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THE WIND CAN AFFECT MONARCH WATCHING

       Monarch watching has been downright abysmal around my home.  As of October 15, only one monarch had made an appearance at the Johnson Homestead.  However, the next day monarchs were seen twice in my yard.  The first sighting took place in early afternoon.  Then just before dark, I spotted a monarch drifting across the bird feeding area located in front of my office.  While I will never know for sure, it seemed it was looking for a place to roost for the night. 

       I suspect the monarchs had been riding the wind.  Yesterday a cold front swept through Middle Georgia.  This leads me to believe this was the case because it is a fact that during their fall migration monarchs often catch rides on northerly winds found along the leading edges of approaching cold fronts.  If these winds are blowing in the direction the butterflies want to go, the butterflies can fly long distance without having to expend a lot of stored fuel.  When this occurs monarchs are often seen making their way southward  for several days after the leading edge of the cold front has left your us far behind.

       On the other side of the coin, if the north winds are too strong, monarchs are known to fly so high in sky it is impossible for us to see them as they wing their way over our yards.

       Conversely, when the prevailing winds are blowing from the south, they tend to hang around and forage for nectar before resuming their migration.  This situation often provides us with some of our best monarch watching opportunities.

     

BACKYARD SECRET – MALE AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES OUTNUMBER FEMALES

        It has been estimated male American goldfinches outnumber females.  The ratio of this imbalance is three males to every two females.

       Researchers have not determined why this is the case.  One theory is it is due to the fact males live longer than females.

       Do you see more male American goldfinches than females in your yard?  I am certain I do not know if the ratio holds true in my backyard.  However, I am going to find out.

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.

DO HUMMINGBIRDS SEEM TO BE LEAVING EARLY THIS YEAR?

        It appears that hummingbirds are leaving my yard early this year.

       Throughout most of August, my wife and I made lots of hummingbird food.  During these hot days of August, we were preparing and feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every day or two.  This was because we were feeding more hummingbirds than during any previous August.  Based on the maximum numbers of birds we were seeing at any given time, I calculated that we were feeding 100 or more hummers daily.

       These numbers remained steady until September 4 when the nectar consumption dropped significantly.  Suddenly we were feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every three to four days.  This was surprising because, in a normal year, we don’t see a significant decline in hummingbird numbers that early in the month.

       On September 12, I was surprised to see an adult male ruby-throated hummingbird dining at our feeders.  The bird also returned the next day.  While seeing an adult male that late in the summer was big news, what was even bigger news was the male was one of only three hummingbirds using our feeders daily.

       Since then, the male has moved on, however, we are still feeding only two or three hummingbirds.  This is in spite of the fact that we are still providing the little migrants with plenty of sugar water and flowerbeds and containers are awash with the blooms of a number of nectar plants.

       The seemingly early departure of the birds has reinforced my realization that, in spite of studying these magical birds for decades, there is so much I still do not know about them.

       I sure would like to know whether you have noticed that rubythroats seemingly left your yard early this year also.  It would help me understand if this is a local or widespread phenomenon.

BACKYARD SECRET–TUFTED TITMICE ARE HOARDERS TOO

       There are a number of animals that hoard seeds in our backyards.  This list includes eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, Carolina chickadees, and blue jays.  There is another bird you can add to this list of animals that prepare of the winter by storing up supplies of food. 

       It might come as a surprise to know that the tufted titmouse is yet another bird that hoards sunflower seeds and other foods to help it to survive lean times that are common during winter.

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.

BACKYARD SECRET–SOME BROWN THRASHERS MIGRATE

       Since the brown thrasher lives in Georgia throughout the entire year, it is easy to believe it does not migrate.  However, banding studies have revealed some brown thrashers migrate while others stay at home.  Consequently, ornithologists classify this master songster as a partial migrant.

       Banding studies have revealed that some brown thrashers that breed in New England make their way to the Carolinas and Georgia in the winter.  By the same token, brown thrashers that breed east of the Mississippi are often regular winter residents across a broad swath of the South from Arkansas to Georgia.

       Consequently, when you see a brown thrasher scratching away the leaves beneath one of your shrubs this winter,  you have no way of knowing whether it has been living in your backyard throughout the year or recently made the flight to Georgia from Massachusetts, Ohio or other state far to the north of the Peach Strata. 

       As for me, I care not whether the thrashers I host in the winter are permanent residents or not.  I am just glad they chose to winter close to my home.

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.

BACKYARD SECRET–SPIDERS ARE BIG EATERS

        Remarkably, spiders annually eat more insects than bats and birds combined.  In spite of this, they are one of the least appreciated animals that inhabit our yards. 

       With that in mind, the next time that you spot a spider in your garden, don’t kill it.  Spiders play a key role in the ecology of our yards.  As such, they help control all sorts of insects and other invertebrates.  In addition, they are important sources of protein for scores of animals such as birds.  For example, tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds and great crested flycatchers are just two of the birds that dine on spiders.