Archive | November 2022
BACKYARD SUET PREFERENCE TEST
Surveys have shown that some 54 percent of those folks that feed birds feed suet. Consequently, it is obvious that we are spending a lot of money on this greasy treat. With that in mind, this past summer, I decided to conduct an informal test to see which of two flavors the birds in my backyard preferred.
During the study, the birds that most often visited my suet feeders were hairy and downy woodpeckers, brown thrashers, mockingbirds, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches, house finches, and northern cardinals.
I compared peanut butter flavored suet to one labelled as berry-flavored. I placed the suet cakes in wire suet feeders hung on a single Shepherd’s hook. Initially I planned to conduct the test over several months. However, after several weeks I ended the test after it became obvious that peanut butter suet was overwhelming preferred to berry-flavored suet. Remarkably, I fed a total of 17 peanut butter-flavored suet cakes before the cake of berry-flavored suet was finally eaten. Since then, I have purchased only peanut-butter flavored suet.
It would be interesting to know if results would have been different if I ran the same test at other times of the year.
However, before I expand by informal survey efforts, I am going to be feeding my backyard bird neighbors peanut butter-flavored suet.
WHERE ARE THE FEEDER BIRDS?
These days one of the main questions being raised by folks that feed birds in their backyards is, “Where are the birds?” We all know that late fall into winter is a great time to feed our feathered neighbors. However, many of us are currently seeing few winter migrants at our feeders.
In my case, those only migrants I have seen are one white-throated sparrow, two dark-eyed juncos, and a handful of yellow-rumped warblers. Other bird enthusiasts have told me similar stories. They also go on to say, the same thing has been going on for a number of years.
There are undoubtedly many reasons why we are seeing fewer birds during the late fall and winter than we once did. For example, weather has a great influence on the timing of the fall migration. The milder the weather to the north of Georgia, the later migrants seems to arrive in the Peach State. However, there is more to it than that.
In addition, since seeds produced by wild plants are more abundant now than at any time of the year, many birds prefer to dine on them while they last.
There is also a much more significant reason behind what we are seeing. A study conducted by the National Audubon Society has found that the winter ranges of many birds have dramatically changed. When the researchers compared data collected on Christmas Bird Counts for the past 90 years, they discovered that the winter ranges of scores of birds have changed in an apparent response to global warming-related changes such as both temperature and precipitation.
These conclusions are based on an analysis of data concerning 89 different species of birds that were collected in
119 different count circles. The biologist found birds are wintering further north than ever before. The same is true for woodpeckers, as well as passerines, and others. This trend appears consistent for species that live in forests, grasslands, mixed habitats, shrublands, and other habitat types.
In other words, if this trend holds true, many of our favorite winter feathered guests will winter far north of Georgia. I suspect we will still see some northern migrants. For example, I was delighted that two dark-eyed juncos are currently feeding in my backyard. While they were once a common sight around my Middle Georgia home, the birds that arrived this year are the first I have seen in my yard in a number of years.
Another species that has been affected by these changes is the evening grosbeak. I have not seen an evening grosbeak in my yard for decades. However, at one time each winner I banded many of these showy, noisy birds in my backyard.
I have heard many say that change is good. However, I think you will agree that this is a change that is definitely far from good.
BACKYARD SECRET—SOME BUTTERFLIES OVERWINTER IN GEORGIA
This past week many of us woke up to below freezing temperatures. Obviously, this did not bode well for the smattering of butterflies that were still visiting our backyard nectar plants. While it did spell the end of the year for the majority of these butterflies, I am sure not all of them succumbed to the frigid weather.
This is great news for those of us that enjoying seeing these flying gems fluttering about the yard as long as possible. This short list of this hardy butterflies includes the American snout, eastern comma, mourning cloak, sleepy orange, common buckeye, little sulphur, and American lady.
Most of Georgia’s 170-plus species of butterflies survive the winter as eggs, caterpillars, or pupae. The vast majority of the monarchs and most cloudless sulphurs escape cold weather by migrating to warmer climes. The adult butterflies that we occasionally see during the winter spend most of their time hibernating in such places as hollow trees, log piles, beneath loose bark on trees, behinds the shutter of our houses or in abandoned buildings.
The butterflies that my wife and I have seen since the onset of freezing weather have been nectaring at red salvia plants growing in large containers hugging the back wall of our home.
Butterfly lovers like my wife and I hate to say goodbye to the insects that bring us so much enjoyment.
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH A CHIPPING SPARROW MUST EAT TO SURVIVE THE WINTER
The feeding activity around my bird feeders has picked up over the past few weeks. One of the birds that is becoming more common with each passing week is the chipping sparrow. Although it is small, weighing only 0.43 ounces, it has a hefty appetite.
Ornithologists have found that a chipping sparrow must eat some two pounds of seeds to survive the winter. In other words, a winter flock of 24 chipping sparrows will consume 48 pounds of seed before spring arrives.
What is even more amazing is that much of their diet consists of tiny seeds. Most folks offer chipping sparrows and other birds mixed seed. Such mixes often include canary seed, white millet, and rape. I prefer to offer these petite winter residents white millet.
While I am certain that the chipping sparrows that visit my white millet feeders do not rely exclusively on food I offer them, I am glad my seed offerings are helping ensure I these birds will be visiting my yard for years to come.
CEDAR WAXWINGS HAVE ARRIVED IN OUR BACKYARD
For the past few weeks, winter visitors have been arriving in our Middle Georgia backyard. Yesterday cedar waxwings made their first appearance.
While my wife and I were checking out the plants growing in containers on our deck, I activated my Merlin Bird Identification App. In in matter of seconds, the app detected the call notes of a cedar waxwing. Once the bird’s name appeared, I looked for the bird(s) in the trees and shrubs growing nearby. When I did not see one, I decided that Merlin had made a mistake.
Seconds later, I was proven wrong when a flock of a couple of dozen cedar waxwings swooshed in from the northwest and landed in the top of a tall red cedar tree. As the birds flew from limb to limb searching for the tree’s small berries, a slightly smaller flock joined them. We watched the birds disappearing in and out of the cedar’s thick canopy, for a few minutes, when without warning the cedar waxwings took to the air and flew over the house.
Although cedar waxwings visit our yard each winter, we do not consider them a feeder bird simply because they have never visited our feeders. Here they feed exclusively on red cedar and mistletoe berries.
However, data collected through Project FeederWatch indicate they will dine on dried fruits. One of their favorite dried fruits is raisins. There are reports that cedar waxwings can devour a half a pint of raisins in a matter of minutes. The birds will also eat halved and chopped apples and other fruits.