There are untold numbers of birdbaths in backyards throughout Georgia. I would venture to say most birdbaths are bought and placed in yards during the spring and summer. It is also safe to say homeowners maintain them during these two seasons than at any other time of the year. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? I know that I have.
It seems to me this is due, in large part, to two popular myths. Some folks harbor the mistaken belief that birds do not have as great a need for water in the winter as they do during the warmer months of the year. When you stop and think about it, if the reason for providing is birds with an easily accessible source of water is that water is scarce of nonexistent in a neighborhood; the changing of the seasons doesn’t alter the need for water.
Another myth goes so far as to say that birds should be prevented from bathing in cold weather. In fact, some bird fanciers that do maintain birdbaths in the winter actually cut a hole in piece of plywood and place it atop the birdbath. The hole is cut large enough to allow birds to drink but not bathe.
Well-meaning individuals that believe that, if birds are allowed to bathe when it is extremely cold, ice will form on a bird’s feathers; when this happens, a bird is unable to fly. The truth of the matter is when the temperature dips well before below freezing birds refrain from bathing. Why should we try to prevent them from bathing when nobody is preventing birds from bathing when they are away from our birdbaths?
Actually, birds need water every bit as much in the winter as they do at other time of the year. Birds require water for both drinking and grooming. Without it, they quickly become dehydrated. This hinders the movement blood throughout a bird’s body as well as the normal functioning of tissues and organs.
Bathing also allows birds to properly clean and groom their feathers. By so doing, the feathers are better able to insulate the birds from the cold.
Often the only water available to birds in many neighborhoods is provided by birdbaths. One biologist took the time to determine how far the birds living in his Long Island, New York backyard would have to travel to drink and bathe if he did not provide them with water in a birdbath. He discovered the nearest water was some two miles away.
When birdbaths are lacking, the numbers, and variety of birds using a backyard drops. In fact, the numbers of birds using a yard is often dictated more by the availability of water than food.
Another important point to keep in mind is when birds are forced to travel some distance to obtain water, they are more apt to be preyed upon by predators or killed while crossing a road.
I hope you will consider keeping a birdbath full of fresh, clean water this winter. The only inconvenience this should cause you is, on those increasingly rare days the temperature drops below freezing, you might have to break a thin skim of ice that formed overnight atop the cold water. Alternatively, if water in the birdbath completely freezes, you will have to brave the icy temperatures and pour warm water on top of the ice.
When you look out your frosty kitchen window on a cold winter day and see chickadees, waxwings, sparrows, cardinals and others flying into drink and bathe in your birdbath, I am sure you will feel the efforts you put into providing these winter residents with a dependable source of water have been handsomely rewarded.
For days, the United States Weather Bureau has been warning us that severe cold weather in about to blanket Georgia. If these prognostications prove to be correct, this weekend temperatures will plummeted into the teens. For those Georgians that are currently hosting, or hope to host, a hummingbird in their backyard this winter, this is disturbing news. Obviously, hummingbirds cannot feed on frozen nectar. In addition, if the nectar in feeders freezes the feeders often break. A hummingbird feeding solution of four parts water to one part sugar typically does not freeze until the temperature dips below 25ºF. If the temperature drops lower, feeders can be taken in at night and replaced the next morning. Another option is to use a light to keep hummingbird food from freezing. Many folks use a 150-watt bulb mounted in a light fixture attached to an alligator clip placed near a feeder to provide the heat needed to keep nectar from freezing on a cold winter night.
If the temperature remains freezing for a few days, you might find that you have to change out feeders during the day. In this way, hummingbirds will have access to an uninterrupted supply of sugar water.
If the weather forecast proves to be accurate, we are in for a stretch of the coldest weather we have experienced so far this winter. We are being warned that low temperature readings might reach the low 20s and below. During this abnormally cold weather, we are all going to spend a lot of time indoors in our warm homes. Our backyard neighbors are not going to be so lucky. Each of them has its own ways of survive the cold. Let’s look at the amazing manner in which honeybees survive frigid temperatures.
Before winter sets in, the males (drones) are forced out of the hive. Consequently, all that remain are females (workers) and a queen. The queen spends the winter near the center of the hive where it is the warmest. Remarkably, the temperature in this area ranges anywhere from 80-90ºF or more.
During the winter, honeybees form a large cluster. This cluster has two parts. The workers located at the outer portion of the cluster are packed closely together and constantly vibrate their wings. Here the temperate is often in the 40s. The workers’ wing vibrations help create heat. Conversely, the workers in the inner core and loosely packed. This allows them and the queen to move about and eat nectar. From time to time, the bees living in the outer layer change places with those confined to the inner portion of the cluster. This allows those on the outside of the cluster to eat too.
This behavior has served the honeybee well for untold years. However, in spite of this, an average of 38.3 percent of the managed honeybee hives in Georgia do not make it through the winter.
A surprising number of the folks that feed wild birds in their yards include eggshells in their offerings. As a matter of fact, Cornell University reported, in their publication entitled Birds At Your Feeder, six percent of the folks that participated in their annual Project FeederWatch fed birds this unusual offering. Why would folks feed wild birds eggshells?
The reason is quite simple—eggshells are a great source of calcium. All birds require calcium in their diets; however, the need for this mineral is greatest during the breeding season and migration.
There are a number of ways that you can feed eggshells to birds. They can be ground or broken up and incorporated in suet mixtures. You can add eggshell to mixed seed mixtures too. Some people even simply spread them across the ground near the area where they feed birds on the ground.
Whichever way you decide to use them, if you want to be sure they will not infect your bird clientele with a disease such as salmonella, bake them in an over for 10 minutes or so at a temperature of 480ºF.
It is well known that purple martins and blue jays dine on eggshells. If you have seen other species of birds eat them in your yard, please let me know.
It is always satisfying to know that our efforts to extend a helping hand to our wildlife neighbors are actually benefitting them. With that in mind, I thought you might like to hear what the prestigious British Trust for Ornithology has to say about the benefits of feeding birds.
Their studies indicate that feeding birds throughout the year, improves their survival. In addition, it also enhances their breeding success. The reason for this is when birds have food readily available during all seasons of the year, they are able to stay in top physical condition.
Now that is what I call good news!
More than two decades ago, I spotted a monarch on Sea Island in February. To say the least, I was surprised. At the time, I convinced myself that the butterfly might have been one that was released during one of the many wedding ceremonies staged at the Cloister. However, recent evidence suggests that the butterfly might have been trying to winter in the state.
It seems that last year volunteers reported more than 5,800 monarch sighting made throughout the Southeast and Gulf States. This has prompted biologists to launch studies designed to determine how many monarchs are seen each winter in this part of the world and how they might affect the future of the monarch.
One of these studies is named Monarchs Overwintering in Southeastern States. It is being sponsored by a number of partners including the University of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Monarchs over Georgia.
We all can help by reporting any monarchs seen from December 1-March 1 in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
In you want to take part in this fascinating study, the first thing you need to do is create a free account at journeynorth.org/reg. Once have accomplished this, learn how to report monarch sightings at journeynorth.org/monarchs. Then whenever you spot a butterfly during the reporting period, submit it at journeynorth.org/sightings.
Although the golden-crowned kinglet winters in Georgia, I rarely see it in my backyard. In fact, in recent years, I have not even heard one there. This is despite the fact it is located each year on the local Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Bird Count. In spite of this, I have high expectations that my backyard golden-crowned kinglet drought will end this year.
I base my optimism on the fact that a couple of days ago I heard the golden-crowned kinglet’s high-pitched see-see-see call coming from the top of a tall loblolly pine growing in my backyard. Although, my efforts to catch a glimpse of the secretive songster failed, I have formulated a strategy to do so.
Whenever possible I will look for the bird in places where it is known to forage. Since I have most often seen the bird tirelessly moving about looking for insects and their eggs among pine needles high in the tops of pines, I will concentrate my search there. Knowing they sometimes hunt for food among hardwood branches and brush piles, I will scan them too. In addition, since during the winter they will occasionally feed on tiny seeds gleaned from plants growing in weedy patches I will also checkout the untamed, weedy areas along my property line.
Last, but not least, I will carefully study each tiny bird that visits my suet and peanut butter feeders. More than likely, any that I see will by rubycrowns, however, there is always the outside chance one will be the golden-crowned because they will, on rare occasions, dine on these foods.
Even if I am not successful in seeing one of these fascinating winter visitors, I am sure I will spot other birds that I would have otherwise missed if I was not spending so much time looking for this tiny olive-gray bird that dons a crown of gold.
If you have seen golden-crowned kinglets in your yard, I would enjoy hearing about your good fortune.