Archive | February 2023


       If you are being plagued with small flocks of brown-headed cowbirds visiting your feeders lately, you are probably wondering if there is any way to discourage these voracious birds from eating the lion’s share of the food you have been putting out for cardinals, chickadees, purple finches, dark-eyed juncos and the like.

       Georgians do not usually have a problem with feeding brown-headed cowbirds.  Throughout the winter, if they show up at all, only one or two birds will make an occasional appearance.  However, all of this changes from late winter into spring.  At that time of year, it is not unusual to look out into your yard and see flocks ranging from five or six upwards of 20 or more.  When they arrive, they can gobble of the majority of the seeds available in your feeding area in no time at all. When you consider the average a seed eating bird often consumes ¼-½ of its weight in food each day, a flock of hungry cowbirds can consume at lot of food at your feeders. 

       Although there is no foolproof way to solve this problem, here are some suggestions that might help.

       Sometimes, if you simply cease offering seeds for a week or so, cowbird flocks will move on.  Oftentimes folks don’t want to take such drastic action because they want to continue feeding their backyard favorites.

       If such is the case with you, eliminate providing the seeds that cowbirds like.  This means stop offering foods such as millet, mixed seed, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn for a week or so.

       It also helps if the cease spreading seeds on the ground, and using platform feeders, and feeding tables.  You might also try switching to tube feeders.  Cowbirds are not particularly fond of dining at tube feeders, especially those equipped with short perches. Another alternative is to use feeders protected by a wire cage that allow only small birds to feed. 

       Another approach is to put out foods that cowbirds tend to avoid.   For example, if you have never fed safflower seeds, this might be a good time to do so.  Although cowbirds shy away from them Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and finches eat them.  In addition, they are not a gray squirrel favorite either.

       Let me know if any of these remedies work.  In addition, if you have discovered another solution to the cowbird dilemma, let me know.


       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.




       If you are seeking a wonderful birding event that can involve the entire family, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) may be just the event that fits the bill.

       This year it will run from Friday, February 17 through Monday, February 21.  During these four days, hundreds of thousands and conservation-minded citizens living in more than 250 counts scattered across the globe will make an effort to count as many birds as they can.

       If you were wondering why so many people would want to engage in such an activity, the answer is simple—it is providing a unique opportunity to have fun birding with a conservation purpose in mind. The enormous volume of data collected by these thousands of participants will assist biologists and leaders throughout the world gain a better understanding to the state of the world’s bird populations.

       Believe me, this is one of the easiest ways to become involved in a conservation project.  On top of that, it is free!  All you have to do is first select a location you want to survey.  A survey area can be as small as your yard or as large as a city park, state park or wildlife refuge, you name it.

       You simply record all of the birds you can identify in as little as fifteen minutes at that locale.  You can even survey the same area each day during the count period. In addition, can you tally birds in as many different sites as your like.

       Once you have collected data at your location(s), submit your findings online at  It is as simple as that.

       If you so desire, you can go to the map feature as watch as you survey area is added to growing number of other places survey during the count.

       If you have not yet installed the free Merlin Bird ID app, this would be a great time to do so.  The app will help you locate and identify birds that you might not have realized are present.

The app will identify their call display a photo of each bird heard.

       If you think you might be interested in taking part in this enjoyable event, go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website.  The site will provide all of the information need to get started, including a checklist of the birds you are most likely to see in your area.

       Does all seem too good to be true? It almost is.


       This past week a couple of small flocks of red-winged blackbirds made an appearance at my bird feeding area for the first time this winter.  The birds ignored my seed and suet feeders and fed on the ground.  This provided me with an excellent opportunity to witness them perform the double-scratch.

       This is not a dance step; far from it, it is instead a fascinating foraging behavior. Ornithologists tell us that redwings, sparrows and some other birds use this maneuver to uncover hidden food.


  As I watched the birds from my office window, I saw several of the redwings rapidly hop forward and back…twice.  Ornithologists say that birds exhibiting this behavior use their toes to latch onto plant litter and pull it aside to expose any hidden insects or seeds. 

       If you are lucky enough to see birds demonstrating the double-scratch in your backyard, you will know that they are not dancing but simply trying to locate food.


        For most of us, seeing a brown creeper is big deal.  In more cases than not, whenever one of these odd, curved-billed birds makes an appearance, we don’t have a camera or pair of binoculars handy and it is far enough away that we cannot tell much about it. Invariably, when this happens before you can get close enough to study it the bird flies away. 

       Here is strategy you might want to employ the next time see a brown creeper hunting for food on one of the trees growing in your backyard.  I will not guarantee it will work every time. However, if it works even once, it will be worth it.

       Once you have spotted the elusive bird, move slowly and position yourself directly behind it.  Once you feel you are in the right position, slowly move toward the bird. As you make your approach, do not to make any sounds or rapid arm or let because the brown creeper’s eyes are located very close to one another.  While this helps the bird locate food located in front of its head, it greatly reduces its peripheral vision.  However, it reduces the bird’s ability to see anything approaching from behind.

       Meanwhile, while you are waiting for the opportunity to try this technique, keep a feeder stocked with suet.  Occasionally this insectivorous bird will dine on suet offered in feeders.