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A NEW ADDITION TO THE LIST OF BIRDS I’VE SEEN EATING BEAUTYBERRIES

       Years ago, I learned that one of the best ways to attract a variety of birds to your yard is to provide them with a variety of wildlife foods.  In an attempt to accomplish this goal, I now offer my feathered neighbors a variety of seeds, and suet, in addition to mix of seeds, fruits and berries produced on a number of native trees and shrubs growing about the yard.  One of these shrubs is American beautyberry.

       A northern mockingbird was the first bird that I saw feeding on the shrub’s bright purple berries.  Since then I have kept track of the different species of birds that I have witnessed dining on these uniquely colored berries.  Up until this year, the list included the gray catbird, house finch, northern cardinal and brown thrasher.

       In the last few days, I have enjoyed watching cardinals hopscotching around the bird feeding area located in front of my home office my yard eating suet, sunflower seeds as well as the berries of an American beautyberry growing nearby.  Meanwhile, brown thrashers have divided their time between eating suet, pieces of bread.  and beautyberries.

       Yesterday, I just happened to notice the bush’s foliage shaking.  I stopped what I was doing and waited to see if a bird would appear.  Much to my surprise, the bird causing the leaves to shudder was a female summer tanager.  For several minutes, the bird moved about the bush eating a several beautyberries before moving on to the next cluster of bead-like berries.  Then, just as quickly as she appeared, she flew away.

       When she vanished into the foliage of a nearby oak tree, I had a new addition the list of birds I have personally seen feeding on American beautyberries in my yard.  Better yet, I also now possess an unforgettable memory.

       If you would like more information on American beautyberries, type American beautyberry in the Search bubble found on the right of the screen.  When you press the return button, a number of former blogs dealing with beautyberries will appear.

WATCHING BLUE JAYS COLLECT ACORNS

     I have long enjoyed watching blue jays collect acorns in my yard.  In spite of the fact that they have to compete with a variety of backyard neighbors for them, they always seem to collect more than their share.

     The findings of a study that involved closely monitoring the habits of 50 blue jays suggest that my belief has merit.  The results of the study revealed the birds stored 150,000 acorns over 28 days.  In order to amass this many acorns, each bird had to average collecting 107 acorns per day.

     This just goes to show there is a lot more going on in our backyards with often realize.

A SUMMER TANAGER’S ODD CHOICE OF FOOD

       Being a dedicated backyard bird watching enthusiast, there is nothing that compares with looking out my window and spotting a bird I have never seen before seen at my feeders dining on my food offerings.  Less than a week ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy one of these rare occurrences.

       As is always the case, the sighting was totally unexpected.  In this instance, while working at my computer, I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts and glanced out my office window to see what, if any, birds were feeding.  Immediately I spotted what I thought was a male northern cardinal standing atop a wire basket containing a cake of suet.  However, when I looked at the bird through a pair of binoculars I was stunned to see it was instead an adult male summer tanager.

       It would be an understatement to say I was surprised.  I have been feeding birds since I was a child and never once spotted a summer tanager eating suet.  I have read about others seeing summer tanagers eating suet, but I never thought I would do so in my own backyard.

       I quickly grabbed my camera and took a few photos of the bird before it left.  Later the tanager returned and briefly shared suet with a downy woodpecker.  When it flew away, it l left me with an image that is forever forged in my memory.

SAYING GOOD-BYE FOR ANOTHER YEAR

       Currently our backyards are abuzz with hummingbirds.  The birds we are now seeing are a combination of ruby-throated hummingbirds that have already begun their migration and local birds that are preparing to embark on their fall migration.

       The first birds to leave are the adult males.  Some males that that breed north of Georgia actually begin flying south during the first couple of weeks in July.  In comparison, males that spent the spring and summer in Georgia often do not commence their migration until late July or early August.  However, it is still possible to see a few males at our feeders right now.

       Adult females migrate next.  The vast majority of the birds that are now gorging themselves on the nectar provided by our flowers such as scarlet sage and feeders are a combination of adult females, immature females, and immature males.  As I have discussed in former blogs (check the archive), it is easy to tell the immature males from the females.  However, it is often next to impossible to distinguish an adult female from a female hatched this year from afar.  In fact, the only sure way to do this is capture them and closely examine their bills.  However, in some cases, at this time of the year adult females are often larger than immature females.

       While the migration of the adult females is already underway, some will be feeding in our yards for a few more weeks.

       The last to leave are immature hummers.  They will be devouring as much nectar as they can consume for a few more weeks.  Ideally, an immature that weighed only about three grams a few weeks ago will try to store enough fuel (fat) to bring its weight up to around five grams before leaving.

       My wife and I have enjoyed feeding more hummingbirds this year than ever before.  We have been feeding them around twenty cups of nectar a day for weeks.  In addition, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the birds visiting scarlet sage, zinnias, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, and a host of other plants.  We have also seen the birds apparently gleaning tiny insects and spiders from foliage and flowers that do not produce an abundance of nectar.  We realize the protein these small animals provide is an essential part of the hummingbird’s diet.

       Much to our chagrin hummingbird numbers have dropped off in recent days.  We know that they have to leave, but that we also realize we will miss them.  As such, even though we are still hosting lots of hummingbirds, we are already looking forward to their return next spring.

       If you are an avid fan of rubythroats, I am sure you understand why we feel this way.

BUTTERFLY SECRET REVEALED

       The red-banded hairstreak is one of our smallest and seemingly most fragile butterflies.  Whenever I am fortunate enough to spot one of these tiny flying jewels, I realize that they have little chance of surviving the attack of a predator.  Without the benefit of speed or camouflage, they must rely on deception to avoid becoming a meal.

       The red-banded is one of a handful of hairstreaks that inhabit my yard.  Like the other hairstreaks, the red-banded’s hindwings bear short, slender extensions often referred to as tails or hairs.  In addition, two black spots adorn the trailing edge of each hindwing.  These spots serve as false eyes.  They, along with the projections that look like antennae, are keys to the red-banded hairstreak’s ability to deter predators.

       Whenever you look at a red-banded hairstreak perched on a leaf or flower you will notice its hindwings are in constant motion.  When one wing goes up other goes down.  The constant movement of the butterfly’s wings makes a bird believe it is looking at the head of the insect.  As such, when it attacks what it perceives to be the head of its prey, it ends up with nothing more than pieces of the insect’s wings.  This gives the butterfly the opportunity to fly away without suffering a lethal wound.

       However, Dr. Andrei Sourakov, a scientist with the University of Florida, has conducted experiments that strongly suggest that the hairstreak’s ruse might actually serve to protect it from attacks of another predator known as the jumping spider.  When the biologist placed hairstreaks that had their false heads cut off in the same container with jumping spiders, the spiders always attacked the butterflies’ true heads.  However, when he placed hairstreaks possessing complete wings in a container containing the predators, the spiders only attacked the butterfly’s false heads.

       I am certain the hairstreaks’ behavior dupes birds into striking at their false heads too.  However, due to the jumping spider’s greater abundance, it makes sense, that the deception aids the butterflies from fooling spiders more than birds.

       This is just another case where research is forcing us to question our long-held beliefs concerning the natural world.

A SIMPLE TIP THAT WILL HELP AVOID BEES AT HUMMER FEEDERS

        There are a number tactics folks employ to deter bees, yellow jackets, and wasps from their feeders.  Here is one you may not have considered: avoid using feeders decorated with yellow features. 

       Most often, yellow is used to decorate the artificial flowers surrounding feeding portals.  I am not sure why manufacturers go to so much trouble to include yellow in the color scheme of a feeder.  Perhaps they feel yellow flowers look more realistic, or attractive.  Who knows?  One thing we do know is hummingbirds are attracted to the color red found on such places as the feeder base and top.  As such, using yellow on a feeder does not enhance the chances that hummingbirds will use it.            

       When yellow is used to decorate a feeder, it simply makes the feeder more appealing to bees, yellow jackets, and wasps.  The reason for this is honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets are attracted to the color yellow.  Consequently, in theory, feeders that do not feature the color yellow should not be visited by these insects as often as feeders without the bright color.

       However, if red feeders are coated with sugar water that has sloshed out of feeder portals, squadrons of these stinging insects will most assuredly show up.  In addition, these flying insects are capable of finding a source of food regardless of whether it has any yellow on it or not.  I know this is true as just last week I was stung by a yellow jacket as I tried to refill one of my red feeders.

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       Using feeders without yellow will not solve the problem of hummingbirds having to share nectar with hornets, honeybees, and yellow jackets.  However, it just might help alleviate the problem.

GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS TO BE HELD AUGUST 20-21, 2021

       If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.  This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.

       This will mark the third year the census has been conducted.  Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey.  Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.

       The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part.  There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time.  Most counts are held in yards.  However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds. 

       The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.  Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (beckgri@uga.edu).

       The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.

       For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org).  When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.

      

THE JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK CAN BE SEEN IN OUR BACKYARDS

       The juniper hairstreak is one of our more elusive butterflies; in spite of the fact, it ranges across most of the state except in portions of Southwest Georgia.  This is unfortunate because this small (wingspan roughly one-inch), butterfly possesses unique beauty.  When you see a juniper hairstreak, the thing that jumps out at you is the jewel-like olive green color that covers most of its wings. 

       Juniper hairstreaks are often difficult to find anywhere, let alone in backyards.  However, last summer I saw more juniper hairstreaks in my yard than I had seen in my entire life.  My good fortune is appears linked to my transplanting mountain mint plants in four locations in my backyard.  During much of August 2020, I could consistently find juniper hairstreaks nectaring at the mountain mint’s tiny blooms.

       Prior to last summer, I would only occasionally find juniper hairstreaks nectaring on the blossoms of white clover in my backyard.  However, I would often go a year or more without seeing one.

JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK ON MOUNTAIN MINT

       I did not understand why this is the case since several large red cedars grow in my large backyard.  Red cedar is the juniper hairstreak’s host plant.  It seems juniper hairstreaks do not venture far from the trees, preferring instead to spend the majority of its time in the trees aromatic foliage. 

       In fact, I have often read that the best way to see a juniper hairstreak is to flush one by shaking a limb or tossing a dead branch in the into the canopy of a red cedar.  Although I have tried this trick many times, it only worked once.

       The juniper hairstreak nectars on a variety of flowering plants, although for some reason, I have never seen a juniper hairstreak feed on any of the large array of nectar-bearing flowers in my yard.  That is until I planted mountain mint.

       If you long to see a juniper hairstreak and red cedars grow nearby, you might want to plant mountain mint in your yard.  The native is hardy an easy to grow.  If you do add this plant to your yard, set it out in a place where it will not compete with other nectar plants, as it will spread.

       Once you spot the first juniper hairstreak in your yard, you will wish you had made its acquaintance a long time ago.

FEEDING BROWN THRASHERS

       Attracting brown thrashers to feeders is a difficult proposition.  However, as tough as it is nowadays, during the early 20th century, sighting brown thrashers eating at feeders was an extremely rare event.

       One of the difficulties we face trying to entice the birds to our feeders is brown thrashers prefer to feed on the ground.  In fact, they rarely visit hanging feeders at all.  However, they will sometimes feed on feeding tables and platform feeders.

       The birds that do show up at our feeders seem to prefer dining on mixed seed and millet scattered on the ground.  Occasionally they will also dine on the likes of black-oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and wheat.  Recently I saw a brown thrasher fly off with a small piece of bread.

           BROWN TRASHER AT BIRD PUDDING

       The one food that the brown thrashers in my yard favor above all others is a bird pudding laced with peanuts and peanut butter.  In fact, I would so far as to say that well more 90 percent of the times I have watched brown thrashers visiting my bird feeding area they fed on this greasy food. 

A MEMORABLE ENCOUNTER WITH A MISSISSIPPI KITE

       We all have our share of memorable encountered with wildlife in our backyards.  However, when my daughter called yesterday to relate what had just happened to her, I was amazed–it was unlike anything I had ever heard of before.

       This wildlife encounter took place in one of the most unlikely places imaginable.  She lives in a large subdivision in Columbia County just west of Augusta.  In spite of the fact little wildlife habitat exists in this community; over the years she has been able to attract an amazing array of wild critters.  In fact, I tease her over the fact that she often sees wildlife that rarely venture into my backyard located in the country.

       It seems that around 11:00 a.m. on 3 July, as she was mowing her front yard she noticed that she was flushing both grasshoppers and dragonflies.  Suddenly she saw the shadow of a large bird flying over her head.  Looking up she was surprised to see a Mississippi kite flying back and forth.  She had seen Mississippi kites flying high above her yard on a number of occasions.  What made this event different was this bird was flying only fifteen feet or so above the lawn.  The bird was so close she could peer into the bird’s eyes as well as see that the talon-tipped toes on its yellow feet spread wide-open ready to capture prey.

       Some people would be unnerved to see a bird with a 44-inch wingspan flying so close to them.  Such an experience might cause them to conjure up scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film, The Birds.

       Never one to be afraid of wildlife, she simply wondered why the bird was flying so close to her.  Then when to bird swooped down to catch an insect, she quickly realized that the Mississippi kite was actually hunting.  Apparently, it noticed the large insects she was flushing with each pass of her lawnmower, and flew closer to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity.

       Mississippi kites feed primarily on large insects such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, bees, and moths.  Small mammals, snakes, lizards, and birds are also eaten from time to time.  Using their strong feet, Mississippi kites capture and eat their prey on the wing.  However, they sometimes will even hunt from a perch or walk about on the ground trying to catch food.

       In times past, Mississippi kites would feed on insects that took to the air as bison grazed prairie grazes.  Nowadays they will follow livestock and mowing machines and take advantage of the insects they flush.  However, until now, I had never heard of a Mississippi kite hunting above a person mowing their lawn.

       If you have an open yard and live anywhere in Georgia’s Coastal Plain to just north of the Fall Line (the birds’ primary nesting range in Georgia), you just might look up one early summer day and see a Mississippi kite following you around the yard.  If you do, don’t panic; just enjoy a truly rare and memorable wildlife encounter.