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DON’T FORGET TO DEADHEAD BUTTERFLY BUSHES

       Butterfly bushes are truly butterfly magnets.  However, if you want them to continue blooming from now until migrating monarchs pass through out state months down to road; you must deadhead the plant’s spent blossoms.

       For reasons I do not understand, this spring my butterfly bushes have been covered with the largest clusters of flowers they have ever produced.  Unfortunately, few butterflies were around to enjoy them.  However, lots of bumblebees, honeybees, and carpenter bees constantly visited the nectar-rich blossoms while they were blooming. 

       Fortunately, butterfly bushes can be encouraged to produce a bounty of flowers throughout much of the growing season.  All it takes is deadheading the bush’s flower clusters before they go to seed.

         Butterfly bush w/spent blossoms

       Recently I deadheaded my butterfly bushes for the first time this year.  From experience, I know I will have to repeat this procedure many times.  However, I realize that, if I am diligent, countless butterflies and other pollinators will benefit from the food produced by crop after crop of fresh flowers.  In the past, I have been successful in prolonging the butterfly bushes’ blooming until the monarchs en route to their wintering home in Mexico.  When they use my yard as a stopover area on their epic journey it is not uncommon to see anywhere from four to eight monarchs on a single butterfly bush.

       When deadheading a cluster of flowers, remove the spent cluster down to the spot close to the point when the main flower stem joins two side branches.  If this is done at the right time, the two side branches will quickly produce flowers too.  When the blooms on the main branch and side branches have already turned brown simply, cut the stem just above the next juncture of side branches and the main stem.

       This is definitely a case where a little time spent cutting back spent flowers will produce a beautiful bush and remain a source of nectar throughout the summer.        

HERE IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU FIND A YOUNG BIRD ON THE GROUND

      Every year countless Georgia homeowners find helpless young birds on the ground beneath trees and shrubs.  In some cases, the young birds and their nests are torn out of a tree by an intense storm.  In other cases, a young bird simply accidentally falls from its nest.  If you happen across such a bird, do you know what to do?

       If you find a hatchling, look about and see if you can locate its nest.  If you do locate it, simply place the young bird back in the nest.  More than likely, parents are perched nearby and will resume raising the youngster.

       On the other hand, if you find a whole or partial nest containing young, place the nest or its remains and young birds in something like a hanging basket.  If the container is much larger than the nest, place the nest atop some mulch (choose mulch that will not get soggy when wet).  Then hang it in the tree as close as you can to its original location.

       After you have replaced the nest and young birds all you can do is wait.  In the best-case scenario, the parents will return to the young.  However, after a reasonable length of time, if the parents have not returned to claim their hatchlings, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

       A list of Georgia’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found at www.gadnrle.org.  Once you open the site scroll down the subject list to Wildlife rehabilitators.  These dedicated, skilled individuals are listed by county and the types of wildlife they are qualified to treat.

FEEDING SUET IN HOT WEATHER

     Suet has long been considered a food that should only be fed to our bird neighbors in the winter.  The reasons for this are during hot weather suet easily melts creating quite a mess, turns rancid, and when smeared on a bird’s feathers harm their ability to repel water.  In addition, when it melts, its aroma has a tendency to attract unwanted visitors.  Nowadays, however, if you know what you are doing, it is possible feed birds suet throughout the year.

       Suet’s reputation of being only winter food offering surfaced back in the day when the only suet available to bird enthusiasts was animal fat preferably trimmed off the carcasses of cattle.  Folks either would buy raw suet from the local butcher as feed it as is or render it themselves.  Today suet is difficult purchase at the grocery store.  Consequently, most of us buy blocks of rendered suet at stores that sell bird products.   

       Pure suet is an outstanding bird food.  However, since it does melt when temperatures reach 90˚F and above, it should be avoided in hot weather.  With that in mind, if you want to offer suet to birds in warm weather, turn your attention to suet labeled no-melt or no-drip suet.  The only suets of this type that I have found are not what you can technically call pure suet since they contain a variety of other foods.  One term that is often used to describe them is bird pudding.

       For a number of years, I have fed a bird pudding containing peanut butter and peanuts.  The birds are so fond of it I offer it to them throughout the year.  Consequently, in addition to attracting a wide variety of winter residents, feeding it to them during the spring and summer has provided me some fantastic viewing opportunities that I would have otherwise missed had I limited using it only during the colder months.

       For example, one afternoon last week the bird activity around a wire feeder containing suet laced with peanut butter and peanuts was exceptionally high.  In roughly an hour, the feeder was visited by two hairy woodpeckers, a brown-headed nuthatch, gray catbird, cardinals, house finches, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, and Carolina chickadees.

       I particularly enjoyed the visits of the hairy woodpeckers and Carolina chickadees.  Since I do not often see hairy woodpeckers in my yard, spotting two was quite a treat.  First, an adult arrived and ate for quite some time.  While it was dining, an immature hairy woodpecker suddenly landed on the Shepherd’s hook holding up the feeder.  The youngster landed near the top of the long metal pole and immediately slid down about a foot before flying up to the top of the rod for another try.  As expected, he slid down the post again.  It was amusing to watch as the bird vainly tried several times to hold on to the slim metal pole. Finally, it gave up and flew directly to the wire feeder and began feeding.

       As for the Carolina chickadees, as well as I can remember, I have never seen four of them converge on a feeder at one time.  All that changed when four flew in and ate suet together.  They would peck at the food for a few minutes and fly off only to return in a few minutes. 

       I am convinced this was probably a family group.

       If you try, feeding suet from now through summer, use no-melt or no-drip suet.  Place your feeder in the shade and monitor the food very closely.  If you notice it is melting or turning rancid, remove it.  The safety and health of our feathered neighbors should always be your paramount concern.

CAT’S EAR IS A SHOWSTOPPER

       Whenever cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) is blooming, the shear abundance, and beauty of its bright yellow blooms dominates the landscape.  Currently cat’s ear is blooming in lawns, along road shoulders, and scores of other places across the Middle Georgia.  Since it grows throughout much of eastern North America, it may be growing in your corner of the world too.  However, in spite of the fact that it so abundant, I suspect when most folks see large stands of cat’s ear waving in the spring breeze, they think they are actually looking a patches of dandelions.

       From a distance, this wildflower looks much like a tall dandelion, however, there several differences between the two plants.  Here are a couple of things to look for that will help you tell a cat’s ear from a dandelion.  The flowering stalks of a true dandelion are unbranched and hollow; those of the cat’s ear are branched and solid.  In addition, the cat’s ear leaves are hairy while those of the dandelion are smooth.

       Many also call cat’s ear false dandelion.  However, most folks familiar with the plant refer to it as cat’s ear.  The plant got its name from the hairs found on the plant’s leaves.  These hairs are supposed to resemble the true hairs found in a domestic cat’s ear.

       This wildflower is not native to the Peach State.  It is actually an import from the Old World and North Africa.

       In spite of its abundance, the plant does not provide an abundance of food for pollinators.  While cat’s ear blossoms are occasionally visited by butterflies, they most often provide pollen and nectar for native bees.        I find one of the plant’s most interesting traits is that it opens and closes its flower every day.  Each morning the blossoms remain closed until the stand receives around an hour of sunlight.  They the close again late in the afternoon.  Back in the day, some farmers would say that it was not time to begin haying until the plant’s blossoms open.  Then at the end of the day, the closure of the blooms signaled the time to quit haying.

       My yard is full of cat’s ears.  If you haven’t treated your lawn with a herbicide, I suspect cat’s ear growing in your yard too. 

NOW IS A GREAT TIME TO BEGIN PLANTING ZINNIAS

      Zinnias are among my favorite plants.  Whenever I plant them, I cannot help but recall pleasant memories of planting them as a child many years ago.  Now that I am a wildlife gardener, I am fond of them because the add beauty to my yard and are great wildlife plants too.  With that in mind, my wife and I are preparing to plant zinnias for the first time this year.  That’s right I said for the first time because my wife and I plant zinnias multiple times a year.

       We plant patches of zinnias in our gardens as well as in large planters.  The crop we are planting now will begin producing flowers in sixty to seventy days.  Once the plants bloom, we prolong the time they bloom by deadheading spent blossoms.  By planting zinnias once week for several weeks, we are ensuring that we will enjoy zinnia blossoms and our wildlife neighbors will have access to the food they provide well into the fall.

       My wife and I have had the best luck attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and our nectar feeders using single-flowered varieties.  They provide hummingbirds easy access to the plant’s nectar.  In addition, many butterflies seem to prefer feeding on the relatively flat surface offered by the flat landing area found on the blooms of old fashion varieties.

       While butterflies visit zinnias for their nectar, hummingbirds also eat the tiny insects often found on zinnia blooms.  In fact, it has been suggested they visit zinnias as much for the protein provided by insects as they do nectar.

       My wife and I also enjoy watching American goldfinches visit our zinnias during the summer.  The birds spend day after day pulling the petals off zinnia flowers to reach the seeds found at base of the petals.

       I think it is great that zinnias enhance by backyard wildlife viewing opportunities by attracting hummingbirds, scores of butterflies and American goldfinches.

       I hope you will plant them in your garden this year.  If you do, I will be surprised if they do not offer you some great wildlife viewing too.

LOOKING AT NECTAR PLANTS THROUGH THE EYES OF A HUMMINGBIRD

      My wife and I enjoy gardening for hummingbirds.  In an effort to provide them with a source of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible, we provide them a multitude of plants.  The list of nectar plants includes such hummingbird favorites as zinnia, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, lantana, coral honeysuckle, scarlet sage, lyre leaf sage, red buckeye, hollyhock, columbine and many more.  These plants provide us with an ever-changing mosaic composed of different colors.  Often when I gaze at this gorgeous setting, I cannot help but wonder what these plants look like through the eyes of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit these flowers countless times.

       Research conducted by researchers representing the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard, University of Maryland, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and the University of British Columbia has revealed our ability to see colors pales in comparison with that of hummingbirds.  Princeton University Assistant Professor Mary Caswell put it this way, “Humans are color blind compared to birds and many other animals.” 

       The research discovered hummingbirds appear to be able to detect pure ultra-violet from a combination of colors such as ultra-violet plus red and red as well as ultra-violet plus green from pure green.  Ultra-violet plus red and ultra-violet plus green were undetectable to the researchers.

       Many scientists believe the reason why hummingbirds are able to see far more colors than us is linked to the fact that a hummingbird’s eye contains four different types of cones whereas humans have but three.  The fourth type of cones detect near ultra-violet light (UV).  Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye. 

       The ability to detect near UV light is beneficial to hummingbirds because many nectar plants display colors in the near UV light range.  Consequently, such plants stand out more to hummingbirds than they do to humans.

              I am certain that this research represents another step toward our greater understanding of the hummingbird’s ability to see colors.  Wouldn’t it great to catch a glimpse at the colors of the natural world through the eyes of a hummingbird?

SOURCES OF NATIVE PLANTS

       There is a growing interest in incorporating Georgia native plants home landscapes across the state.  However, whenever I make a presentation dealing with native plants of value to wildlife, invariably I am asked, “Where can I purchase these valuable plants?” 

       There is indeed a paucity of reputable wild plant dealers in Georgia.  In fact, I am convinced the inability of gardeners to purchase wild plants is limiting the numbers of homeowners that are incorporating Georgia native plants in their home landscapes.

       With this in mind, whenever I come across a reputable nursery that deals in native plants I am going to share contact information relating to these organizations with you. 

       In hopes of adding to this list as time goes by, please let me know about a native plant dealer that you have dealt with.  This information will help me expand the list in the future.

  Plant: Blackeyed Susan          Butterfly: Pearl Crescent

Here is a list of four nurseries that can help you add a new dimension to your garden this spring.

Asclepias and More                                Phone: 706-533-1149
1055 Fieldstone Road
Grovetown, Georgia 30813

Vincent Gardens                                     Phone: 912-381-0644
1960 East Baker Highway
Douglas, Georgia 31535

State Botanical Garden of Georgia         Phone: 706-542-1244
2450 S. Milledge Avenue
Athens, Georgia 30606

Native Forest Nursery                             Phone: 706-483-3397
11306 US-411
Chatsworth, Georgia 30705

YOU MAY NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR YARD TO SEE SPRING MIGRANTS

      I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration.  If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds.  While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.

       As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds.  These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas.  Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations.  Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.

       The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet.  However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights.  By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects.  However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).

       Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves.  Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.

       When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal.  The worst trees are introduced ornamentals.  Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies.  Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.

       Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies.  The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses.  This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy. 

       In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees.  Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).

       Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list.  The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.

       If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants.  How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find.  If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day.  Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.

       If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage.  While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.

       

OFFERING HUMMINGBIRDS NESTING MATERIAL

        If you are looking for a gift for hummingbird devotees, a hummingbird nesting kit may be the answer.

       You can purchase kits from several companies or make your own.  Each kit consists of a wire suet feeder and a supply of nesting material.  All of the kits I checked out online contain either raw or processed cotton.  Some even include kapok and lichens.

       Currently hummingbird nesting kits are rarely employed in Georgia.  In fact, I only know one couple that annually offers cotton to ruby-throated hummingbirds .  They have told me that, on several occasions, they have seen female hummingbirds collecting cotton from their wire cages.  They also mentioned hummingbirds have a definite preference for loose cotton over cotton balls.  Perhaps this is because the birds find it more difficult to pull fibers out of a compacted ball.  Who knows?

       I suspect, in most locales, hummingbirds have little problem finding plant down to line their nests.  If that is the case, you might ask yourself,  “Why would anybody want to offer ruby-throated hummingbirds cotton?”  One reason might be having an ample supply of cotton fibers available to line their tiny nests makes the female’s arduous job of constructing a nest a little easier.  However, it may be because hummingbird fans simply want to experience the exhilaration that stems from watching a hummingbird actually use “their” cotton to construct its nest. 

       I know it would make my day!

TOOLS TO EASE CLEANING UP FEEDING AREAS

      Although we know, it is imperative that we keep the ground below bird feeders free from seed hulls, droppings, and wet seeds; we don’t always do something about it.  One reason for this is it is not an easy task, especially when you have to dig out seeds and hulls imbedded in thick grass.  With that in mind, I want to tell you about two tools that I have found really help make completing this necessary task a whole lot easier.

       I use a small garden rake and an industrial long-handled dustpan.  Being only seven inches wide, the rake’s spring steel teeth make it easy for me to rake out the droppings, seeds, and hulls hidden beneath the grass growing beneath my feeders.  I then simply rake them into the long-handled, large capacity dustpan and pour them in a cardboard box of plastic trash bag.

       These two simple tools have eliminated my having to bend over.  In addition, I am able to clean my two bird feeding areas in a fraction of the time I once devoted to this task.

       If you have been putting off cleaning your feeding areas, now is the time to change your ways.  This need is been amplified by the fact regular rainfall and daytime temperatures that have been are soaring into the 70s and low 8os have created perfect conditions for the growth of the bacteria, fungi, and protozoan parasites that cause the majority of the disease outbreaks among our backyard birds.  

       As a result, reports of sick and dying birds at feeders are on the rise.  Using the two tools, I have just mentioned, spending a few minutes cleaning up the area beneath your feeders will help ensure that the birds feeding in your yard will not be the next site of an outbreak of salmonella, aspergillosis, avian pox, conjunctivitis (finch disease), or trichomoniasis.