NEST BOXES FOR PILEATED WOODPECKERS?
One of the most difficult birds to attract to backyards in Georgia is the pileated woodpecker. The truth of the matter is most of us have little chance of attracting one of the birds to our yards unless we live close to mature woodlands.
However, since this, the third largest woodpecker in the world, has such a large home range (1.5 to 3 acres), if you home is located with the home range of a pileated one just might show up to dine at your feeders. (If you want to see if you are putting out the right foods for pileated woodpeckers, read the blog I wrote some time ago that addresses this issue. You can access it by typing the words pileated woodpecker in the Search bubble on the right side of the blog page.)
This begs the question, “Can I attract a pileated woodpecker with a nest box?” The answer to this question is, “Probably not.” Almost invariably, those that have erected nest boxes for pileated ended up providing a nesting site for birds such as the eastern screech owl, American kestrel or wood duck.
It seems pileated woodpeckers customarily nest in dead trees. However, even then after they spend upwards of 60 days chiseling out a nesting cavity, they will not reuse it a second year.
Since dead trees are at a premium, the pileated woodpecker faces a housing shortage of epic proportions. With that in mind, if you own a woodland, one of the best things you can do to encourage pileated woodpeckers to your yard to leave dead and dying trees standing whenever possible.
I live on a bit less than three acres. One-third of the property is wooded. When one of the large trees growing on the backside of my land died, I left it standing. After several years, a pair of red-headed woodpeckers nested in it. I was hoping the tree would also be used by a pair of pileated woodpeckers too; such was not the case. The tree eventually fell to ground and is being routinely visited by wild critters seeking ants, beetle grubs and other juicy foods.
To date, the only pileated woodpeckers I have seen where I live have been flying overhead. Perhaps this will be the year one will drop down and dine on some of my suet. You never know.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER EATS SUNFLOWER SEEDS
Those of us that regularly feed birds during the winter know that it is big news when a yellow-bellied sapsucker visits our feeders. When one does appear, it invariably dines on sugar water housed in a hummingbird feeder poised to entertain a rare wintering hummingbird, grape jelly, or a bird pudding. You can imagine how surprised retired wildlife biologist, John Jensen was when a male yellow-bellied sapsucker began dining every day on whole black oil sunflower seeds.
We know that, on rare occasions, yellow-bellied sapsuckers will eat small bits of sunflower seeds, but never whole sunflower seeds. It makes you stop and wonder why this particular bird has adopted this feeding behavior.
John told me that he feels that it is possible that the sapsucker chose this feeder because it is fashioned from a log. This indeed may be the case since yellow-bellied sapsuckers routinely feed while perched on the trunks and limbs of trees.
We really do not know much about the winter-feeding habits of this odd woodpecker. We know that they drill holes in trees and eat cambium (inner bark) and the sap that wells up in these tiny reservoirs. However, the birds are also known cache seeds and nuts during the winter. Why would they do this unless they eat them too?
If you have a theory as to why this woodpecker is feeding on sunflower seeds, drop me a line. In addition, I would like to know what yellow-bellied sapsuckers are dining on at your feeders this winter.
BACKYARD SECRET ––TUFTED TITMICE USE ALARM CALLS TO WARN A PREDATOR IS NEAR
You might be surprised to learn that tufted titmice use alarm calls to warn others that predators are nearby. Surprisingly vocalizations reveal to others both the size of the predator and the degree of threat it poses.
In experiments using models of predators ranging in size from the eastern screech owl to the red-tailed hawk, biologists found that tufted titmice reacted differently to models of different sizes. The alarm calls voiced when faced with the presence of models of eastern screech owls were longer and contained more notes, than those made when provoked with models of much larger predators such as the red-tailed hawk. Titmice also mobbed the eastern screech owl models longer than the red-tailed hawk. In addition, the birds also waited longer before resuming feeding activities than they did after dealing with models of larger predators such as red-tailed hawks.
The researchers surmised this was because smaller eastern screech owls pose less of a threat to them than red-tailed hawks.
BLOGGER SHARES GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET EXPERIENCE
In a recent blog, I wrote about my quest to spot a golden-crowned kinglet in my yard. Since I wrote that blog, I have heard golden-crowned kinglets in my yard several times; however, I have yet to see a bird.
In the meantime, one of our fellow bloggers was kind enough to share his amazing encounter with a golden-crowned kinglet. In addition to describing his experience, he offers advice as to where we might find the world’s smallest perching bird.
December 11, 2022, Donald wrote, Hi. I was sitting very still in the woods about around 7:40 am last week observing roosted turkeys and a small and very active male golden-crowned kinglet landed on the branch in front of me. He was quite noisy and active and flew all over the small wood. Very specific call. I would suggest heavily wood areas with low shrubs.
As Donald noted, golden-crowned kinglets are always on the move. In, fact during the winter it is not rare for a golden-crowned kinglet to stop foraging for more than two seconds before resuming its quest for food. Finding enough food during a winter day is a matter of life and death. If, for any reason, a kinglet is unable to locate any food for an hour or two during the day, it just may die during the night.
BIRDBATHS ARE NEEDED IN WINTER TOO
There are untold numbers of birdbaths in backyards throughout Georgia. I would venture to say most birdbaths are bought and placed in yards during the spring and summer. It is also safe to say homeowners maintain them during these two seasons than at any other time of the year. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? I know that I have.
It seems to me this is due, in large part, to two popular myths. Some folks harbor the mistaken belief that birds do not have as great a need for water in the winter as they do during the warmer months of the year. When you stop and think about it, if the reason for providing is birds with an easily accessible source of water is that water is scarce of nonexistent in a neighborhood; the changing of the seasons doesn’t alter the need for water.
Another myth goes so far as to say that birds should be prevented from bathing in cold weather. In fact, some bird fanciers that do maintain birdbaths in the winter actually cut a hole in piece of plywood and place it atop the birdbath. The hole is cut large enough to allow birds to drink but not bathe.
Well-meaning individuals that believe that, if birds are allowed to bathe when it is extremely cold, ice will form on a bird’s feathers; when this happens, a bird is unable to fly. The truth of the matter is when the temperature dips well before below freezing birds refrain from bathing. Why should we try to prevent them from bathing when nobody is preventing birds from bathing when they are away from our birdbaths?
Actually, birds need water every bit as much in the winter as they do at other time of the year. Birds require water for both drinking and grooming. Without it, they quickly become dehydrated. This hinders the movement blood throughout a bird’s body as well as the normal functioning of tissues and organs.
Bathing also allows birds to properly clean and groom their feathers. By so doing, the feathers are better able to insulate the birds from the cold.
Often the only water available to birds in many neighborhoods is provided by birdbaths. One biologist took the time to determine how far the birds living in his Long Island, New York backyard would have to travel to drink and bathe if he did not provide them with water in a birdbath. He discovered the nearest water was some two miles away.
When birdbaths are lacking, the numbers, and variety of birds using a backyard drops. In fact, the numbers of birds using a yard is often dictated more by the availability of water than food.
Another important point to keep in mind is when birds are forced to travel some distance to obtain water, they are more apt to be preyed upon by predators or killed while crossing a road.
I hope you will consider keeping a birdbath full of fresh, clean water this winter. The only inconvenience this should cause you is, on those increasingly rare days the temperature drops below freezing, you might have to break a thin skim of ice that formed overnight atop the cold water. Alternatively, if water in the birdbath completely freezes, you will have to brave the icy temperatures and pour warm water on top of the ice.
When you look out your frosty kitchen window on a cold winter day and see chickadees, waxwings, sparrows, cardinals and others flying into drink and bathe in your birdbath, I am sure you will feel the efforts you put into providing these winter residents with a dependable source of water have been handsomely rewarded.
PROTECTING HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS FROM FREEZING
For days, the United States Weather Bureau has been warning us that severe cold weather in about to blanket Georgia. If these prognostications prove to be correct, this weekend temperatures will plummeted into the teens. For those Georgians that are currently hosting, or hope to host, a hummingbird in their backyard this winter, this is disturbing news. Obviously, hummingbirds cannot feed on frozen nectar. In addition, if the nectar in feeders freezes the feeders often break. A hummingbird feeding solution of four parts water to one part sugar typically does not freeze until the temperature dips below 25ºF. If the temperature drops lower, feeders can be taken in at night and replaced the next morning. Another option is to use a light to keep hummingbird food from freezing. Many folks use a 150-watt bulb mounted in a light fixture attached to an alligator clip placed near a feeder to provide the heat needed to keep nectar from freezing on a cold winter night.
If the temperature remains freezing for a few days, you might find that you have to change out feeders during the day. In this way, hummingbirds will have access to an uninterrupted supply of sugar water.
HONEYBEES HAVE AN AMAZING WAY TO STAY WARM IN WINTER
If the weather forecast proves to be accurate, we are in for a stretch of the coldest weather we have experienced so far this winter. We are being warned that low temperature readings might reach the low 20s and below. During this abnormally cold weather, we are all going to spend a lot of time indoors in our warm homes. Our backyard neighbors are not going to be so lucky. Each of them has its own ways of survive the cold. Let’s look at the amazing manner in which honeybees survive frigid temperatures.
Before winter sets in, the males (drones) are forced out of the hive. Consequently, all that remain are females (workers) and a queen. The queen spends the winter near the center of the hive where it is the warmest. Remarkably, the temperature in this area ranges anywhere from 80-90ºF or more.
During the winter, honeybees form a large cluster. This cluster has two parts. The workers located at the outer portion of the cluster are packed closely together and constantly vibrate their wings. Here the temperate is often in the 40s. The workers’ wing vibrations help create heat. Conversely, the workers in the inner core and loosely packed. This allows them and the queen to move about and eat nectar. From time to time, the bees living in the outer layer change places with those confined to the inner portion of the cluster. This allows those on the outside of the cluster to eat too.
This behavior has served the honeybee well for untold years. However, in spite of this, an average of 38.3 percent of the managed honeybee hives in Georgia do not make it through the winter.