Now that we are on the doorstep to winter, activity around our bird feeders is going to increase. In fact, during the winter our feeders will be visited by more birds than at any other time of the year. When this occurs, we are always on the lookout for a rare bird. Some rare visitors to our feeders, such as the yellow-headed blackbird, are easy to spot. However, others such as hybrids are much more difficult to identify. One such hybrid is a cross between a white-throated sparrow and a dark-eyed junco.
The white-throated sparrow winters throughout Georgia. On the other hand, the dark-eyed junco commonly winters across the entire state, with the exception of extreme southeast Georgia. However, in New England and Canada portions of their individual breeding ranges overlap.
For reasons that are not fully understood, these birds will occasionally interbreed and produce offspring. The resulting hybrids will display traits of both parents. Since the combinations of these plumage patterns vary widely from bird to bird, trying to figure out what you are looking at is often perplexing. For example, in the case of dark-eyed junco/white-throated sparrow hybrids, observers have reported birds with the wing pattern of a white-throated sparrow and the head pattern of a dark-eyed junco. Other birds look much like white-throated sparrows but sport the white outer tail feathers of dark-eyed junco.
In order to spot one of these hybrids, you must carefully study the flocks of sparrows that converge on your feeding area. With a little luck, you will spot any bird that just does not seem to to look right.
If you see a bird that is a potential hybrid, take lots of pictures of it and share them with others (please include me on this list). Sometimes it takes many people to reveal the true identify of a hybrid.
White-throated sparrow/dark-eyed junco crosses are more common than you might think. Such birds have been seen in many states such as Minnesota, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and even Georgia. Who knows? There is no reason why the next sighting of this fascinating bird may occur in your backyard.
There are at least 60 species of salvias. In addition, more than 50 cultivars of these popular plants are also available. There are so many varieties of salvias available it is difficult for Georgia gardeners to decide which are best for their gardens. If you are looking for salvia that blooms late from late summer into fall and provides nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees and other pollinators, I recommend you plant pineapple sage (Salvia elegans).
This plant is native in Central America. Here in Georgia it is either a tender perennial or annual. While it is susceptible to cold weather, some gardeners report that when mulched it can survive winter temperatures that plummet as low as 5˚F.
One of the things I like about pineapple sage is that it begins blooming late in the summer and will continue producing blooms until the frost ends its growing season. Consequently, in autumn, it is providing nectar when it is often a scarce commodity.
Although ruby-throated hummingbirds have been gone from our yard for weeks, they did nectar at the plants long tubular-shaped blooms before they left. However, the main beneficiaries of its nectar are now cloudless sulphur and sleepy orange butterflies, and native bees.
Over the years, many folks that have been lucky enough to attract wintering hummingbirds have told me that rufous hummingbirds frequent the pineapple sage’s striking red blossoms.
Pineapple sage grows to be 3-4 feet tall and 3-4′ wide. It seems to prosper in spots bathed in both morning and afternoon sunshine. Pineapple sage also needs frequent watering. In addition, they do best in rich, well-drained soil.
The plants are easily propagated from cuttings. Young plants should be transplanted as soon as the threat of frost has passed in your neck of the woods.
As you might expect, the blooming period in the southern half of the state is considerably long that it is in Middle and North Georgia. However, regardless of how long is blooms, when it is blooming it provides pollinators with a valuable source of food while at the same time adding beauty to our yards.
My wife and I bring our potted plants inside in the winter. The pineapple sage growing in our yard is mulched during the winter.
With the freezing weather forecast during the next several days, it is time for us to protect our pineapple sage before it is too late: This is one plant we do not want to lose.