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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.

THERE IS A SNAKE ON MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER!

       How would like to look out your window and spot a snake wrapped around your hummingbird feeder?  This is just what recently happened to Upson County blogger Wanda Granitz.

       Needless to say, the rat snake dangling from her feeder was not visiting to partake in a sip of nectar.  It was attempting to grab a hummingbird or two. 

       Like most predators, snakes are very opportunistic.  Whenever they locate a concentration of prey, they will try to take advantage of the situation whether they find an abundance of frogs, insects, mice, or hummingbirds.

       There are many other critters that capture hummingbirds.  These predators include bullfrogs, hawks, shrikes, cats, praying mantises, spiders, and others.  However, aside from cats we rarely see hummingbirds capture one of these flying jewels.

       Fortunately, for hummingbirds and their devoted fans, the unnerving sight of a snake curled around a feeder is not common.  If you are like me, you have never witnessed anything like this in your yard.  In fact, in all the years I worked as a wildlife biologist, I received only a handful of reports of snakes trying to feed on hummingbirds visiting a feeder.

       However, if you do happen to spot a rat snake on your hummingbird feeder, one of the best things you can do to protect the hummers is capture the snake and move it some distance from your home.  Do not simply release it elsewhere in your yard.  If you do, chances are it will return to dine on these flying delicacies at a later time.

HUMMINGBIRDS ARE SWARMING TO SCARLET SAGE

      Having studied hummingbirds for decades, I have learned the folks that usually attract the most birds to their yards are those that plant a wide variety of flowering plants that offer the birds plenty of food from spring through fall; supplemented with sugar water served in feeders.  There is no better time to witness this than August. 

       I say this because hummingbirds are more abundant in our yards right now than they have been at any time earlier this year.  As such, if you have planted a wide variety of nectar-laden plants, this is a great time to see which of these plants these tiny-feathered jewels favor during the heat of summer.  The abundance of hummingbirds gives you the opportunity to assess their food preferences in a very short period.

       For years, my wife and I have been planting a host of different plants for hummingbirds.  Right now, by far, the plant most often visited by hummingbirds is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).  This Georgia native produces an abundance of scarlet red one-inch long tubular-shaped flowers.

       We are growing scarlet sage in flowerbeds with companion plants such as black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, zinnia, blanket flower, and cosmos.  We also have it planted in containers on our deck.  Some containers contain nothing other than scarlet sage.  However, since it produces an abundance of seed, some of the seeds dropped last year somehow found their way into nearby pots where my wife is rooting buddleia and roses.  Additionally, scarlet sage has volunteered in containers where she scattered the seeds of zinnias, blanket flowers, and black-eyed Susans this spring.  Scarlet sage is growing well there too.

       From morning to dusk, hummingbirds repeatedly visit the scarlet sage blooms more often than those of lantana, zinnia, trumpet creeper, Turk’s cap, purple salvia, hosta, Mexican sunflower, and other hummingbird favorites.  This plant has literally become a hummingbird magnet.

       While I thoroughly enjoy watching rubythroats feeding at scarlet sage blooms planted about the yard, I especially enjoy those growing in containers on our deck.  Regardless of whether I am working on the deck or sitting nearby the plants enjoying a cup of coffee and having the birds feed a few feet away.

       If you do not have as much hummingbird activity around the flowering plants blooming in your yard right now, I suggest you begin planting hummingbird food plants.  By including them in your gardens, next year your yard will be more beautiful, hummingbirds will have more food choices and the numbers of hummers using your yard should increase.  Now that is called a win, win, win situation.

        

BACKYARD SECRET: GRAY SQUIRRELS HAVE A UNIQUE WAY TO SHADE THEMSELVES FROM THE HOT SUN

          The gray squirrel uses its tail to help to help balance itself as it climbs and jumps from limb to limb, an even break its fall when is tumbles from a limb high above the ground.  Unbelievably on bright sunny days, the gray squirrel flips its bushy tail over its back and utilizes it as a parasol to keep the rays of the sun from overheating its body.

SOUTHERN BEE KILLERS LOOK LIKE BUMBLEBEES

      The next time you spot what appears to be a bumblebee perched on a plant in your garden, take a close look at the insect, as it just may be accomplish insect predator known as the southern bee killer (Mallophora orcina)

       The southern bee killer is one of the approximately 1,000 species of robber flies that inhabit North America.  All of these amazing flies eat all sorts of insects; however, the southern bee killer prefers to eat paper wasps, carpenter bees, honeybees, and bumblebees.

       The southern bee killer is commonly inhabits backyards throughout the entire state.  In spite of this, unless you actually spot this predatory insect flying about with its prey, chances are you mistook it for a bumblebee. Bumblebees do not fly about clutching other insects.  That is understandable as it is fuzzy like a bumblebee, and its body is marked with the yellow and black pattern we associate with bumblebees.  In addition, if its legs seem to be exceptionally long and its eyes extremely large, you are probably looking at a bee killer.

       The southern bee killer is a true mimic.  It definitely looks like a bumblebee.  Biologists are not certain how the bee killer’s similarity to a bumblebee benefits the insect.  Some suggest it causes predators that do not like to be stung by bumblebees to shy away.  Who knows?

       At any rate, the southern bee killer is an ambush predator. It spends its day perched on a blade of grass, flower, twig, or other object and waits from a bee to fly by.  Once it spots a potential prey, it immediately chases it down.  If successful, it grabs the hapless bee in midair and impales it with its powerful, sharp mouthparts.  It then immediately injects its prey with a combination of enzymes and nerve poisons.  This deadly concoction disables the insect and dissolves its body tissues.  The bee killer then drinks its liquefied meal. 

       Since bee killers routinely return to the same perch, if you happen to locate a perch, check out this location from time to time, you can watch the bee killer hunt time after time.

       Although the southern bee killer is a deadly predator, I have never heard of an instance where one attacked a human.  That being said, if for some reason you happen to touch one, it can inflict a painful bite.

        

BACKYARD SECRET: HUMMINGBIRDS PREFER NECTAR WITH PLENTY OF SUGAR

   

    RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING

       Ruby-throated hummingbirds do not feed at flowers containing small amounts of nectar.  In fact, they refuse to feed at flowers harboring less than 12 percent sugar.

       Studies have found that they prefer to dine on nectar that contains anywhere from twenty to twenty-five percent sugar.

       With that in mind, is it any wonder the recommended ratio of sugar to water in the sugar water we most often feed hummingbirds dining at our backyard feeders is one part sugar to four parts water?

BACKYARD SECRET: AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES NEST DURING THE HEAT OF SUMMER

       In Georgia, the American goldfinch is one of the last birds to nest.  In fact, most of these colorful birds don’t even begin nesting until late June.  However, most nesting occurs during July and August.  Remarkably, some American goldfinch nests remain active into September.

       In spite of the fact they prefer to nest in habitats featuring small trees and shrubs, they will also nest in our backyards.  If you are fortunate enough to have a pair of American goldfinches nest in your yard, you are in for a real treat!

       It seems the female is charged with the with the duty of incubating the eggs.  During these 12-14 days, she will spend upwards to 95 percent of her time perched atop her fragile eggs.

As you might imagine, this leaves little time for to feed.  In spite of this, the dedicated female never goes without food.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Male)

       The reason for this is every hour or so throughout the day her mate will circle the nest.  If the female is hungry, she will softly call to him.  Upon hearing the call, he quickly drops down from the sky and lands near the hidden nest.  Once he lands the female will leave the nest and land nearby.  He then quickly feeds her a nutritious meal of partially digested seeds.  After eating, the male flies away and the female returns to her nest.

       If you suspect American goldfinches are nesting in your yard, be on the lookout for a male repeatedly flying in circles over a small tree or shrub.  If your suspicions prove to be correct, you will have the wonderful opportunity of witnessing this rarely seen behavior on regular basis.

INDEPENDENCE DAY HUMMINGBIRD EXPLOSION

        No Independence Day celebration would be complete without fireworks.  The explosions of brilliant colors against the dark summer night add a special excitement to this festive time of the year.  However, during this special time of the year aerial kaleidoscopes of color do not have to be confined to the night.  From dawn to dusk, hummingbirds decked out in iridescent green and red streak across Georgia backyards creating their own colorful aerial displays.

       July is a special time of the year for hummingbird enthusiasts.  Beginning around Independence Day there is an explosion of hummingbirds at our feeders.  Up until then, ruby-throated hummingbirds have been scattered across the countryside living in discreet breeding territories measuring an acre or more in size.  Consequently, aside for a brief period that extends from late May into early June, large concentrations of hummers around our feeders are rare occurrences.  All of this changes after the females complete their nesting chores.  With the breeding season largely coming to an end, rubythroats begin preparing for their fall migration.

       For these flying dynamos, getting ready for this epic journey means storing the fat needed to fuel their southward flight away from backyards across North America.  These tiny birds may visit 1,500 flowers in a single day trying to put on weight as quickly as possible.

       The main sources of food are nectar gleaned from flowers, small soft-bodied invertebrates as well as the sugar water we offer them at feeders hanging in our backyards.  Since drought conditions across much of the state have resulted in a paucity of nectar-laden wildflowers this year, nectar will be in short supply this summer.  This forces the birds to look to the flowering plants and hummingbird bird feeders located in our backyards for a readily available source of energy.

       The folks that will host the most hummingbirds at this time of the year are those that had the foresight to incorporate a variety of nectar-bearing flowers into their landscape design to go along with feeders filled with fresh nectar.  If you failed to plant flowers for hummingbirds this past spring, make a mental note to do so next year. 

       Meanwhile offer your hummingbird visitors plenty of nectar.  Begin by hanging up one or two feeders.  Add additional feeders as the number of diners at your backyard cafe increase.  Make sure there is always plenty of food for the birds.  If you plan on going on vacation, ask a neighbor to monitor and refill feeders as needed.  This will help ensure an explosion of ruby-throated hummingbirds will be patrolling your feeders long after the fireworks of this Independence Day have faded away.