Whenever we discover birds are nesting on our property, we always keep our fingers crossed that nest predators such as other birds, snakes, mammals and even ants might destroy eggs, hatchlings or even adults. When we think about potential nest predators, the blue jay invariably comes to mind. It has long had the reputation being a major nest predator.
However, the results of at least one research project suggest that blue jays may not deserve their bad reputation. This conclusion is based on the fact that blue jays devoured the eggs and young of only one percent of the nests destroyed by nest predators during the study.
The major portion (70%) of the cedar waxwing’s diet consists of fruits, berries and other fruit-related items such as sap. In fact, the bird’s name reflects its fondness for cedar berries. However, cedar waxwings also dine on buds, flowers and young leaves. In fact, cedar waxwings seem to eat blossoms most often during their spring migration back to their breeding grounds. In fact, spring-blooming plants are more apt to be eaten by the birds that flowers that bloom later in the year.
Some of the flowers most often eaten by blossom- eating birds such as the cedar waxwing include pear, apple, plum, crabapple, cherry, and red maple.
You might be wondering why in the world cedar waxwings would even want to eat buds and blossoms. The answer is simple – They are nutritious. In fact, some experts claim that flowers have more food value than buds.
Another reason is, by this time of the year, birds that dine on fruits and berries have an extremely hard time finding anything to eat.
With that in mind, should you spot a flock of cedar waxwings eating flowers and buds in your yard this spring, I hope you won’t mind sacrificing some blossoms to the cedar waxwings whose beauty adds so much to the colorful spring pageant being played out in your yard.
The eastern bluebird consumes an average of 0.14 ounces (4 grams) of food each day. This amounts to roughly 12 percent of its body weight.
That may not sound like a lot when you consider a ruby-throated hummingbird can consume up to 50% of its weight daily. However, a two-hundred pound human would have to chow down 24 pounds of food every day to eat the equivalent amount of food as an eastern bluebird.
There is much we do not know about the ruby-throated hummingbird. For example, most of what we know about how high rubythroats fly when they are migrating is based on anecdotal evidence. With that in mind, it appears that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate much closer to the earth than many other feathered migrants.
What sketchy information available suggests ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate close to the land. In fact, many appear to migrate very close to the tops of trees. It is believed that this enables the tiny migrants to spot places where they can refuel before resuming their journey.
This is not to say that some hummingbirds don’t fly much higher. Hot air balloonists have reported seeing rubythroats cruising along upwards of 500 feet above the ground.
Once rubythroats reach the Gulf of Mexico, they appear to wing their way along just above the tops of the waves. This conclusion is based on sightings made by men and women working on oil and gas platforms far from shore in the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen seeing these tiny, feathered dynamos zipping along close to the waters of the Gulf. These sightings appear to indicate ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate closer to the earth than many other migrants.
Most small birds migrate at altitudes ranging from 500 to 1,000 feet. Raptors migrate anywhere from 700-4000 feet up whereas waterfowl migrate to and from their breeding grounds at altitudes of 200-1450 feet high.
However, a mallard was once struck by an airplane flying 21,000 feet above the earth.
The last thing we needed was extremely cold weather during the second weekend in March. It would not have been so bad if one of the coldest days of the winter had not followed days upon days of temperatures hovering in the 70s and 80s. However, when I awoke on the morning of Sunday, March 13 the thermometer at my house read 24º F. Not only did the late winter freeze threaten plants that had already begun blooming and/or sprouting leaves, it also endangered the lives of many birds.
When the nighttime temperature drops this low untold numbers of birds face a life and death struggle to survive. A factor that often determines whether a bird survives to see the light of dawn is whether it is able to spend the night in a site that offers insulation from cold winds and low temperatures. The warmer the site, the less energy it needs to burn simply to stay warm.
For example, one of our common winter residents is the American goldfinch. This gregarious bird roosts in dense vegetation. If they are fortunate enough to roost is a location where the foliage and branches form a thick barrier against the wind and cold, they will burn about a third less energy than they would have expended had they been forced to roost in a more open site.
All to frequently during extremely cold, windy weather birds roosting in unsuitable roost sites will literally starve to death during the night. For this reason, when you are trying to transform your yard into a haven for wildlife, do not overlook supplying your feathered backyard neighbors an abundance of suitable winter cover.
Cavity nesting birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and eastern bluebirds roost in natural cavities, nesting boxes, and roosting boxes. The problem is, in most locales, the demand for these precious sites far outstrips their availability.
The situation is often more dire for birds that roost in dense vegetation and brush piles. The roster of these birds includes mockingbirds, yellow-rumped, and pine warblers, kinglets, sparrows, cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, blue jays and many others. These birds roost in places such as evergreen shrubs and trees, as well as dense thickets and even brush piles. Such sites are either woefully missing or in short supply in many neighborhoods. Just a handful of these plants serve as safe havens for dozens of roosting birds.
Facing a paucity of places to escape the cold, birds will often attempt to find refuge in some odd places. For example, when my daughter took the dog out a few hours after midnight on the 13th, she flushed a yellow-rumped warbler that had found refuge in the welcome wreath hanging on her front door. Birds have been found roosting in other places such as inside open garages, barns and other buildings, above security lights, and on the limbs of Christmas trees.
A few of the native plants that address this need are red cedar, viburnums, wax myrtle, American holly and pines.
With that in mind, if your yard lacks enough roosting cavities and/or evergreen trees and shrubs, make a point to add them to your landscape before our next cold front sweeps down from the north bringing with it freezing temperatures. Hopefully, that will not happen until next winter.
If you are looking for plans for a roost or nesting box, contact Melissa Hayes at the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The redbud trees growing around my home are now in full bloom. These native trees are pleasing to the eye and are currently feeding a surprising number of my backyard neighbors.
One thing that is impossible to notice is that redbud blossoms attract an amazing number of bees and other pollinators. In fact, on a warm late winter or early spring day my largest redbud seems to buzz. The buzzing sound is made by the countless numbers of bees foraging among the dark pink blossoms that cover the tree’s branches.
If the redbud blossoms do not fall before the year’s first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive, I will have a chance of spotting a hummer or two visiting the trees flowers. Although redbud blooms are not the greatest source of nectar for the birds, when it is one of the few nectar plants that are blooming at this time of the year, they will make feeding forays to the tree.
Birds such as northern cardinals and cedar waxwings sometimes visit redbud trees in full bloom. They are not there seeking nectar or pollen. To the contrary, they actually eat the redbud’s buds and flowers. Although these birds might seem to eat more than their share of these tasty morsels, there are more than enough blossoms to feed the birds and pollinators.
Since the redbud’s blooms appear before its leaves, while I am admiring the tree’s floral show, from time to time I sometimes spot tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and downy woodpeckers hunting for insects and their eggs hidden on the bark of the tree. Once the leaves appear, it is far more difficult to see these birds foraging for food.
My only regret is that the redbud’s floral show is way too short. When redbud blossoms litter the ground, I know I must wait 12 months to enjoy its next stunning floral show and the wide variety of animals drawn to it.
If you are looking for a different twist to hummingbird watching, why not try offering female ruby-throated hummingbirds nesting material?
As anybody that has ever tried to locate a hummingbird knows, it is next to impossible to find one. Most of the folks fortunate enough to find a hummingbird nest do so accidentally. As a result, most hummingbird fanciers resign themselves to the reality that they will probably never see one of these remarkable creations in the wild.
However, would it not be great to at least see a female hummingbird gathering material for her nest? I know a couple that several times witnessed hummers gathering nesting material they have provided the birds.
There are a couple of ways that you can do the same. One way is to buy something called a hummingbird nesting ball. This is a ball fashioned from grapevines. It contains cotton, and various other natural plant fibers. You can also offer nesting material in a wire suet feeder. Fill the wire cage with cotton (not cotton balls), plant down and the like. Hang either device in a spot frequented by hummingbirds (e.g. near a hummingbird feeder). Then sit back and watch. If you are lucky, you just might spot a female pinch off some fibers and fly away to incorporate in her nest.
Regardless of whether you buy a hummingbird nesting ball, or create your own, make sure it contains only natural fibers. Artificial fibers may be chemically treated or retain water.
If you spot a hummingbird gathering nesting material, watch where it goes. Since you know she is flying toward her nest, her flight just might lead to her nesting site. If you lose track of the bird, stand a short distance away from where it vanished and wait. Move to that location and when the bird flies by again on its flight back to its nest, follow the bird until it once more disappears. Repeat this process until you finally spot the nest.
I am certain that the ruby-throated hummingbirds nesting in or near our yards have few problems find the plant down, bud scales, lichens and spider silk they need to create a nest. However, watching a hummingbird collect nesting material we provide adds a new dimension to hummingbird watching.
Now that February is in our rearview mirror we need to be on the lookout for arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year. In fact, I would not be surprised if a vanguard of rubythroats has already reached the Peach State.
I live in Monroe County just north of Macon. To my knowledge, the earliest that a ruby-throated hummingbird has been seen in the county is March 12. However, friends living in southwest Georgia have told me that some years they see their first hummer during the first ten days of March. On the other hand, folks living in north Georgia tell me they often do not see their first hummingbird of the spring until the end of March or in April.
Now that you know rubythroats are on the way, go ahead and pour some fresh nectar into a feeder and hang it out in the same spot where it was hung last year. If you don’t, you may well look out your window one morning and spot a rubythroat hovering where a feeder was hung a year ago. If that does not make you feel like a heel, nothing else will.
Please let me know when you experience the excitement of seeing your first rubythroat of the year!