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BACKYARD SECRET— AMERICAN CROWS RARELY LIVE ALONE

        It is no coincidence that we rarely find an American crow living alone.  This reason for this is American crows are social animals. 

       American crows live typically live together in small groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. 

       My wife and I feed crows.  This enables us to watch their behavior.  One thing we have learned that the family of crows that visits our home consists of a male and female and their three young.   As such, when the crows arrive, we always see five birds.

       My daughter also feeds crows.  Until recently, like clockwork four crows show up every day to dine on her food offerings.  One of the birds has a damaged wing.  Apparently, something happened to that bird, as it has not appeared to dine with its family during the past few weeks.

BACKYARD SECRET – AN ASTOUNDING NUMBER OF BIRDS DIE FROM STRIKING WINDOWS EACH YEAR

     Researchers have found that up to 74 percent of the birds that fly into windows die.  In the United States, this translates into as many as a billion birds.

     Although this type of mortality takes place throughout the year, many of these mortalities occur during the birds’ spring and migrations.

     The list of birds killed includes thrushes, warblers, juncos, raptors, sparrows, tanagers, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and scores of others.

MOCKINGBIRDS ARE DINING ON POKEBERRIES

               I try to keep abreast of what the wildlife eats throughout the year.  This exercise has allowed me to watch how the food habits of a number of my backyard residents change throughout the year.  Recently I was reminded of this fact as I watched a northern mockingbird dine on pokeberries.

              Throughout the spring and much of the summer mockingbirds I watched them dining on suet, insects, blackberries, and other delicacies.   Then seemingly, overnight birds seemed to abandon the places where they had been feeding.  Last week they reappeared at pokeweeds that have colonized my property.  The birds were dining on the plants’ juicy, purplish-black berries.  While I have only seen mockingbirds eating the berries so far this summer, I suspect they have to share them with other backyard residents such as brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, cardinals and even red-bellied woodpeckers.

              The first time I witnessed a mockingbird eating pokeberries a couple of weeks ago the bird was having a difficult time plucking them from a cluster of fruit dangling from a droopy branch.  Since it was seemingly impossible for the bird to perch on the flimsy branch and dine of the berries at the same time, it was forced to attempt to hover close to the berries.  It immediately became obvious that the mockingbird’s ability to hover will never be favorably compared with that of a hummingbird. In spite of this, after several tries grab the berries, the cluster of berries eventually disappeared into the mouth of the determined bird.

              If you find pokeberry plants sprouting in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard, let them grow.  If you do, you will be rewarded with an attractive plant, and a great source of food for birds and other wildlife.  In addition, you will be offered with some great wildlife viewing opportunities and the chance to learn more about the feeding habits of wildlife without having to leave your home.

SNAKE CATCHES HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

         Ruby-throated hummingbirds face a host of perils. One of these is being caught by a snake.  Over the years, hummingbird fanciers have sent me pictures of snakes coiled around feeders seemingly patiently waiting to pluck an unsuspecting hummingbird out of the air as it flies in to catch a quick meal. Since this unsettling scene is rarely reported, I suspect it does not happen very often.  In our case, during the decades my wife and I have been feeding hummingbirds we had never seen it until this past week.  Not only did I find a rat snake hanging onto one of our feeders, it was also clutching a hapless hummingbird in its gaping mouth.  None of the photos I have received in the past ever captured this.

        All of this changed when I stepped out on to on our deck on a quiet late summer morning less than a week ago and spotted what appeared to be a dark lump on the far side of one of our hummingbird feeders. I immediately stopped and tried to figure out what I was looking at.  When I advanced closer to the feeder, I could see that the unknown object was a young rat snake.  It was so small (three feet long) that it did not have to wrap itself around the feeder.

       Once I realized what I was looking at, I turned around and went back into the house to tell my wife to grab her camera and hurry outside to see what was taking place.  On the way back outside, I picked up my camera too.

       When we returned, we realized that the best view of the snake was from the yard.  When we found just the right spot to record the event, we started snapping pictures. All of this time the snake remained motionless.  Finally, the snake moved its head away from the perch that encircled the feeding ports enough for us to realize it was just not waiting for a bird—it had already caught one and was in the process of swallowing it headfirst.  Initially all we could see of the hummingbird was its emerald green back, wings, tail, and legs.

 

 

       As we stood, transfixed, the snake began making swallowing motions that consisted of moving its head forward and opening and closing it mouth.  As it did so, the bird slowly slipped deeper into the snake’s mouth and throat.  Remarkably, in only five to 10 minutes the bird disappeared. 

       I then removed the feeder from the shepherd’s hook on which it was hung, and slowly walked to the far back of our spacious backyard and set the feeder on the ground.  Throughout the whole process, the snake showed no signs of fear. However, when I placed the feeder on the grass the snake slowly slithered off.

       Of course, we are disappointed that we lost a hummingbird to a rat snake. However, we realize that each year an untold number of hummingbirds succumb to predators, being caught in spider webs, accidents, and disease. At the same time, it will not hurt of feelings if we never witness it again.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE FALL MIGRATION IS LARGER THAN THE SPRING MIGRATION

       Trying to estimate how many birds migrate through North America twice each year seems like an impossible task.  However, Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology has taken on this task.  Using data from 143 weather stations scattered across the contiguous United States the lab has come up with the best estimates to date.

       These data indicate that an average of 4 billion birds fly south out of Canada into the United States each fall.  Some 4.7 billion leave the country heading on to their wintering grounds.

       Far fewer birds return in the spring.  According to Edward W. Rose, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Ornithology, “in the spring, 3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border.”

BACKYARD SECRET—HUMMINGBIRDS MIGRATE ALONE

        During the past few days, the number of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting our feeders has noticeably decreased.  Whereas less than a week ago clouds hummingbirds were constantly swirling about backyard feeders, now a handful of birds are visiting them. Indeed, the hummingbird migration is in full swing.

       When most of the birds vanish at the same time, it is easy to believe they migrate in flocks like robins, ducks, geese, and a host of other species.  However, the truth of the matter is each bird migrates on its own.  This means a rubythroat raised in your backyard this year does not have an older and more experienced bird to guide it on its first migration flight to its wintering ground in southern Mexico and Panama.

       How is this possible?  Biologists have still not unlocked this secret.  Consequently, the best way to explain it is that hummingbirds migrate by instinct.

 

BLOGGER REPORTS IMPACT OF JORO SPIDERS IN HER YARD

      Whenever an exotic plant or animal is introduced and begins expanding its population across the landscape it is often impossible to know far it will spread and what, if any, affect it will have on native species. Unfortunately, far too often foreign introductions have a deleterious impact on our native flora and fauna.

       In the 17 August 2022, I provided an update on the rapid spread of the Joro spider across North Georgia.  In response to the blog, Julie H. posted a thought-provoking response in which she described the impact the spider appears to be having on the some of the wild animals living on her property. 

I found her comments so insightful I decided to share them with each of you.  Below you will find this posting.

Blogger Julie Hemminger replied to the August 17th post…

     I completely disagree with the low key/ low threat assessment of the joro spider. I live in the Hoschton area, where they were first discovered. I have lived in this home & area for 18yrs, so I have a decent long range perspective.
   I am an avid gardener & love bugs, insects, etc. As a result, I notice all these wonderful creatures in my garden & enjoy them all. Unfortunately, *ever since* the joro spider began showing up in my wooded yard & garden, 8yrs ago, I no longer see the beautiful garden “writing/zig zag” spiders that I so enjoyed, or the cool orb spiders that would appear in the fall, or many other delightful small spiders.

     The joro spiders are highly invasive in my observation. It has been at least 7yrs since I’ve seen the garden writing spider! I’m not mixing them up either. To me, it’s very easy to tell the diff btwn the garden & the joro spider, even though many people do get those 2 spiders mixed up. The easiest way is the joro spider has a red dot on it’s underside, the garden spider does not.

     This June ‘22 summer, I killed a joro spider up in WNC, @ Lake Santeetlah, near Robbinsville, NC – when we there vacationing. I was angry to see it now in NC. I will kill every joro spider I see. They have thrown off the spider status quo in our area where they first appeared. They’re just about the only spider you ever see now & that does not appear to be a good sign at all. Everything in our environment needs balance. There is no balance with the joro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOGGER CONCERNED ABOUT THREAT TO HUMMINGBIRDS POSED BY JORO SPIDER

       Recently I received a post from one of our fellow bloggers that lives in the Athens area voicing concern that spiders might pose a threat to hummingbirds.  In response to her communication, I have tried to uncover any reports of hummingbirds being caught in the large, sticky webs constructed by Joro spiders. 

       For those of you that that are not familiar with the Joro spider, this large spider is native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China.  It first appeared in the United States in Hoschton, Georgia in 2013.

       This long-legged foreign invader has spread rapidly and is now weaving their large, sticky webs in at last 25 counties in North Georgia.  The spider has also been found in nearby South Carolina.

       Experts tell us that Joro spiders do not eat birds.  However, it is well known that hummingbirds are caught in the webs fashioned by a variety of native spiders.  In such cases, unless an unfortunate hummingbird can break free or rescued, it dies of either from starvation or dehydration.

       To date, I have not found any documentation of a hummingbird being caught in a Joro spider web.  However, that does not necessarily mean that this does not occur.  If you have seen and perhaps photographed such an event, please let me know.

SPIDER-JORO-2-Dorothy-Kozlowski-UGA-Sept-2021

       Since the joro spider has not been in the country very long, experts are unable to determine the impact, if any; this spider is going to have on native animals. In the meantime, Richard Hoebeke, an entomologist and curation with the Georgia Museum of Natural History, offers this advice, “Spiders are beneficial, they are feeding on insects that a log of people consider pests, yellow jackets, stink bugs, mosquitoes, other insects that people don’t want to see around the house, they would be happy to have them in their webs. And a lot of them do end up in their webs.  So, I consider them beneficial, I would just simply leave them alone. Don’t get in their way. Don’t aggregate them.  Just let them be.”

       For more information on the Joro spider, go to Search on the right side of this Blog and type in either Joro spider or Spider alert.

THE RETURN OF THE GRAY CATBIRD

        For reasons I will never know, gray catbirds chose not to nest in my backyard this year. Since spring, I have been both looking and listening for this secretive bird.  Since I did not hear or see a catbird by the end of the third week in July, I was convinced I would not see one near my home this year.

        However, less than a week ago, one flew in and landed on a wire suet feeder hanging outside my home office.  I could not believe my eyes!  I immediately stopped working at my computer and watched the bird as it ate a couple of chunks of peanut butter-flavored bird pudding. I was just getting ready to snap a photo of the feeding bird when a brown thrasher scared the catbird away when it flew in the claim its share of the food.

        After the thrasher left, the catbird returned and briefly fed again.  Then it vanished.  This time it fed on the bird pudding while it was perched atop the feeder as a downy woodpecker fed while hanging on the side of the feeder.

        Over the years, gray catbirds have rarely visited my feeders. When they have shown up, they have always fed on suet.  I have never seen one eat any birdseed.  However, they are purported to eat fruit-flavored suit, jelly, cornbread, peanut butter and raisins.  They will also occasionally feed at hummingbird feeders.

        While I have not been successful attracting catbirds to my feeders, they will regularly visit my birdbaths.

        The catbirds that inhabit my yard during summers past have apparently been content to feed on berries and invertebrates.  In late summer, they feed on American beautyberries.

        I hope the gray catbird that recently made a late appearance in my yard, will hang around at least until the American beautyberries ripen.  If it does, perhaps it will serenade me with its cat-like call and long (up to 10 minutes) highly variable song.

        As you can tell, I greatly appreciate the return of the catbird.

BACKYARD SECRET—CHIMNEY SWIFTS CANNOT PERCH ON UTILITY WIRES

       If you ever spot a chimney swift perched on an electrical or telephone line, stop whatever you are doing and take a picture of it.  Your photo would be rare indeed.  This is because ornithologists believe these small birds are incapable of perching in such locations.

       This might seem odd since we routinely see mockingbirds, mourning doves, sparrows, red-shouldered hawks, sparrows, and many other birds perched on the wire.  The reason they are able to perch in such places is the structure of their feet and legs are very different from those of the chimney swift. 

       Instead, the chimney swift’s toes, nails, and legs are suited to cling to vertical surfaces such as upright trunks of trees, walls and the interior surfaces of chimneys.