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THE DAWN CHORUS IS A MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA

       One of Mother Nature’s most exquisite concerts is the dawn chorus.  This event takes place across the state each day throughout the spring.  In spite of the fact it can be heard in rural areas, suburban neighborhoods and cities alike, it remains largely unappreciated.

       This is due in large part to the fact it is staged when many of us are still in bed.  The event can begin as early as 4:00 a.m. and is largely over by the time the sun peeks above the horizon.

       During this magical time of day, the air is awash with bird songs.  In fact, in many locations, so many birds will be calling it is difficult to tell one songster from another.    

       The music is created almost exclusively by the males of scores of songbirds including the likes of American robins, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, vireos, wrens, bluebirds, wood pewees, wood thrushes and many more. 

       While their songs vary widely, they are all singing for the same purpose.  They are putting all other males of their species on notice that they have set up a breeding territory in that locale and they had better not even think about entering their realm and try to steal their mates. 

       Females, on the other hand, are intently listening to the males’ songs.  It seems they are attracted to the males displaying the finest, loudest, and most energetic vocalizations.

       If you have the desire to be in the audience for a dawn chorus, you have to forgo some sleep and be sitting in a lawn chair in your backyard well before daylight.  If you get up early enough, you will hear the open volley of sound made by just a few birds.  However, as dawn approaches more and more birds will begin calling. Once this loud crescendo of sound reaches its peak, the symphony will begin to fade.  By dawn, you will hear nothing more than a smidgeon of the birds you heard an hour or so before.

       Of course, the numbers of birds contributing to the dawn chorus will vary widely from place to place.  For example, if you reside in a rural area, chances are you will hear more birds than you will in a subdivision.  However, regardless of where you live you will hear more birds than you probably ever imagined live close by.

       This fact was borne out recently on a visit to my daughter’s home. She lives in a large subdivision near Augusta.  During the day, I   typically hear a half a dozen or so birds calling around her home.  However, recently one morning I got up around 5:00 a.m. and stood on her front porch for a few minutes.  As soon as the front door closed behind me, I was immediately amazed by how many birds I was hearing.  One of the principal species singing was the American robin.  Robins seemed to be calling from everywhere.  There seemed to be dozens of robins within earshot.  However, by the time the school bus was pulling into the neighborhood, things had returned to normal and the songsters were engaged in their normal daily routines.

       Here are a couple of things to listen for if you are in the audience for more than one spring chorus.

        The participants in the spring chorus will change throughout the spring.  Early on, the songsters will be resident birds.  As spring moves toward summer, they will be joined by Neotropical migrants. 

       In addition, if you find your seat well before the concert begins, you will note different species will pipe in earlier than other species.

       Believe me; all it takes is being in the audience for one dawn chorus to realize it is truly a musical extravaganza.

      

      

      

BACKYARD SECRET: Native Americans Were The First To Discover Purple Martins Would Nest in Gourds

        When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States they found gourds (sometimes called calabashes) erected nearby many Native American villages.  The gourds were hung near the encampments in an attempt to attract nesting purple martins.  They knew nesting martins would vigorously defend their nest sites from any bird perceived to be a threat to their eggs or young.  By so doing, the large swallows would inadvertently help keep crows, vultures, and hawks from stealing drying meat and hides hung near the gourds used as nest sites.

       The new settlers were quick to adopt this practice and erected gourds and later manmade martin houses around their own homes. 

       The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon noted in his journals that he could always tell the fineness of an inn’s accommodations by the quality of the martin housing provided by the tavern’s proprietor.

BACKYARD SECRET: PINE SISKINS WILL EAT PEANUTS

   If you have been fortunate enough to host pine siskins at your feeders this past winter, the small, sparrow-like birds probably fed on thistle (Niger) or sunflower seeds.  Although I did not see a pine siskin at my feeders this year until today, it has been my experience when the birds do appear, they rarely feed on anything else.

        However, after feeding birds for decades I have also  learned that birds will surprise you.  For some unknown reason, they will suddenly eat something you never expected they would touch. 

        This lesson was reinforced today.  Throughout the winter, I have watched tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, and even American goldfinches regularly chisel out bits of peanuts from the feeder. 

        For some reason, today a pine siskin joined a female American goldfinch pecking away on peanuts.  What made the bird’s choice even more unusual was the fact the bird did not visit one of the two nearby feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds.

        Perhaps the bird tried the peanuts and did not like them and I will never see it again..  Who knows? One thing I do know is, if a siskin shows up at my peanut feeder again, I will be ready to photograph the event.

10 TOP NATIVE HUMMINGBIRD NECTAR PLANTS

When most gardeners think about adding plants that provide nectar to hummingbirds to their gardens, often native plants are overlooked.

There are many reasons why natives are desirable additions to any garden.  These special plants help restore the diversity of native plants to the areas where they are planted. This is extremely important to the untold numbers of animals that depend on native plants for their survival. They are also as attractive as ornamentals, are often drought tolerant, more resistant to insect pests, and require little, if any pruning.

I hope you will add some of the 10 of the plants listed below to your garden.  Believe me, if you do, you will soon be wondering why you did not do so years ago.    

Bee Balm (Oswego Tea) (Monarda didyma) – Type of Plant – perennial; Height – 1 to 5 feet;  Blooms – June to September; Soil – moist to well drained;  Light – full sun to partial shade.

 

Buckeye, Red (Aesculus pavia) – Type of Plant – shrub or small tree; Height – 20+ feet;  Blooms – March to May;  Soil – well drained, moist soil types are best;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) – Type of Plant– short-lived perennial; Height – 1-8 feet; Blooms – midsummer; Soil – well-drained, moist to dry soil types;  Light – full sun to partial shade.

Columbine, Eastern (Aquilegia canadensis) – Type of Plant – short-lived perennial;  Height – 1-3 feet; Blooms – late winter to early spring; Soil – well drained, moist; Light – partial shade to partial sun.

Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) – Type of Plant  – Perennial vine;  Length – 16 feet; Blooms – mainly March – September, will bloom throughout most of the year in some locales;  Soil – moist to dry soils; Light – full sun to light shade.

Horsemint (Monarda fistulosa) – Type of Plant  – perennial;  Height – 1 to 5 feet;  Blooms – June to September;  Soil – dry to well drained;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Jewelweed  (Touch-Me-Not) (Impatiens capensis) – Type of Plant – Annual herb;  Height – 2 to 5 feet;  Blooms – May to October;  Soil – well drained, moist;  Light – shade to partial sun.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – Type of Plant -shrub to small tree;  Height –  up to 35 feet;  Blooms – late winter to early spring;  Soil – dry to well drained;  Light – partial shade to full sun.

Sage, Scarlet (Salvia coccinea)  – Type of Plant – Annual; Height – 2 to 3 feet;  Blooms – from late spring throughout the summer; Soil – dry to moist well drained; Light – full sun.

Trumpet Creeper (Hummingbird Vine) (Campsis radicans) – Type of Plant – woody vine;  Length – 36 or more feet; Blooms – summer;  Soil – moist to dry; Light – light shade to full sun.

Help Hummingbirds and Other Native Wildlife

If you are interested in helping hummingbirds, butterflies and other Georgia wildlife, earn certification in the Community Wildlife Project’s Hummingbird Haven and Gardening with Georgia Native Plants initiatives.  For more information contact:  Melissa Hayes at 478-994-1438 or melissa.hayes@dnr.ga.gov

HUMMINGBIRDS ARE ARRIVING DAILY

March is the month when ruby-throated hummingbirds begin appearing at backyard feeders across the Peach State.

Although most of folks have yet to see their first hummingbird of the year, there is no question the birds have already arrived.  The earliest report that I received came in from a couple that lives in Butler. Their first bird showed up March 16, drank on three different occasions, and then disappeared.

Over the years, rubythroats have commonly arrive at my Forsyth home March 18.  Full of anticipation of the arrival of my first bird of the year, I frequently checked my feeders throughout that special day.  Alas, my efforts were in vain.  Although, a hummer didn’t find its way to my Monroe County home on the 18th, one did show up at a couple’s home on the other side of the county.

In addition, a rubythroat made an appearance at the home of a couple in Bluffton on the 18th.  This bird seemingly vanished the same day.  However, on the 20th, their feeder was visited by three ruby-throated hummingbirds.

As I was writing this blog today (March 21), I looked out my office window and, low and behold, I saw a male ruby-throated hummingbird drinking nectar at a feeder hung nearby.  To say the least, seeing this long-awaited bird made my day.

When ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in early spring, in spite of the fact many flowers are blooming, nectar is hard to find.  This is because, for the most part, early spring flowers produce meager amounts of nectar.  Consequently, hummingbird feeders can be an important source of food for these early migrants.  Our feeders enable these travel-weary, hungry birds with an easily obtainable source of food.  In just a few minutes, they can eat more food than they can visiting scores of flowers in a much longer period.

However, each year some of the hummingbirds’ biggest fans do not have feeders hanging in their yards when the first hummingbirds arrive. The first hummingbird they often see is one hovering in the spot where a hummingbird hung last year.  As a result, they guiltily scramble around preparing food for these tiny dynamos.

With that in mind, if you have procrastinated and not put out a feeder yet, do so as soon as possible.  I am sure you do not want to disappoint the birds that bring you so much enjoyment throughout the spring and summer.

When you do spot your first hummer of the season, let me know when and where you see both your first male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds of the year.

 

 

 

BACKYARD SECRET: MANY SPECIES DINE AT OUR FEEDERS

       More than 350 species of birds are known to visit backyard feeders in North America.  Some 170 species regularly dine at feeders.       

       These astounding numbers were derived from data collected by the thousands of citizen scientists that have participated in Project FeederWatch.

       This ongoing study is sponsored by The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, The National Audubon Society, and The Canadian Nature Federation.

       How many species of birds do you feed at your feeders?

CAROLINA CHICKADEES USE NEST BOXES TOO

       A few weeks ago, I found a small patch of yellow crocus blooming in my yard.  A few days later, a handful of daffodils displayed their floral finery.  This was followed up with the blooming of a few narcissuses.  Whenever the blossoms of these hardy plants appear for the first time, each year I know that winter is loosening its icy grip on the land and spring is anxiously awaiting its chance to take center stage.

       This is also the time I begin thinking about bird boxes.  If this is the case with you, instead of putting up another nest box for bluebirds this year, why not erect one for Carolina chickadees?  They face a housing shortage too.

       I know that you are familiar with the Carolina chickadee.  This is the bird that is so proud of its name it constantly repeats it.  If you spend anytime outside in Georgia, you have heard the bird’s chick-a-dee-dee call

       The Carolina chickadee is a feathered sprite measuring only 4 ¼” long.  Its distinctive black cap and bib, gray wings and white underside are recognized by Georgians that have only a passing interest in birds.  This bird can be viewed without the aid of a pair of binoculars since it often allows us to approach within a few feet before flying away.  This is especially true when it visits our feeders.

       The Carolina chickadee is a cavity nester like woodpeckers, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, great crested flycatchers, and wood ducks.  As is the case with all birds that nest in cavities, with each passing year, they are finding it more difficult to find a place to nest and raise their young.

       In the case of the Carolina chickadee, it prefers to nest in natural  tree cavities and the abandoned nest sites of woodpeckers.  However, if they don’t find a cavity that suits their needs, they will either enlarge an existing nest site or fashion a new one.

       Homeowners can help alleviate this housing shortage in a couple of ways.  We can retain dead trees where they don’t pose a threat to humans or property.  However, since this isn’t always possible we can erect artificial nesting boxes for them.

       Most nesting boxes erected in the Peach State were built with bluebirds in mind. In comparison, very few boxes are crafted specifically for Carolina chickadees. Although, chickadees use the larger bluebird boxes, most of them are never used as chickadee nesting sites.

       One of the main reasons for this is Carolina chickadees and bluebirds prefer to nest in different places. Bluebirds like to nest in open spots.  On the other hand, chickadees prefer open woodlands and along woodland edges.

       If you have a yard that features scattered trees or borders a wooded tract, and would like to try to become a chickadee landlord this spring, erect a nest box among the hardwoods and pines.  Here you can erect either a bluebird box or a specially designed Carolina chickadee nesting box.

       A Carolina chickadee nesting box should have the following dimensions:  the interior floor should measure 4 inches by 4 inches, and a 1 1/8-inch entrance hole should be drilled in the front of the box 6 to 8 inches above the floor.

       The small entrance hole will prevent larger birds from competing with the chickadees for the use of the nest site. 

       Also, if you erect a bluebird box with an 1 ½-inch entrance hole or a chickadee box, install a steel hole guard around the entrance hole.  This will prevent flying or gray squirrels from enlarging the hole and ruining the box.

       Boxes should be erected on a metal pole 5 – 10 feet above the ground.  Equip each pole with a predator guard.  This will help ensure a pair of chickadees’ nesting attempt will not be in vain.

       This spring, should you happen to check a box housing a parent incubating eggs, don’t be alarmed when you lift the lid and hear what sounds like the hissing of a copperhead.  More than likely, you are hearing an alarm call being uttered by an incubating chickadee.  It is thought that the birds make this sound to deter nest predators.

       However, if you hear a buzzing sound coming from inside the box, you had better beware.  Bumblebees that typically nest in the ground occasionally build their nests in abandoned chickadee nests.

       I hope that you will offer free housing to a pair of chickadees this year. This backyard neighbor is an important member of a complex community of plants and animals that make our backyards such special places and they are fun to watch!