BACKYARD SECRET – AMERICAN CROWS USE ANTS TO KEEP THEIR FEATHERS CLEAN
If you have never taken the time to watch the behavior of the American crows that visit your yard, you are missing the opportunity to see birds exhibit some amazing behaviors. For example, if you are lucky, you just might see a crow engaged in a behavior called “anting.”
It seems that American crows will literally stand or lie on top of an ant mound and let swarms of these six-legged insects crawl all over them. Once the ants begin running around on the crows’ feathers, the birds grab the ants and rub them on themselves. Ornithologists believe the formic acid found in ants helps the birds ward off parasites.
Have you ever witnessed this activity? I must admit that, although I have not done so, it is something that I definitely want to see for myself.
RUBYTHOATED HUMMINGBIRDS RETURN TO GEORGIA IN MARCH
March is the month ruby-throated hummingbirds return to Georgia.
Over the years, countless Georgia hummingbird enthusiasts have told me that they saw the first hummingbird of the year hovering in the spot where a hummingbird feeder hung outside their kitchen window a year earlier.
With that in mind, if you do not already have a hummingbird feeder hanging in your backyard, there is no better time to hang a feeder in your backyard than right now.
The first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in South Georgia in late February and early March. On the average, from there, they make their way northward at a rate of about 23 miles per day. By March 20, the birds reach Middle Georgia. The first northbound birds arrive in North Georgia in late March and early April.
The first hummingbirds to arrive are males; the females make an appearance about 10 days later.
Let me know when the first male and female rubythroats arrive in your backyard.
DISCOURAGING COWBIRDS FROM VISITING FEEDERS
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.
CAN WEATHER AFFECT EARLY BLUEBIRD NESTING?
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.
TAKE PART IN THE GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT
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 birdcount.org. 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.
BACKYARD SECRET – HOW TO GET CLOSE TO A BROWN CREEPER
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 movements.is 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.
TENNESSEE WARBLER VISITS FEEDER
Some birds rarely, if ever, visit our bird feeders. Years can pass by between sightings of such a bird at a Georgia feeder. However, recently a prothonotary warbler began feeding at a Sumter County feeder. If that is not enough, a Tennessee warbler is now dining at a feeder in Middle Georgia.
The Tennessee warbler nests throughout Canada’s boreal forests. It then spends the winter from southern Mexico south through Central America to northern South America. Typically, we only see Tennessee warblers when they migrate south (August –November) and when they fly back to their breeding grounds (April-May). On a few occasions, the birds have been seen Georgia until the middle of February.
The habitats occupied by the birds in winter are open woodlands and coffee plantations. In fact, they are often the birds most commonly seen in coffee plantations. For this reason, some refer to the Tennessee warbler as the coffee warbler.
Tennessee warblers feed primarily on critters such as caterpillars, beetles, aphids, spiders and beetles. However, on migration and during the winter, the birds will eat nectar and fruit.
During the winter Tennessee warblers often visit platform feeders stocked with plantains and bananas. However, it is almost unheard of to hear of one visiting a feeder outside of their winter home.
If you have seen a Tennessee warbler in your backyard, you probably saw it foraging for insects or visiting a birdbath.
The Middle Georgia bird is regularly feasting on a peanut butter/oatmeal mixture. It will be interesting to see how long the bird continues to reside in its unusual winter home and whether it will vary its diet.
In the meantime, we all need to keep our eyes peeled for the appearance of a rare winter visitor making an appearance where it is least expected. If it does, it may be in your backyard.