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PROTECTING PETS FROM COYOTES IN BACKYARDS

       Regardless of whether you live in a large city, small town, subdivision or in the rural countryside  you need to protect your small dogs and cats from coyotes.

       Georgia’s coyote population is rapidly expanding.  This is truly remarkable when you consider the coyote is not native to the Peach State.  However, since the 1850s the range of the coyote has increased threefold and now can be found in every state with the exception of Alaska.

       As the coyote has expanded its range, it has demonstrated its adaptability for living in a variety of new habitats by altering their diet to fit the food available.  In other words, in addition to dining on rodents and rabbits, in some areas their diets include birdseed and an occasional small domestic pet.

       Although it is unlikely a coyote will capture your small pet, by adopting a handful of preventative measures you can guarantee that it will never happen.

       It is always a good idea not to let your cats and small dogs stay outside at night.  Coyotes hunt at night and, if given a chance, they will prey on small domestic animals.

       If it is necessary to let your pet out for a “bathroom” break from dusk to dawn,  go outside with it, keeping it within sight at all times.  During this time frequently talk to your pet.  This will alert a coyote that a human is close by.  A healthy coyote will avoid humans.  In addition, it is also best to keep your pet on a leash.

       If you feed pets outside, remove any uneaten food by sundown.  Pet food will attract a variety mammals such as opossums, foxes, skunks, and rodents.  Coyotes will also eat the food as well as many of the other mammals they attract.

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

TUFTED TITMOUSE FAMILIES OFTEN SHARE THE SAME FEEDERS IN WINTER

Chances are, if you fill a feeder with sunflower seeds during the winter, you are going to attract tufted titmice. Once they find a feeder stocked with sunflower seeds, they spend much of their time making forays to the feeder. On each visit, they daintily pluck one sunflower seed and quickly fly away with it.

       If you have spent any time watching titmice feed, you have probably wondered how many titmice you are feeding. Whenever I have attempted to estimate the winter titmouse population in my backyard, I quickly discovered I could never come up with an answer more definitive than more than one.TUFTED TIMOUSE - BLOG - 24 Jan2018

       Fortunately, for those of us that ponder such questions, there are ornithologists that have conducted studies concerning the winter habits of titmice in winter. Their findings have revealed during the winter titmice form small flocks principally made up of family members. As such, a flock often numbers no more than three individuals (a mated pair and one of their young that hatched the previous spring). At times, one or two others join them.

       The group will forage for food throughout an area ranging from 15-20 acres in size. This tract will include the adults’ nesting territory.

       One day about the time winter has loosened its icy grip on the Peach State it will dawn on you tufted titmouse seem to be visiting your feeder less frequently. This is a sign the winter flock has broken up. After the breakup, often the only birds left in the area will be the pair that nested there the previous year. The others will be elsewhere trying to find their own nesting territory.

       By that time of the year, I am willing to trade my not being able to see tufted titmice as often as I have over the previous few months for the arrival of spring.

 

LOOK FOR CAROLINA CHICKADEES HIDING SEEDS

Now that temperatures are finally beginning to drop, activity around our bird feeders is on the rise.  When this happens, we have the opportunity to witness the fascinating feeding behaviors of our feathered guests.

       A behavior I particularly enjoy watching is caching.  One bird that routinely stores seeds in my backyard is the Carolina chickadee. 

       If you feed birds, you are undoubtedly familiar with this feathered sprite.  It is particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds.  Typically, a Carolina chickadee will fly in, pluck a single sunflower seed from a feeder, and fly off to a nearby branch.  Once there it firmly holds the seed, between its feet and quickly chisels the seed’s hull open, and swallows the exposed fat-rich seed.  The bird then returns to a feeder and repeats the process.  This behavior is replayed countless times throughout the day.

       However, if you are patient, and watch Carolina chickadees feeding in your backyard, you just might be lucky enough to see a chickadee store a seed. 

THE MOCKINGBIRD YOU THINK YOU HEAR SINGING IN YOUR BACKYARD MAY BE A BROWN THRASHER

Both brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds inhabit backyards across the state.  However, while both are excellent songsters, the songs uttered by the brown thrasher are often attributed to the northern mockingbird. One reason for this is the voices of both birds sound quite similar.  However, whereas mockingbirds seem to sing more often from an open perch, brown thrashers seem to have a tendency to sing more frequently from the sanctuary provided by thick shrubs and other dense vegetation.

As a result, whenever you hear a beautiful mockingbird-like song sung by a bird that you cannot see it is human nature to assume it is being performed by a mockingbird.  In truth, that may not be the case.   Once you learn how to separate the songs sung by both birds, you will never confuse them again.  The brown thrasher repeats the phrases in its songs twice.  In comparison, the northern mockingbird repeats the verses in its songs three or more times.  Once you can identify the songs of both birds, chances are you will discover that both of this accomplished vocalists have long been serenading you.  If that is the case, I think it is only fitting that both birds are given equal credit for helping make your backyard such a special place.

HUMMINGBIRDS, AN ORCHARD ORIOLE AND A DAY OF FIRSTS

Both ruby-throated hummingbirds and orchard orioles reside in my backyard during the spring and summer.  Over the years, these birds have been key players in some of my most memorable wildlife sightings.  Recently, they transformed what was otherwise a typical spring day into one I will never forget—a day of three firsts.

This trio of events began while I was standing beneath a cherry tree listening to the songs of gray catbirds and orchard orioles. 

All of a sudden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to a nearby patch of Wendy’s Wish salvia and began thrusting its bill into the plants’ long, slender, maroon blossoms. 

Although the plants had been blooming for several weeks, this marked the first time I had seen these new additions to my backyard visited by rubythroats. 

Then, early in the afternoon, as my wife and I were standing in our sunroom I happened to spot a bird land on a stalk topped with a torch-like cluster of red hot poker blooms.  I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused on the bird.  Much to my surprise, the bird proved to be a female orchard oriole. 

       As my wife and I watched, the bird pushed her bill upward into a number of drooping, slender, orange-red blooms.  The oriole fed at two more stalks of the odd flowers before flying to a nearby birdbath where she drank before flying off. 

       This sighting was my second first of the day.  While my wife and I planted the red hot pokers to provide nectar for hummingbirds, until then, we had never seen red hot poker blossoms visited by an orchard oriole

       To top it all off, late in the afternoon, my wife was watering plants on our deck as I stood on the ground between the deck and a nearby flowering dogwood tree.  While talking to my wife a flash of red originating from something on the ground not twenty-five feet away caught my eye.  When turned my head toward the source of the red color, I realized that the afternoon sun had set the gorget of a male rubythroat aglow.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that a pair of hummingbirds were mating.  I called to my wife in hopes she too would see the bird.  When I walked a couple of steps toward the deck, the male lifted a couple of feet off the ground, hovered, and then returned to its mate.  A few minutes later, they both flow away.

       My wife and I were spellbound.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine we would witness anything like this.

       I was indeed extremely fortunate to experience three firsts in one day. 

       Each day when I walk into my backyard, I wonder what I will see next.