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SEEING A RARE BIRD AT YOUR BIRD FEEDERS IS ALWAYS EXCITING

      Now that we are on the doorstep to winter, activity around our bird feeders is going to increase.  In fact, during the winter our feeders will be visited by more birds than at any other time of the year.  When this occurs, we are always on the lookout for a rare bird.  Some rare visitors to our feeders, such as the yellow-headed blackbird, are easy to spot.  However, others such as hybrids are much more difficult to identify.  One such hybrid is a cross between a white-throated sparrow and a dark-eyed junco.

       The white-throated sparrow winters throughout Georgia.  On the other hand, the dark-eyed junco commonly winters across the entire state, with the exception of extreme southeast Georgia.  However, in New England and Canada portions of their individual breeding ranges overlap.

       For reasons that are not fully understood, these birds will occasionally interbreed and produce offspring.  The resulting hybrids will display traits of both parents.  Since the combinations of these plumage patterns vary widely from bird to bird, trying to figure out what you are looking at is often perplexing.  For example, in the case of dark-eyed junco/white-throated sparrow hybrids, observers have reported birds with the wing pattern of a white-throated sparrow and the head pattern of a dark-eyed junco. Other birds look much like white-throated sparrows but sport the white outer tail feathers of dark-eyed junco.

       In order to spot one of these hybrids, you must carefully study the flocks of sparrows that converge on your feeding area.  With a little luck, you will spot any bird that just does not seem to to look right. 

       If you see a bird that is a potential hybrid, take lots of pictures of it and share them with others (please include me on this list).  Sometimes it takes many people to reveal the true identify of a hybrid.  

       White-throated sparrow/dark-eyed junco crosses are more common than you might think.  Such birds have been seen in many states such as Minnesota, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and even Georgia.  Who knows?  There is no reason why the next sighting of this fascinating bird may occur in your backyard.

BACKYARD SECRET–FEEDER BIRDS CAN TASTE THEIR FOOD

      One of the joys of eating is that we can taste our food.  As such, it is one of the reasons why we prefer some foods to others.  In the not too distant past, few folks held the belief that birds also have a sense of taste.  We now know this is not the case.

       Whereas we have about 9,000 taste buds, the birds that visit our feeders possess only 50.  Consequently, they must rely heavily on sight and touch to select foods.  Instead of being located on its tongue, a bird’s taste buds are located near the tip of its bill as well as the floor and roof of its mouth.

IS IT A GOOD IDEA TO FEED BIRDS IN AUTUMN?

        Back in the day, most bird enthusiasts never fed seeds to birds during the autumn months.  Nowadays fall bird feeding is quite popular.  However, if you are currently offering sunflower seeds, millet and other delicacies to birds in your backyard, have you ever wondered if this causes more harm than good?

       The truth of the matter is it appears fall bird feeding is more beneficial than harmful.  Some go so far to say that fall feeding discourages birds from migrating.  However, the truth of the matter is it appears fall bird feeding can actually benefit birds.  Here are a few reasons why this is the case.

       Seed eating migrants actually benefit from your efforts.  The reason for this is during migration they deplete the stored fat that fuels their flight south.  An abundant supply of seeds offered at feeders allows them to quickly refuel and continue on to the winter homes.

       An abundant supply of seeds also allows resident birds to build up the fat reserves they need to survive cold weather.  This is especially important during those years when acorns and other seeds hard are hard to come by.

       While it is true, that, for many birds, autumn is a time of plenty–food seems to be everywhere.  However, as the year moves on into December and beyond, these food supplies will be exhausted.  Consequently, the seeds provided by your feeders become increasingly more important to seed-eating birds.

       Finally, feeding birds in the fall provides you with some great wildlife watching opportunities.  Not only do you enjoy tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and others permanent residents making endless trips to and from you feeders, but you also get to see southbound birds that might have passed over your yard on their way south.  This year, for example, this fall backyard wildlife watchers were able to catch glimpses of rose-breasted grosbeaks.  For many, they only see this bird in the spring.

       The bottom line is, if you keeping your feeding area clean, fall feeding can benefit wild birds.

BACKYARD SECRET–BLUE JAYS DON’T RELOCATE MOST OF THE ACORNS THEY HOARD

       Blue jays are currently busy hoarding acorns.  Whereas some birds and mammals store acorns in a single spot, such is not the case with blue jays.  These handsome birds hide each acorn they gather in a separate spot throughout the territory they will occupy throughout the winter.  It is hard to believe that a blue jay might bury an acorn it plucked from your lawn at a spot more than a mile away.

       Since a single blue jay can hoard up to 107 acorns per day, you might wonder how in the world it remembers every spot where it has buried an acorn.  The truth of the matter is it doesn’t.  Studies have found that a blue jay only retrieves roughly a quarter of the acorns it stashes away each fall.

       In other words, each day that a blue jay is collecting and hiding acorns it is potentially planting 75 acorns.  Obviously, some of these acorns will rot; other critters will consume some of them.  The rest could potentially germinate and develop into new oak trees.

       One might say that blue jays are playing a key role in replanting our precious forests.  Looking at it another way, a single blue jay plants vastly more trees than any of us in a week than most of us do in a lifetime.

MY FIRST WINTER BIRD OF THE FALL–A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET

       For weeks, I have been eagerly awaiting the appearance of my first winter bird of the fall.  By that, I mean the migratory birds that winter in my backyard typically arrive well before winter actually begins.  Well, my wait is finally over as this week I spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet eating bird butter laced with peanuts.

       I find it interesting that, although the ruby-crowned kinglet is one of the last insectivorous birds to leave its northern breeding grounds, it was the first to arrive in my yard located in Middle Georgia.  I cannot help but wonder if the bird I saw will indeed winter here, or, was a migrant using my yard as a stopover to refuel before  moving on southward to its winter home is south Georgia or Florida.

       Since I never see more than one ruby-crowned kinglet at a time, I would like to know if only one of these tiny passerines establishes a territory in my yard each winter.  Since there is evidence that these small birds set up winter territories, perhaps more kinglets actually inhabit my three acres of land than I realize.  If such is the case, it could be possible that I host more than one ruby-crowned kinglet and the only one I see is the bird that claims the portion of the yard where my feeders are located.

       Overwhelmingly, when a ruby-crowned kinglet makes an appearance in my bird feeding area it dines on bird butter.  However, in one instance, I watched a kinglet sifting through white millet offered in a small feeder.

       If you would like to attempt to attract a ruby-crowned kinglet to your yard this winter, make sure suet or bird butter are on the menu of your backyard bird cafe.  Other foods known attract ruby-crowned kinglets are peanut butter, mixed seed, finely cracked nuts, peanut hearts, cornbread, and doughnuts.  They will even visit hummingbird feeders from time to time.

       I have never seen a ruby-crowned kinglet drink at my birdbath.  However, there are numerous reports of them doing so.

       If you are successful in attracting a ruby-crowned kinglet to your yard for the first time, you will quickly learn they are a joy to watch.  They are full of energy and are constantly on the move.  Some might even say they get tired just seeing them constantly flit about in search of food.

 

BACKYARD SECRET – MALE AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES OUTNUMBER FEMALES

        It has been estimated male American goldfinches outnumber females.  The ratio of this imbalance is three males to every two females.

       Researchers have not determined why this is the case.  One theory is it is due to the fact males live longer than females.

       Do you see more male American goldfinches than females in your yard?  I am certain I do not know if the ratio holds true in my backyard.  However, I am going to find out.

UNUSUAL CARDINAL FOOD

       One of the reasons I enjoy watching wildlife in my yard is every time I walk out the backdoor I have a chance of making a new discovery.  It does not matter whether or not anybody else has made this discovery elsewhere.  The important thing is it is new to me.  Finding it in my own yard makes it extra special. 

       I would like to take a moment to tell you about my most recent discovery.

       Each year my wife scatters globe amaranth seeds in large containers sitting on our deck.  She grows globe amaranth because it bears beautiful flowers that attract a bevy of different wild pollinators such as butterflies.  In addition, the plant does not require a lot of water, plant pests rarely bother it, and it blooms profusely from summer into autumn.

       For weeks, we have been noticing the papery remains of tiny amaranth blooms littering the deck and nearby rail alongside one of our pots containing globe amaranth plants.  We suspected that birds were the responsible for the scattered flowers.  Our suspicion proved to be correct.  Recently while I was drinking my second cup of coffee and gazing out the window over the kitchen sink, I saw a group of globe amaranth plants violently shaking.  When I focused my attention on those particular plants I realized a female cardinal had landed on them and was pulling apart their globe shaped flower heads.  After tearing apart several blossoms to reach the tiny seeds hidden inside, the bird snipped off an entire flower head and flew away.  Shortly thereafter a male cardinal arrived and ate his fare share of the globe amaranth seeds.

       Wow!  To say the least, we are elated to find that a container full of globe amaranth plants provides foods for butterflies, bees, butterflies, and cardinals.  Who knows what else is visiting our globe amaranth plants?  What I do know is we are going continue watching the plants in hopes of discovering if anything else is benefitting from them.

A NEW ADDITION TO THE LIST OF BIRDS I’VE SEEN EATING BEAUTYBERRIES

       Years ago, I learned that one of the best ways to attract a variety of birds to your yard is to provide them with a variety of wildlife foods.  In an attempt to accomplish this goal, I now offer my feathered neighbors a variety of seeds, and suet, in addition to mix of seeds, fruits and berries produced on a number of native trees and shrubs growing about the yard.  One of these shrubs is American beautyberry.

       A northern mockingbird was the first bird that I saw feeding on the shrub’s bright purple berries.  Since then I have kept track of the different species of birds that I have witnessed dining on these uniquely colored berries.  Up until this year, the list included the gray catbird, house finch, northern cardinal and brown thrasher.

       In the last few days, I have enjoyed watching cardinals hopscotching around the bird feeding area located in front of my home office my yard eating suet, sunflower seeds as well as the berries of an American beautyberry growing nearby.  Meanwhile, brown thrashers have divided their time between eating suet, pieces of bread.  and beautyberries.

       Yesterday, I just happened to notice the bush’s foliage shaking.  I stopped what I was doing and waited to see if a bird would appear.  Much to my surprise, the bird causing the leaves to shudder was a female summer tanager.  For several minutes, the bird moved about the bush eating a several beautyberries before moving on to the next cluster of bead-like berries.  Then, just as quickly as she appeared, she flew away.

       When she vanished into the foliage of a nearby oak tree, I had a new addition the list of birds I have personally seen feeding on American beautyberries in my yard.  Better yet, I also now possess an unforgettable memory.

       If you would like more information on American beautyberries, type American beautyberry in the Search bubble found on the right of the screen.  When you press the return button, a number of former blogs dealing with beautyberries will appear.

DO HUMMINGBIRDS SEEM TO BE LEAVING EARLY THIS YEAR?

        It appears that hummingbirds are leaving my yard early this year.

       Throughout most of August, my wife and I made lots of hummingbird food.  During these hot days of August, we were preparing and feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every day or two.  This was because we were feeding more hummingbirds than during any previous August.  Based on the maximum numbers of birds we were seeing at any given time, I calculated that we were feeding 100 or more hummers daily.

       These numbers remained steady until September 4 when the nectar consumption dropped significantly.  Suddenly we were feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every three to four days.  This was surprising because, in a normal year, we don’t see a significant decline in hummingbird numbers that early in the month.

       On September 12, I was surprised to see an adult male ruby-throated hummingbird dining at our feeders.  The bird also returned the next day.  While seeing an adult male that late in the summer was big news, what was even bigger news was the male was one of only three hummingbirds using our feeders daily.

       Since then, the male has moved on, however, we are still feeding only two or three hummingbirds.  This is in spite of the fact that we are still providing the little migrants with plenty of sugar water and flowerbeds and containers are awash with the blooms of a number of nectar plants.

       The seemingly early departure of the birds has reinforced my realization that, in spite of studying these magical birds for decades, there is so much I still do not know about them.

       I sure would like to know whether you have noticed that rubythroats seemingly left your yard early this year also.  It would help me understand if this is a local or widespread phenomenon.

BACKYARD SECRET–TUFTED TITMICE ARE HOARDERS TOO

       There are a number of animals that hoard seeds in our backyards.  This list includes eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, Carolina chickadees, and blue jays.  There is another bird you can add to this list of animals that prepare of the winter by storing up supplies of food. 

       It might come as a surprise to know that the tufted titmouse is yet another bird that hoards sunflower seeds and other foods to help it to survive lean times that are common during winter.