Archives

BATHING IN WINTER HELPS BIRDS KEEP WARM

       Remarkable as it may sound birds bathe in the winter to keep warm. In fact, bathing during this our coldest season of the year is actually more important to birds than it is in summer. This may seem hard to fathom at first. However, when you stop and think about it, bathing at this time of the year makes a lot of sense.

       A bird’s feathers help insulate it from the cold. These feathers provide the most insulation when they are clean and properly groomed. If you were to look at the feather of a bird through a microscope, you would find that each feather is equipped with a myriad of tiny barbs or hooks. The barbs on adjacent feathers interlock with one another forming barrier that helps to hold body heat in and cold air out.

       As a bird goes about feeding and flying, these barbs become “unzipped.” When this occurs, the feathers’ ability to insulate a bird from frigid weather diminishes.

       After a bird takes a bird in your birdbath, it will spend considerable time preening its feathers. During this process, the bird uses its bill interlock the feathers once more. Once this task is accomplished, the bird is better able to deal with winter’s blustery weather.

      

THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD LOTTERY

       Most folks are under the impression that Georgia’s Hummingbird Season runs from March through October. While you are most apt to see a ruby-throated hummingbird within this time frame, more species of hummingbirds are actually spotted in the Peach State during our second Hummingbird Season. This special time of the year extends from November through February. The hummingbird most commonly seen at this time of the year is the rufous.

       This hummingbird is roughly the size of the rubythroat. From a distance, the male rufous hummingbird looks like it has been dipped in cinnamon. This is because, in most cases, its head, nape, back, and chest are rufous. The bird’s tail is also mostly rufous; however, the tips of its tail feathers are black. The adult male’s gorget is red. Females and immature males have predominately-green heads and backs. Both have white breasts, however, females display varying amounts of a rufous wash. The base of the tails of both birds is rufous too. Like the adult male, the tips of the tail feathers are black. The throat of the adult female is white and features a central spot of coppery orange feathers. The throat of the immature male is streaked and displays varying amounts of red gorget feathers.

       The rufous hummingbird nests from the northwestern contiguous United States northward to southern Alaska. Most rufous hummingbirds winter in Mexico. However, some also annually winter in the Southeast.

       Wintering rufous hummingbirds have been seen throughout the entire state. These are not birds that were blown off course on their way south. Some of these birds return year-after-year to this area of the country.

       The best way to see one of these birds is to keep a partially filled feeder stocked with fresh sugar water throughout the winter. Most people that maintain a feeder in hopes of attracting one of the uncommon western migrants are not rewarded for their efforts. However, when one does magically appear, you feel like you have won the Georgia Lottery.

       Let me know if you are lucky enough to host a rufous hummingbird this winter.

BACKYARD SECRET – STARLINGS FREQUENT RED-BELLIED WOOPECKER CAVITIES

       Woodpeckers excavate cavities for nesting and roosting. These tree hollows are also essential to birds that cannot chisel out their wood-lined nesting sites. Among the birds that nest in abandoned woodpecker holes are backyard favorites such as tufted titmice and eastern bluebirds. Unfortunately, these cavities are highly prized by non-native birds such as the European starling.

       The truth of the matter is in most parts of state, demand for natural cavities far exceeds the availability of such natural nesting sites. When an aggressive alien bird such as the starling competes with these a native bird for the same cavity, the starling invariably wins out, often leaving the native bird without a place to nest.

       It is a sobering fact that starlings usurp half of all cavities created by red-bellied woodpeckers.

BARRED OWLS BECOME MORE VOCAL THIS MONTH

       The barred owl is a bird that we are more apt to hear than see in our backyards. Even in wild areas, it is a true will-o’-the-wisp. However, from December through March you are more apt to see or hear a barred owl than at any of other time of the year.

       There are a couple of reasons for this. During the winter months, as food become scarcer, barred owl will expand their feeding territories to include residential areas. In addition, these large owls begin breeding in December. Consequently, the birds become more vocal. This special time of the year extends into February and March, with the peak occurring in mid-February and March.

       Most Georgians are familiar with the owl’s Who cooks for you, who cooks for ya’ll call. However, since the barred owl has this most extensive range of calls of any of our owls, they also vocalize a collection of wails, gurgles, cackles and other strange sounds that just might raise the hair on the back of your neck. I have heard some people say the calls sounded like they were made by a band of monkeys. Others liken the calls to the sound made by a pack of baying hounds hot on the trail of a raccoon.

       With that in mind, during the next few months take the time of venture out into your yard just as the sun melts below the horizon. Then pull up a lawn chair and listen. If any barred owls are nearby, you will soon hear the birds.

       The best nighttime concerts take place when two birds are courting. These events often begin at twilight and extend well into the night. If you are lucky enough to hear the birds’ concert, it will be a show you will long remember.

CURRENTLY MOCKINGBIRDS ARE OCCUPYING WINTER TERRITORIES


Throughout the fall and winter mockingbirds live in areas (territories) predicated on the availability of food.  Consequently, how many mockingbirds you will see in your backyard this winter depends greatly on how abundant food is in your neck of the woods.

       Often these territories measure an acre or two in size.  However, as you might expect, if food is scarce, mockingbirds will defend larger areas.

       If you hosted a pair of mockingbirds in your backyard this past summer, this winter they may share the same territory or, yet again, each might stake out its own turf.  Consequently, lone females or males will also claim some territories.

       Last winter a pair of mockingbirds lived in my backyard.  However, in previous years, a single bird claimed my yard.

       For reasons that are not fully understood, each year some mockingbirds don’t establish their own feeding territories.  When this happens, they often try to raid territories claimed by other mockingbirds.  Remarkably when this happens, mockers from adjacent territories will join in the fight to chase away these interlopers.

       I hope that this information will help understand why you have none, one or more mockingbirds living just outside your backdoor this winter.

BLOGGERS SHARE EXPERIENCES WITH BIRDS EATING DOG AND CAT FOOD

       Some months ago, I posted a blog regarding backyard birds eating dry dog food (the blog can be found by using the blog’s Search feature).  Since that time four backyard wildlife enthusiasts have shared their experiences concerning birds eating both dog and cat food. 

       One woman reported that, on a couple of occasions, she has seen sparrows venturing into her carport to dine on cat food.

       Another blogger said he successfully raised a young crow feeding the bird a mash consisting of water and Purina Puppy Chow.  The bird eventually fledged and remained flying about his neighborhood where it was remained throughout the summer before finally disappearing.

       Another backyard birder wrote that she pours regular dog kibble into a sunflower feeder.  This unusual offering has attracted dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice.

      Yet another fan of backyard wildlife shared his experience with an American robin.  It seems several years ago he was surprised to see an American robin feeding on dry dog food served in a shallow pan sitting on his deck.  For three consecutive days, the robin flew in, nestled in the dog food, and leisurely feed on the chunks of food while his Eskimo Spitz calmly watched nearby.

       If you would like to share your experiences regarding birds eating pet food, please send them to me.  I am sure other folks would like to read about them.

BACKYARD SECRET—BLUEBIRDS ARE MORE COMMON IN GEORGIA IN WINTER THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR

         Here in the Peach State, the eastern bluebird is often associated with spring and summer. This is the breeding season for the gorgeous blue-colored bird–a bird that nests in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. Although thousands of bluebirds nest throughout the state, the total size of the bluebird population flying about during these months pales in comparison to the numbers of birds that winter here.

        This is because Georgia is a favorite winter home to thousands of bluebirds that migrate here from their breeding grounds far to the north. Here they intermingle with our resident bluebirds. When this happens, our bluebird population swells significantly. How much does it increase? A study conducted just south of Georgia offers some insight into this matter. Researchers in the Tallahassee area found that during the winter the local bluebird population in their study area increased 100 percent.

BACKYARD SECRET: CLUES TO BIRD MIGRATION ARE BEING UNLOCKED

        We have certainly come a long way in our understanding of bird migration.  For example, it is hard to believe that during the early days of the founding of the United States it was popularly believed with the onset of winter, hummingbirds “migrated” only as far as a nearby tree and impaled its bill in the plant’s trunk.  Here it remained immobile until the land thawed the following spring.

       Nowadays, through the hard work of many ornithologists, we have a far better understanding of how birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter homes and back with unbelievable accuracy.  This research has reveal birds employ a number of environmental clues such as polarized light, the stars, the sun and even magnetic fields to steer the their course on their epic migratory journeys.

       Have we answered all of the mysteries of bird migration?  Many of us believe we have much more to learn.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what future research will reveal.

BIOLOGISTS USE NEW DEVICE TO TRACK HUMMINGBIRDS IN BACKYARDS

      Modern technology is having an awesome impact on wildlife research.  Drones are now permitting biologists to assess such things as wildlife habitats and animal behavior in a fraction of the time and effort it would take using techniques that are more conventional.  Even PIT (Passive Intergrated Transponder) technology is enabling biologists to track the movements of animals as small as a hummingbird.

       If a dog or cat has found a Forever Home in your residence, you are familiar with PIT tags.  Most dogs and cats carry a PIT tag.  However, PIT technology has advances enough to the point where miniaturized tracking devices are tiny enough to be used to track the movements of a hummingbird.  As with our pets, these extremely small devices are delicately inserted beneath the animal’s skin

       With this technology, biologists can easily track the movements of individual hummingbirds going about their daily lives.  A group of researchers from the University Of California Davis School Of Veterinary Medicine recently reported the results of their study designed to track hummingbirds visiting feeders in a suburban backyard.  Each time a hummingbird visited a feeder their visit was logged by a scanning device similar to those used when we purchase everything from books and clothing to groceries.

       The study involved placing PIT tags in Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbird and then recording how often and long each tagged bird visited the seven feeders scattered about the yard.  From September 2016 through March 2018, the birds visited the feeders roughly 65,500 times.

       Among the fascinating facts the biologists have gleaned from their study are:

● Female hummingbirds have a tendency to linger longer at feeders than males.

● During the spring and summer hummingbirds visit feeders more often in the morning and evening than at any other part of the day.

● Male hummingbirds more often feed with other males than with females.

       Do any of these findings hold true with what you have observed watching ruby-throated hummingbirds in your backyard?

                             

BACKYARD SECRET – CAROLINA WRENS ARE CHAMPION SONGSTERS

        If you live in Georgia, it is next to impossible not to hear the cheery vocalizations of the Carolina wren.  I hear them throughout the year.  In fact, the song of a Carolina wren is often the first sound I hear when I step outside in the morning.  This has made me wonder how often a wren calls in day.

       Recently while conducting research on backyard wildlife I found an answer to this perplexing question.  It seems that it has been documented that a captive male Carolina wren actually sang 3,000 times in a single day!

       I must admit, I had no idea a Carolina wren could accomplish such an impressive fete.