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DO NOT TAKE YOUR HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER DOWN

        I am writing this blog on October 1.  The signs of fall are all around me.  Liatris (blazing star) and pineapple sage are blooming. In addition, the goldenrod that has taken root in our gardens and along the edge of our yard looks like they will be in full bloom before the end of the week.  My wife and I have also noticed that we are now apparently feeding only three hummingbirds.  The peak of the fall ruby-throated hummingbird migration is over in Middle Georgia.  Consequently, it is time to decide whether we should take our feeders down.

       Years ago, we decided to leave at least one feeder up throughout the fall and winter.  There are a number of reasons why we do so.  To begin with, a few of the hummingbirds that hatched this year either have not left our yard or are just arriving from points north of Georgia.  It is possible to see them throughout the month of October.  As such, our providing them with a source of quick energy allows them to obtain the fuel they need to continue on their journey.

       Another reason is that rufous hummingbirds begin arriving in Georgia as early as August. As such, if we have a feeder stocked with fresh food, one might decide to take up residence here this winter.  The rufous hummingbird is the hummingbird that most commonly winters in Georgia.

       In addition, over the past several decades Baltimore orioles have been wintering in Georgia in greater numbers.  These birds are fond of feeding on the sugar water found in hummingbird feeders.

       By the end of October, the ruby-throated migration is over for the year.  However, any hummingbird that appears at a feeder from November through February is likely going to be a western migrant. 

       I hope this will convince you to keep at least one feeder up in your yard at least through the end of the month.  In addition, if you want to attract one the rare western hummingbirds or Baltimore orioles that visit Georgia each winter, I strongly urge you to maintain a hummingbird feeder throughout the entire fall and winter. 

       We have done so for quite some time and have been lucky enough to host a number of rufous hummingbirds and one Baltimore oriole in past winters.

THE LITTLE YELLOW

       The little yellow (Eurema lisa) is the most common predominantly yellow butterfly most of us ever see yards.  It is bright yellow and has a wingspan of only 1 – 1.6 inches.  Although it looks much like a cloudless sulphur that never grew up, it is a separate species.

       You can easily identify it when it lands and folds its wings over its body.  In this position, if you look carefully, you will see a pair of tiny spots located near the forward edge of the folded wings.      While it can be seen somewhere in Georgia from late January into early September, little yellows are most abundant from late summer into autumn.  This is a butterfly that I never see flying far above the ground. Fortunately, for those of us that want to study one more closely, it will often land before resuming its erratic flight.

       The little yellow nectars on a variety of plants, however, it seems to prefer to dine at flowers borne on plants in the genus Aster.

       The favorite host plant of this strikingly beautiful tiny butterfly is partridge pea.

THE HUMMINGBIRD RESCUE KIT

  From time to time, many hummingbird fanciers face the task of trying to save the life of a hummingbird that has flown inside a garage or other structure.  If you know what to do and can act quickly, you can save the life of a bird that just seems like it cannot find its way back outside. 

       I have found the best to be ready for such an event is to have what I call a Hummingbird Rescue kit ready at all times.  My kit includes a long-handled butterfly net, telescoping window rod, or paintbrush extension pole, roll of duct tape, a brown paper bag, hummingbird feeder, and small bottle of nectar.

       Late last week, I had to use my kit to rescue a hummingbird from a laundromat.  It seems that one morning around 9:00 a.m. a hummingbird flew into a laundromat.  When I received the call, the bird had been flying about the ceiling of the laundromat for over five hours.  Knowing the bird was tired and hungry—I had to act fast.

       When I arrived and walked into the establishment, I spotted the bird flying about the ceiling some 10 feet above the floor.  The laundromat had two doors, one in front and one at the far end of the facility.  Both of them were left open in hopes the tiny bird would flu out.  However, as usual, the bird flew along the ceiling and never dropped down where it could exit either door. 

       It was obvious that it would be impossible to net the bird with a short-handled net.  My only chance to net it was to tape my butterfly net to the end of a curtain rod. Although a net taped to the curtain rod would allow me to reach the bird flying near the ceiling, the laundromat was so large it would prove next to impossible for me to get close enough to capture the bird in a net.  My best hope of saving the hapless prisoner was to coax it down low enough where it could directly fly out of a door.

       With that in mind, I rolled a metal laundry basket in front to the door on the far end of the laundromat.  I put a small amount of nectar in a hummingbird feeder and hung the feeder from the bar that ran across the basket.  This placed the feeder about four feet above the floor.

       I then walked to the far end of the building, raised my butterfly net above my head, and slowly began walking toward the bird flying high above the dryers.  In response to my approach, the bird flew toward the far end of the building.  When it got about 30 feet from the door and feeder it made a sharp, steady decline and landed on the one of the perches on the feeder and immediately began drinking.  It drank and drank. Even when a worker raised her arms and slowly walked toward the frightened, hungry bird it never stopped feeding. I told the attendant to stop walking when she got about feet from the bird.  By that time, I too was standing closely. The hummingbird continued to feed.

       After allowing, the bird to feed for a while we slowly approached the hummer.  Eventually it rose up, flew out the door, and vanished over the parking lot.  My rescue mission took only a few minutes and was a resounding success.  I wish they were that easy.

       Fortunately, I did not have to use everything I carry in the kit. However, it is always to best to carry everything you might use.

       In a home setting, if a bird refuses to come down and drink at a feeder placed in the opening to a garage, you may have to catch it in your net.  If you do, it is important that you do not squeeze it. Gently hold it in your hand, take it to the door, open your hand and let it fly away. 

       However, if the bird spent a long time in the garage before it is rescued, while gently holding the bird in your hand give it a chance to feed on nectar from a hummer feeder or shallow jar lid.  You will be amazed; often the bird will begin feeding while you are holding it in your hand.  Don’t dip the bill into the liquid. Let me bird feed on its own volition.

       If the bird that is trapped in the garage simply drops to the floor, or has a difficult time flying, place it is a brown paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over just enough to allow air to enter the bag while preventing it from flying away.  Some folks even place a jar lid containing a small amount of nectar in the bag along with the exhausted bird. 

       Place the bag in a cool dark place for a short while. Continue to check on the hummer’s condition.  When it begins to flutter about, or seems very alert, take it out of the bag. Give it a chance to feed and then let it go.

LEAVE DEAD PLANTS FOR BACKYARD BIRDS

       For generations, it has been an accepted practice to remove dead flowering plants before the onset of autumn.  Nowadays gardeners are beginning to leave the stalks and seed heads of many flowers that have long since bloomed.  They don’t refrain from removing them because they are lazy. Instead, they do it because they have come to realize that the seed heads found on these dry plants are loaded with nutritious seeds.  As such, they are a source of food for a wide variety of birds throughout the fall and winter.  Our native black-eyed Susan and coneflowers are examples of such plants.

       Here are some of the birds that dine on seeds of these garden favorites:  

Black-eyed Susan—American goldfinch, Carolina Chickadee, northern cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, sparrows, and the eastern towhee.

Coneflowers—mourning dove, blue jay, dark-eyed junco, American goldfinch, downy woodpecker, northern cardinal Carolina chickadee, pine siskin and sparrows such as the white-throated, chipping, and song.

HUMMINGBIRD MIGRATION IS SIMPLY AMAZING

       As we all know, the fall migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird is in full swing. In a few short weeks, most of the flying jewels will have left our yards flying toward their winter home in southern Mexico and Central America.  While we do not fully understand this migration, we do know that some will fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to reach the western shore of the Gulf of Mexico.  With this in mind, let’s look at some of the things that involved in this amazing flight.

       The birds do not migrate in flocks. Instead, each bird must make its own way over the choppy waters of the Gulf.

      The shortest distance across the Gulf of Mexico is 467 miles.  In order to have enough fuel to successfully make the journey they must carry at last 3/40th of an ounce of fuel shored in the form of fat.

       The birds travel at an average speed of approximately 25 miles per hour. A male rubythroat can carry enough fuel to stay aloft for 26 hours and fly a distance of 645 miles. In comparison, a heavier female can stay aloft 24.3-hour flight that covers 604 miles.  Biologists estimate each bird must beat its wings 2.7 million times to cross the Gulf of Mexico during the estimated 20 hours it takes them travel from shore to shore.

       Rubythroats are benefitted with they are migrating with the aid of headwinds.  One the other side of the coin, if the tiny migrants encounter a 20-mph headwind, they literally fly backwards.

       When you consider what an amazing athletic and navigation fete this is, you cannot help but wonder how in the world they can do it.                 

 

BACKYARD SECRET – LISTENING TO BIRDS SING CAN BE THERAPEUTIC

       I have long harbored the belief that listening to birds singing can have a positive impact on humans.  I know whenever I am facing a problem or simply trying to wind down at end of the day, sitting on my deck listening to feathered songsters such as wood thrushes, cardinals, pine warbler, mockingbirds and summer tanagers, clears my mind and seems to leave me more relaxed.

       The fact that many other folks feel the same way has prompted researchers to investigate whether or not the purported benefits of listening to birds sing are real or imagined. One such researcher is an associate professor at Cal Poly Tech University named Clinton Francis. His experiment involved exposing hikers along a trail to short periods of birds singing. When Dr. Clinton compared the impact of the birdsongs on hikers exposed to the songs with hikers that did not hear the recordings, he said, “In just seven minutes, you can see a measurable effect on people’s indirect, self-reported well-being.”

       If, from time to time, you find you simply need to find a way to relax a bit, trying sitting in your backyard and listening to the birds singing. If you do, I suspect before you go back inside your home, your state of mind has improved. 

      

      

DON’T FORGET TO MAINTAIN A SUPPLY OF WATER FOR BACKYARD WILDLIFE DURING THE CURRENT HEAT WAVE

        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.

      

 

LOWER NOISE LEVELS ENABLED US TO BETTER HEAR BIRDS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

       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.

  

CAN HUMMINGBIRD FOOD BE TOO HOT?

       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.

      

 

GRAY SQUIRRELS AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS

        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.