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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
One of the most fascinating animal behaviors can you see in your backyard is the display flight of the male ruby-throated hummingbird.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to witness this fete on a number of occasions. However, until last week I had never observed it three separate times in a matter of a couple of days.
This acrobatic maneuver is unmistakable. The male will repeatedly fly to and fro in a wide U-shaped arc. Often the male is so adept at retracing the path of his previous arc it appears he is coursing along an unseen track.
At times, the bottom of the arc brings the male so close to the head of a perched female you are convinced he is going to collide with her. As he approaches the seemingly unperturbed object of his affection, the buzzing sound created by the air passing through his tail and wing feathers becomes appreciably louder. This dramatic display is designed to convince the female he is a suitable suitor. However, the only time she gives him the time of day is during a handful of days prior to her laying a clutch of two eggs.
After I enjoyed the sight of a male rubythroat engaged in an aerial display, I related the story to my wife. She said she had never been lucky enough to see the display. Remarkably the very next day, while we were both standing on our deck a male suddenly appeared and performed the aerial fete in front of us. In fact, one side of the U-shaped arc was so close to our heads I thought he was going to collide with us.
A couple of days later my daughter was standing on the deck with us when she suddenly exclaimed, “What is that hummingbird doing?” I looked up and could not believe my eyes–a male rubythroat was once again engaged in a display flight.
Observing three ruby-throated hummingbird aerial displays and being able to be with my wife and daughter when they both witnessed their first courtship displays is something I will never forget; this is backyard wildlife watching at its best.