As we anxiously await the arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbird, there is no better time to reflect on the fact that early colonists did not believe that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrated all. Here is one theory that was put forth to explain the disappearance of hummingbirds at the end of summer.
A book published in 1651 named The Pennsylvania Cyclopedia offered a bizarre explanation why hummingbirds vanished at the end of the growing season. According to this tome when the flowers visited by hummingbirds throughout the year faded away, the birds did not migrate to places where flowers bloomed throughout the winter. Instead, they simply stuck their long bills into the trunks of trees. Here they remained motionless until spring rains began to fall. At that time, they would miraculously come back to life and resume their quest for nectar.
An amazing relationship exists between migrating yellow-bellied sapsucker and the ruby-throated hummingbird. It seems that yellow-bellied sapsuckers help fuel the ruby-hummingbird’s migration northward each spring.
Beginning in March each year yellow-bellied sapsuckers leave the Peach State and begin flying home to their breeding grounds in eastern Canada and our northeastern states. As the sapsuckers make their way northward, they often stop every so often and feed for a couple of weeks or so before moving on. As expected, at each stopover area the birds chisel out numerous sap wells in a variety of trees. This provides them with an energy-rich source of fuel that will enable them to complete their long journey.
Often ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to their northern breeding grounds some two to three after the sapsuckers leave. Since they are heading north at a time when nectar plants are typically in short supply, food is often at a premium.
While hummingbird fanciers that hang hummingbird feeders outside their homes in late winter and early spring help feed the migrants along the way, they alone cannot provide enough food for all of the migrating birds.
Here is where yellow-bellied sapsucker plays an important role in feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds that are also flying north. The tiny rubythroats dine on the sucrose and amino acid-laden tree sap they obtain from sapsucker wells. Sapsuckers drill lots of holes whenever they locate an excellent source of tree sap. Consequently, when they abandon these sap wells to resume their journey home they unwittingly leave behind a valuable source of food needed by tiny hummers that are following behind them.
Once again, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.
Many of the Georgians that provide eastern bluebird with nesting boxes are wondering how the large amount of rain and days and days of warm weather we have seen this year might affect the bird’s nesting efforts. Well, it just so happens that studies conducted by researchers in Ohio just might help answer this question.
The biologists wanted to know if climate change is affecting the first-egg-laying date of bluebirds nesting in the Buckeye State. Their efforts to determine whether or not it does involve analyzing 4,417 nest records submitted to Cornell University’s NestWatch Project submitted from 2000 and 2015 from the state of Ohio.
The researchers learned that bluebirds appeared to nest earlier during warmer springs. However, the birds seem to lay their eggs later when Ohio experiences wetter springs.
The researchers caution that there is much more to learn about the eastern bluebirds first egg-laying-dates. For example, it is possible insect abundance might affect timing of nesting efforts.
Since the nesting season for bluebirds breeding in the Peach State begins in late February and early March, it will be interesting to see to see whether or not bluebirds nesting in Georgia.
If you want to help advance our knowledge of the nesting habits of bluebirds and other birds, become a participant in the NestWatch Program. For more information, all you have to do is google BirdWatch for all the details.
If you are looking for an attractive native wildlife friendly plant that blooms early in the spring, Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) is a plant you should consider.
Normally the Chickasaw plum reaches a maximum height of only 15 feet (most I encounter are much shorter). In March-April, the plant produces a bounty of delicate, fragrant flowers well before the plant’s leaves burst forth.
Since it is an early bloomer, it is an important source of for pollinators such as butterflies. Some of the butterflies I find nectaring on the flowers are hairstreaks like the great purple hairstreak, and the eastern tiger swallowtail. However, other pollinators are also drawn to the woody plant’s pollen.
From May to July, the plant is laden with small drupes. These tasty plums can be range in color from red to yellow. If you want to eat your share of these sweet morsels, you had better do so early as they are also relished by a host of birds and mammals such as the red-headed woodpecker, quail, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, northern mockingbird, gray fox, raccoon, white-tailed deer and others.
Insectivorous birds feed the insects drawn to the large shrubs especially when they are in bloom.
If allowed to form a small thicket, birds such as catbirds, loggerhead shrikes, brown thrashers are others will nest and among this native plum’s thorny branches.
Butterfly enthusiasts will be happy to know that a number of butterflies such as the eastern tiger swallowtail, coral hairstreak, and spring azure lay their eggs on the Chickasaw plum.
Chickasaw plums do well in most soil types, are drought tolerant, and grow best in partial shade to full sun.
Should you decide to transplant this valuable native plant in your yard, set out a couple. This ensures cross-pollination will occur.
Also, be aware that Chickasaw plum produces suckers. This is great if you want to create a thicket. However, if you prefer to grow the plant as a single tree, simply cut down the suckers.