Archive | August 2023


        Recently a blogger responded to a blog I wrote a couple of years ago concerning American goldfinches plucking the petals off zinnia blossoms to reach the seeds found on the plant’s seed heads.  

       Blogger Joyce M. wrote that she has noticed that hungry goldfinches in her backyard appeared to attack the largest red and yellow blossoms.

       This prompted me to go back and check the notes I made when my wife was the first to notice American goldfinches plucking the seeds from the zinnias growing in containers on our deck.  In our case, although red, pink, orange, and while zinnia blossoms were all blooming at the same time, the birds seemed to prefer doing a number on the red zinnias.

       Do the goldfinches that pluck petals off your zinnias seem to remove the petals of zinnias of a certain color?

       If you want to find more information about American goldfinches, go to the search bubble found on the right side of the blog page and type in goldfinch and hit returned.  You will find the blog’s archive contains several blogs concerning this colorful backyard visitor.



        Although most backyard wildlife enthusiasts realize that wildlife needs water, far too often I find that they forget to maintain a birdbath or other water source throughout the entire year.  It is especially important to provide your backyard wildlife with water during the severe heat wave that is holding Georgia in its fiery grip this summer.   

      Birds and other wildlife need a dependable, fresh, and clean source of water.  When it is not available, some birds will travel up to two miles in search of it.  However, other creatures such as many mammals, frogs, salamanders and others cannot travel long distances to reach the much-needed liquid. 

       With this in mind, if you have not already done so, place a container that animals can use for drinking and bathing. It can be a pedestal birdbath, or something as simple as garbage can lid, clay or plastic dish, or pie pan.

MOCKINGBIRD DRINKING WATER; Photo credit: Terry W Johnson

       These artificial ponds need to be no more than 1.5 to 2 inches deep at their deepest point.  It is great if the container has a sloping, rough bottom.  However, if it is deeper, place a gently sloping rock in the middle of the container or cover its bottom with gravel.  This will enable birds of all sizes to use it.

       Then, don’t forget it; keep it full of fresh, clean water at all times.

       If you already have a birdbath but have not regularly maintained it, begin doing so.

       For more information dealing with providing water to backyard wildlife, type in WATER in the Search feature on the right side of the first page of the blog and hit the return button on your computer.  In the blink of an eye, you will be able to access no less than seven columns dealing with this important subject.




        Throughout this summer’s unprecedented heart wave, many of the plants my wife and I have planted for pollinators are requiring regular watering.  Such has not been the case with a native plant named mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum ssp.).  We have not watered our three patches of mountain mint a single time.  In spite of this, the plants in all three spots have flourished and are attracting more pollenators than other plant growing in our yard.

       This was dramatically illustrated week when we participated in the Great Southeast Pollinator Count.  We selected the two plants (mountain-mint and butterfly bush to survey.  During the 15-minute count at the mountain mint plants, 39 individual pollinators were recorded.  This list included bumblebee – 1, carpenter bee – 2, small bees – 2, wasps – 8, flies – 7, butterflies – 18, and ant -1.

       We saw two juniper hairstreaks and 16 red-banded hairstreaks.  To put this in perspective, the day before I surveyed butterflies on the Annual Fall Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count.  In spite of the fact that the team I was assigned to spent 7.5 hours in the field and walked some 2.2 while visiting a number of sites scattered across much of the eastern side of Monroe County and a small piece of Jasper County, we spotted only three red-banded hairstreaks.

       The value of mountain-mint to wild pollinators has been long recognized.  For example, Penn State conducted a research project to determine the value of a number of pollinator plants o wild pollinators found mountain-mint to be the plant most attractive to these special insects.  In addition, it tied with stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) for the top spot for its ability to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators.

       This fragrant plant grows up to six feet tall.  The plants blooms appear in clusters of small white to lavender tubular-shaped flowers arranged on a button-like base.  Each flower cluster is surrounded by a cluster of bracts (modified leaves) that appeared to be covered with flour or powdered sugar. In addition, it blooms for weeks during the summer.

       Mountain-mint is easy to grow. Like most folks that have it growing in their yards, a friend gave me, a handful of plants several years ago.  They did not produce any flowers the first year they were in the ground but have bloomed ever since.

       Keep in mind that the plant spreads rapidly, so place put it in a spot where it has room to spread.  If they do venture into areas where you don’t want them, they can be easily controlled.

       Like so many plants, they seem to attract more pollinators when planted in large groupings.  This is in partly because a large number of plants are more easily seen by pollinators.  In addition, larger patches of plants such as mountain-mint produce scents that can be more easily detected by potential visitors.  This appears to be particularly true in urban areas suffering from air pollution.

       If you do not have a friend or two that is willing to give you a few mountain-mint plants, I am sure that a nursery that deals in native plants can provide you with all that you need.


       Most folks that enjoy listening to birds realize that noise created by traffic, machines and other manmade sources affects our ability to hear birds. However, we have little understanding as to just how much these sounds impact our ability to hear the songs and calls of songbirds. 

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH; Photo credit: Terry W Johnson

       However, the recent Covid-19 pandemic provided researchers with the opportunity to study this situation. During those trying times, we were living through shutdowns that kept many Americans off the highways and homebound, consequently manmade noise levels were down. As a result, many of us noticed that the outside world seemed to be a quieter place. Fortunately, some during this time researchers were hard a work measuring these sound levels, and their impacts on birds and those of us that enjoy hearing them.

       Nancy Lawson noted in her excellent book Wildscape that one of the findings David Luther and his colleagues at George Mason University made was that noise levels dropped in some locales in the San Francisco area to those typical of the 1950s.  This enabled folks to hear four times more birds than they could prior to the pandemic. In addition, some species could actually be heard twice as far away.

       This is a classic example how humans are affecting our world.



       As I sit down to write this blog, the air temperature in my yard is 94ºF and the heat index (feel like temperature) is 115ºF.  When it is this hot day after day, hummingbird fanciers are beginning to wonder if the nectar they are serving the hummers visiting their backyards feeding station is too hot to the birds.

       According to some researchers, hummingbird nectar can indeed get too hot. Their studies suggest that feeding sugar water heated to 102ºF can adversely affect the hummingbird’s delicate metabolic system.

       With that in mind, some experts are recommending that during hot weather hummingbird food should be kept at or just below 100ºF. This can be difficult when each day we are faced with excessive heat. However, if you are concerned that the nectar in your feeders is too hot, you can do a few other things.   

       One approach is to use feeders that feature nectar reservoirs made of heavy glass.  Since glass is an insulator, it will help keep nectar cooler than plastic feeders.    Some folks even wrap their feeders in aluminum foil.  Supposedly, aluminum foil will block UV rays and actually reflect 98% of the sun’s radiant heat and, therefore, keeps nectar from overheating.

       If you have a shady spot in your yard, you can always hang your feeders there.  If this prevents you from watching the feeding activities of the birds swarming around your feeders, you might prefer to employ one of the other options.

       We do not know much about this supposed problem. With that in mind, let me know if you think the temperature of the nectar in your feeder poses to hummingbirds in your yard.  Also, if you try one of these or other means to try to keep nectar cooler, please let me know.




        If you maintain a seed feeder for backyard birds in Georgia, stocked with black oil sunflower seeds, more often than not gray squirrels will visit it.  When this happens these furry visitors seem to draw the ire of the folks trying at attract cardinals, Carolina chickadees and other birds to their backyard.  When I ask people why squirrels irritate them so much they often say the critters eat more than their share of the seeds.  That begs the question how much is too much?

       While it is easy to believe that gray squirrels subsist on sunflower seeds alone. The truth of the matter is, although sunflower seeds are loaded with such things as calcium, protein, and phosphorus, this is not a balanced diet.  Consequently, they also eat other foods such as fruits, berries, bark, wild nuts, and seeds as well as other foods including bones to obtain the nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and the like they need.  Therefore, sunflower seeds typically make up only five percent of the gray squirrel’s diet.

       A number of factors including weather, nutritional needs and availability of other foods determine how many sunflower seeds they consume at your feeders. However, we know that a gray squirrel normally eats 1.5 pounds of seeds and nuts each week.  This is the equivalent to the body weight of a typical gray squirrel.

       While only a portion of these seeds and nuts our black oil sunflower seeds, it is hard to believe they are not gobbling up far more seeds. This is especially true when you watch a gray perched on your feeder eating one sunflower seed after another. They are so adept at this that one study found a gray squirrel is capable of hulling and eating 19 sunflower seeds a minute.





       Some of our most interesting and beautiful backyard residents are animals were rarely see.  A classic example of this is the pandorus sphinx (Eumorpha pandus). 

       Jacob Hubner named this moth a little over 200 years ago (1821). He named the moth after an archer named Pandorus that that fought in the battle of troy.  His name was immortalized by Homer in the Iliad.

       The pandorus sphinx is a large insect (3-4.5”) in length.  It varies in color from green to brown while its wings display a distinctive pattern (see accompanying photo).

The photo was provided by Robyn Tamas.

         Pandorus sphinx moths range across the entire state of Georgia.  Although they seem of do well in urban settings, and suburban yards, their natural habitats include woodlands, human-altered habitats and even pine barrens.

        The moth’s host plants include peppervine, grap and Virginia creeper.

       The adults nectar on a variety of plants.  Interestingly they are often seen nectaring at milkweed blossoms.  One of the best times to see this moth nectaring is at dusk.

       However, most folks see them beneath the outside lights of homes, office buildings, gasoline stations and the like.  However, a good number of them turn up during the daytime on the sides of homes and other buildings.

       Be on the lookout for the interesting pollinator.  If you are lucky enough to spot one, have your cellphone ready as I am sure you will want to photograph it.


       Research has revealed that small birds lose an average of 10 percent of their body weight at night without suffering any ill effects.  Can you imagine if we were able to lose 10 percent of our weight while we are sleeping?  Now that is food for thought.