that display more iridescence and color. In some cases, butterflies lose so many scales it is difficult or even impossible to identify them.
Years ago, I learned that one of the best ways to attract a variety of birds to your yard is to provide them with a variety of wildlife foods. In an attempt to accomplish this goal, I now offer my feathered neighbors a variety of seeds, and suet, in addition to mix of seeds, fruits and berries produced on a number of native trees and shrubs growing about the yard. One of these shrubs is American beautyberry.
A northern mockingbird was the first bird that I saw feeding on the shrub’s bright purple berries. Since then I have kept track of the different species of birds that I have witnessed dining on these uniquely colored berries. Up until this year, the list included the gray catbird, house finch, northern cardinal and brown thrasher.
In the last few days, I have enjoyed watching cardinals hopscotching around the bird feeding area located in front of my home office my yard eating suet, sunflower seeds as well as the berries of an American beautyberry growing nearby. Meanwhile, brown thrashers have divided their time between eating suet, pieces of bread. and beautyberries.
Yesterday, I just happened to notice the bush’s foliage shaking. I stopped what I was doing and waited to see if a bird would appear. Much to my surprise, the bird causing the leaves to shudder was a female summer tanager. For several minutes, the bird moved about the bush eating a several beautyberries before moving on to the next cluster of bead-like berries. Then, just as quickly as she appeared, she flew away.
When she vanished into the foliage of a nearby oak tree, I had a new addition the list of birds I have personally seen feeding on American beautyberries in my yard. Better yet, I also now possess an unforgettable memory.
If you would like more information on American beautyberries, type American beautyberry in the Search bubble found on the right of the screen. When you press the return button, a number of former blogs dealing with beautyberries will appear.
It appears that hummingbirds are leaving my yard early this year.
Throughout most of August, my wife and I made lots of hummingbird food. During these hot days of August, we were preparing and feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every day or two. This was because we were feeding more hummingbirds than during any previous August. Based on the maximum numbers of birds we were seeing at any given time, I calculated that we were feeding 100 or more hummers daily.
These numbers remained steady until September 4 when the nectar consumption dropped significantly. Suddenly we were feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every three to four days. This was surprising because, in a normal year, we don’t see a significant decline in hummingbird numbers that early in the month.
On September 12, I was surprised to see an adult male ruby-throated hummingbird dining at our feeders. The bird also returned the next day. While seeing an adult male that late in the summer was big news, what was even bigger news was the male was one of only three hummingbirds using our feeders daily.
Since then, the male has moved on, however, we are still feeding only two or three hummingbirds. This is in spite of the fact that we are still providing the little migrants with plenty of sugar water and flowerbeds and containers are awash with the blooms of a number of nectar plants.
The seemingly early departure of the birds has reinforced my realization that, in spite of studying these magical birds for decades, there is so much I still do not know about them.
I sure would like to know whether you have noticed that rubythroats seemingly left your yard early this year also. It would help me understand if this is a local or widespread phenomenon.
There are a number of animals that hoard seeds in our backyards. This list includes eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, Carolina chickadees, and blue jays. There is another bird you can add to this list of animals that prepare of the winter by storing up supplies of food.
It might come as a surprise to know that the tufted titmouse is yet another bird that hoards sunflower seeds and other foods to help it to survive lean times that are common during winter.
With fall just days away, red berries by produced by plants such as Carolina moonseed, dogwood, and nandina are now beginning catch the eyes of bluebirds and other backyard favorites. Although birds are attracted to these brightly colored berries, we should discourage them from consuming the berries of the nandina plant.
This might come as a surprise to many of you since nandina has been planted as an exotic ornamental in North America since the early 1800s. The plant’s evergreen foliage and red berries that persist throughout the winter make is a favorite among home gardeners. The fact that birds also consume the berries seemed to make it an ideal addition to any yard.
However, in 2009 scientists with the University Of Georgia School Of Veterinary Medicine, Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study made a startling discovery. It seems that when birds consume too many of the berries they succumb to hydrogen cyanide poisoning.
This news sent shock waves across the wildlife community. Immediately a plant once touted as a great wildlife food plant fell from grace and wildlife experts began recommending that homeowners remove the plants from their yards. In spite of the warnings, nandina is still widely found across the state. Just this past week, I spotted a nandina laden with berries growing in the yard of an avid backyard wildlife enthusiast.
If you still have nandina growing in your yard, I suggest that you at least clip off the plants’ berries and dispose of them in the trash. This will prevent your backyard bird neighbors from succumbing to hydrogen cyanide poison. Better yet, follow up by removing the plants before the next growing season.