If the weather forecast proves to be accurate, we are in for a stretch of the coldest weather we have experienced so far this winter. We are being warned that low temperature readings might reach the low 20s and below. During this abnormally cold weather, we are all going to spend a lot of time indoors in our warm homes. Our backyard neighbors are not going to be so lucky. Each of them has its own ways of survive the cold. Let’s look at the amazing manner in which honeybees survive frigid temperatures.
Before winter sets in, the males (drones) are forced out of the hive. Consequently, all that remain are females (workers) and a queen. The queen spends the winter near the center of the hive where it is the warmest. Remarkably, the temperature in this area ranges anywhere from 80-90ºF or more.
During the winter, honeybees form a large cluster. This cluster has two parts. The workers located at the outer portion of the cluster are packed closely together and constantly vibrate their wings. Here the temperate is often in the 40s. The workers’ wing vibrations help create heat. Conversely, the workers in the inner core and loosely packed. This allows them and the queen to move about and eat nectar. From time to time, the bees living in the outer layer change places with those confined to the inner portion of the cluster. This allows those on the outside of the cluster to eat too.
This behavior has served the honeybee well for untold years. However, in spite of this, an average of 38.3 percent of the managed honeybee hives in Georgia do not make it through the winter.
It is always satisfying to know that our efforts to extend a helping hand to our wildlife neighbors are actually benefitting them. With that in mind, I thought you might like to hear what the prestigious British Trust for Ornithology has to say about the benefits of feeding birds.
Their studies indicate that feeding birds throughout the year, improves their survival. In addition, it also enhances their breeding success. The reason for this is when birds have food readily available during all seasons of the year, they are able to stay in top physical condition.
Now that is what I call good news!
More than two decades ago, I spotted a monarch on Sea Island in February. To say the least, I was surprised. At the time, I convinced myself that the butterfly might have been one that was released during one of the many wedding ceremonies staged at the Cloister. However, recent evidence suggests that the butterfly might have been trying to winter in the state.
It seems that last year volunteers reported more than 5,800 monarch sighting made throughout the Southeast and Gulf States. This has prompted biologists to launch studies designed to determine how many monarchs are seen each winter in this part of the world and how they might affect the future of the monarch.
One of these studies is named Monarchs Overwintering in Southeastern States. It is being sponsored by a number of partners including the University of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Monarchs over Georgia.
We all can help by reporting any monarchs seen from December 1-March 1 in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
In you want to take part in this fascinating study, the first thing you need to do is create a free account at journeynorth.org/reg. Once have accomplished this, learn how to report monarch sightings at journeynorth.org/monarchs. Then whenever you spot a butterfly during the reporting period, submit it at journeynorth.org/sightings.
Although the golden-crowned kinglet winters in Georgia, I rarely see it in my backyard. In fact, in recent years, I have not even heard one there. This is despite the fact it is located each year on the local Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Bird Count. In spite of this, I have high expectations that my backyard golden-crowned kinglet drought will end this year.
I base my optimism on the fact that a couple of days ago I heard the golden-crowned kinglet’s high-pitched see-see-see call coming from the top of a tall loblolly pine growing in my backyard. Although, my efforts to catch a glimpse of the secretive songster failed, I have formulated a strategy to do so.
Whenever possible I will look for the bird in places where it is known to forage. Since I have most often seen the bird tirelessly moving about looking for insects and their eggs among pine needles high in the tops of pines, I will concentrate my search there. Knowing they sometimes hunt for food among hardwood branches and brush piles, I will scan them too. In addition, since during the winter they will occasionally feed on tiny seeds gleaned from plants growing in weedy patches I will also checkout the untamed, weedy areas along my property line.
Last, but not least, I will carefully study each tiny bird that visits my suet and peanut butter feeders. More than likely, any that I see will by rubycrowns, however, there is always the outside chance one will be the golden-crowned because they will, on rare occasions, dine on these foods.
Even if I am not successful in seeing one of these fascinating winter visitors, I am sure I will spot other birds that I would have otherwise missed if I was not spending so much time looking for this tiny olive-gray bird that dons a crown of gold.
If you have seen golden-crowned kinglets in your yard, I would enjoy hearing about your good fortune.
Two bloggers have taken the time and effort to share with us their tips regarding suet. This information is very helpful. With a dizzying variety of suets available to us, it is great to know what works and what doesn’t.
Joan wrote to say that she makes her own suet. Her suet recipe consists of lard and a mixture of sunflower and millet seeds. She went on to say that her birds prefer it to commercial woodpecker blocks. She also added that since her suet melts when daily temperatures begin rising at the end of winter, she stops feeding it to her birds in early spring.
Brooks commented that he stopped stocking his suet feeders with peanut butter suet because hungry squirrels like it too much. In an effort to remedy this problem, he now stocks his feeders with suet laced with hot pepper flakes. The suet containing hot pepper flakes doesn’t seem to bother the birds, but the squirrels don’t like it.
If you have found a suet that either works great or doesn’t work at all, let me know about it.
Surveys have shown that some 54 percent of those folks that feed birds feed suet. Consequently, it is obvious that we are spending a lot of money on this greasy treat. With that in mind, this past summer, I decided to conduct an informal test to see which of two flavors the birds in my backyard preferred.
During the study, the birds that most often visited my suet feeders were hairy and downy woodpeckers, brown thrashers, mockingbirds, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches, house finches, and northern cardinals.
I compared peanut butter flavored suet to one labelled as berry-flavored. I placed the suet cakes in wire suet feeders hung on a single Shepherd’s hook. Initially I planned to conduct the test over several months. However, after several weeks I ended the test after it became obvious that peanut butter suet was overwhelming preferred to berry-flavored suet. Remarkably, I fed a total of 17 peanut butter-flavored suet cakes before the cake of berry-flavored suet was finally eaten. Since then, I have purchased only peanut-butter flavored suet.
It would be interesting to know if results would have been different if I ran the same test at other times of the year.
However, before I expand by informal survey efforts, I am going to be feeding my backyard bird neighbors peanut butter-flavored suet.
These days one of the main questions being raised by folks that feed birds in their backyards is, “Where are the birds?” We all know that late fall into winter is a great time to feed our feathered neighbors. However, many of us are currently seeing few winter migrants at our feeders.
In my case, those only migrants I have seen are one white-throated sparrow, two dark-eyed juncos, and a handful of yellow-rumped warblers. Other bird enthusiasts have told me similar stories. They also go on to say, the same thing has been going on for a number of years.
There are undoubtedly many reasons why we are seeing fewer birds during the late fall and winter than we once did. For example, weather has a great influence on the timing of the fall migration. The milder the weather to the north of Georgia, the later migrants seems to arrive in the Peach State. However, there is more to it than that.
In addition, since seeds produced by wild plants are more abundant now than at any time of the year, many birds prefer to dine on them while they last.
There is also a much more significant reason behind what we are seeing. A study conducted by the National Audubon Society has found that the winter ranges of many birds have dramatically changed. When the researchers compared data collected on Christmas Bird Counts for the past 90 years, they discovered that the winter ranges of scores of birds have changed in an apparent response to global warming-related changes such as both temperature and precipitation.
These conclusions are based on an analysis of data concerning 89 different species of birds that were collected in
119 different count circles. The biologist found birds are wintering further north than ever before. The same is true for woodpeckers, as well as passerines, and others. This trend appears consistent for species that live in forests, grasslands, mixed habitats, shrublands, and other habitat types.
In other words, if this trend holds true, many of our favorite winter feathered guests will winter far north of Georgia. I suspect we will still see some northern migrants. For example, I was delighted that two dark-eyed juncos are currently feeding in my backyard. While they were once a common sight around my Middle Georgia home, the birds that arrived this year are the first I have seen in my yard in a number of years.
Another species that has been affected by these changes is the evening grosbeak. I have not seen an evening grosbeak in my yard for decades. However, at one time each winner I banded many of these showy, noisy birds in my backyard.
I have heard many say that change is good. However, I think you will agree that this is a change that is definitely far from good.
The feeding activity around my bird feeders has picked up over the past few weeks. One of the birds that is becoming more common with each passing week is the chipping sparrow. Although it is small, weighing only 0.43 ounces, it has a hefty appetite.
Ornithologists have found that a chipping sparrow must eat some two pounds of seeds to survive the winter. In other words, a winter flock of 24 chipping sparrows will consume 48 pounds of seed before spring arrives.
What is even more amazing is that much of their diet consists of tiny seeds. Most folks offer chipping sparrows and other birds mixed seed. Such mixes often include canary seed, white millet, and rape. I prefer to offer these petite winter residents white millet.
While I am certain that the chipping sparrows that visit my white millet feeders do not rely exclusively on food I offer them, I am glad my seed offerings are helping ensure I these birds will be visiting my yard for years to come.
For the past few weeks, winter visitors have been arriving in our Middle Georgia backyard. Yesterday cedar waxwings made their first appearance.
While my wife and I were checking out the plants growing in containers on our deck, I activated my Merlin Bird Identification App. In in matter of seconds, the app detected the call notes of a cedar waxwing. Once the bird’s name appeared, I looked for the bird(s) in the trees and shrubs growing nearby. When I did not see one, I decided that Merlin had made a mistake.
Seconds later, I was proven wrong when a flock of a couple of dozen cedar waxwings swooshed in from the northwest and landed in the top of a tall red cedar tree. As the birds flew from limb to limb searching for the tree’s small berries, a slightly smaller flock joined them. We watched the birds disappearing in and out of the cedar’s thick canopy, for a few minutes, when without warning the cedar waxwings took to the air and flew over the house.
Although cedar waxwings visit our yard each winter, we do not consider them a feeder bird simply because they have never visited our feeders. Here they feed exclusively on red cedar and mistletoe berries.
However, data collected through Project FeederWatch indicate they will dine on dried fruits. One of their favorite dried fruits is raisins. There are reports that cedar waxwings can devour a half a pint of raisins in a matter of minutes. The birds will also eat halved and chopped apples and other fruits.