Archive | May 2022
BACKYARD SECRET—BATS POLLINATE PLANTS USED IN MEDICINES
We are all aware that bats help control insect populations.
However, it is less widely known that bats pollinate at least 80 species of plants that scientists have used to develop a wide range of medicines.
THE DROUGHT INCREASES THE NEED TO PROVIDE BACKYARD BIRDS WITH WATER
With much of Georgia suffering from drought conditions, the need to provide our backyard bird neighbors with water grows each day. Consequently, in many neighborhoods, nearby water is difficult or impossible for birds to find. Here are some of the reasons why a lack of water can have negative impacts on birds.
This year drought conditions surfaced during the spring when young birds are venturing out into the world for the very first time. As we all know, these inexperienced fledglings are vulnerable to a host of predators. When hapless youngsters are forced to travel greater distances to reach water, their chances of becoming a meal for predators are greater than they would be if water was available in or near our yards.
In the case of birds that are still nesting, when nesting birds are required to travel greater distances for water, they are forced to spend more time away from their young, increasing the odds their nests will be discovered by predators.
On the average, wild birds lose an average of 15 to 25 percent of their body weight each day. Larger birds generally lose less weight, in relation to their body mass, than smaller birds. Water plays a role a bird’s ability to maintain its physical health. The high temperatures that have recently plagued the state, has increased their need for water.
Water also allows birds to maintain their plumage. This allows cleaning their feathers as well as helping control parasites.
With that in mind, one of the most important things we can do for birds in our backyards to provide them with a dependable, safe source of water. Anything from a shallow pan to a birdbath will suffice. While you are at it, put at least one water source on the ground to benefit those animals that cannot reach a birdbath on a pedestal.
Although bird enthusiasts make providing a clean, dependable source of food their top priority, maintaining a place for birds to feed and drink is important too. This is especially true right now when many of the natural sources of water used by birds have dried up.
UPDATE ON THE AVIAN FLU IN GEORGIA
Several weeks ago, I posted a blog regarding the presence of avian flu in Georgia and its possible impact on the birds that visit our feeders. At that time, I promised to provide you with any new information that becomes available. A May 17 news release issued by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division updated the status of the disease in Georgia.
According to the Division’s wildlife biologists, data regarding the incidence of avian flu suggests that the vast majority of Georgia’s songbirds are not at risk of catching the dreaded disease. The songbirds that are at the highest risk are those living near domestic poultry flocks that have become infected with the disease. However, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division emphasizes that the only birds share an elevated risk of catching the disease are scavengers such as vultures and crow.
Fortunately, to date, avian flu has not been detected in any domestic poultry flocks in Georgia.
The short list of birds that have been infected by the disease in the Peach State is restricted to waterfowl and eagles.
For those of us that feed birds in our yards, the bottom line is we can continue to feed birds at our feeders without the fear that our efforts are helping spread the disease.
However, Wildlife Biologist Todd Schneider emphasizes that feeders and feeding areas should be kept as clean as possible. This will ensure our feathered friends will not suffer from house finch disease, or one of a host of other fatal or debilitating diseases spread by organisms that thrive on wet, and moldy seeds.
BACKYARD SECRET—CPT. JOHN SMITH NAMED THE OPOSSUM
Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum.
Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe. When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.” The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face. However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted. This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum. Is this story true? We may never know for sure. What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.
BACKYARD SECRET—THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD’S BRAIN IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK
I am truly amazed at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s memory. For example, studies have revealed rubythroats can remember the locations of every feeder and flower they visit in our yards as well as how long it takes each flower to replenish its supply of nectar. They can even remember the locations of the feeders and flower beds that provided them with food the previous year.
Wow! It must take a truly large brain to accomplish such mental fetes. In truth, the rubythroat’s brain is smaller than a pea. While that is indeed physically very small, comparatively speaking it is larger than our brains or those of any other bird in the entire world. Let me explain.
The hummingbird brain makes up about 4.2 percent of its body weight. This makes its brain is proportionally larger than the brains of all other birds. In comparison, our brains comprise only about 2 percent of our body weight.
LOOK FOR BEGGING AT YOUR FEEDERS
At this time of the year, it is common for adult birds to appear at our feeders accompanied by their fledglings. When this happens, we are able to observe the young begging for their parents to feed them.
The fledglings’ parents have been feeding their young in the nest for quite some time. Interestingly, once their brood leaves the nest the adults will continue to feed young birds for anywhere from one to three weeks. During this time the young birds will make their first attempts to feed themselves. However, most fledglings would undoubtedly starve if their parents did not continue to feed them.
When a family of birds arrives at your feeding station the youngsters will sometimes perch atop or nearby a feeder waiting for a parent to feed it. However, it seems that more often than not a fledgling will perch alongside a parent that is dining on seeds or other foods. In an attempt to coax a parent to feed it, a fledgling will typically anxiously chirp at an adult while rapidly fluttering its wings. This usually does the trick and the parents succumb to their youngsters begging.
This morning I watched a family of house finches arrive at one of my sunflower feeders. Immediately the fluffy, drab youngsters began begging for food. Their irritating behavior worked and quickly the parents were placing food in the large, gaping mouths of their young.
As I watched this fascinating behavior, I said to myself, “Little guys, you had better enjoy the free lunch while you can as it won’t be long before you will be fending for yourselves.”
BACKYARD SECRET—ORCHARD ORIOLES OFTEN NEST CLOSE TO EASTERN KINGBIRD NESTS
For reasons that are not fully understood, some orchard orioles will nest close to the nests of eastern kingbirds. This might come as a surprise since eastern kingbirds have the reputation of aggressively defending their nests. Well, many experts believe that this is the reason why orchard orioles will choose nest sites sometimes within mere yards from the nests of eastern kingbirds.
It seems obvious that kingbirds do not feel threatened by North America’s smallest oriole. However, when kingbirds fly out to confront a crow, common grackle or other potential avian nest predator flying close to their nests, they unwittingly also defend the nearby nests of orchard orioles.
Some studies suggest that this behavior may translate into real benefits for the orchard orioles. Studies have shown that, when the nesting success of orchard orioles that nest close to eastern kingbirds was compared with the success of those that do not, they discovered the nesting success of orioles that nest some distance away from eastern kingbird nests was lower. In fact, there also seems to be a correlation between kingbird populations and orchard oriole populations. When eastern kingbird numbers are high orchard orioles are more abundant too.