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START PLANNING FOR SPRING GARDENS

      With spring just weeks away, there is no better time than now to decide which plants you are going to introduce into your home landscape this growing season. With that in mind, if you are looking for a native plant that is beautiful and is a used by pollinators such as ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies and others, consider planting beebalm. Here is some information that you should consider when deciding whether or not you want this native wildflower in your yard.

       Wild Bergamot (Beebalm) – Monarda fistula – Type of Plant – perennial; Height – 1 to 5 feet: Blooms – June to September; Soil – moist to well drained; Light – full sun to partial shade; Wildlife Use – butterflies, songbirds, hummingbirds.

CONSIDER PROVIDING A NEST SITE FOR CAROLINA CHICKADEES

      More often than not, when people erect a bird-nesting box in their Georgia backyard they do so in hopes it will be used by eastern bluebirds. The truth of the matter is bluebirds do not nest in every backyard. For example, they typically refrain from nesting in cities. They also avoid wooded areas. They much prefer nesting in more open sites often found at the fringes of urban areas, and the wide-open spaces of the rural countryside.

       However, if your yard is characterized by scattered trees or the presence of nearby woodland, erecting a box there might be just perfect for a pair of Carolina chickadees.

       If you decide to construct a Carolina chickadee nesting box, you can build it to the specifications of a typical bluebird box with one exception—drill the entrance hole 1 1/8-inches in diameter.

       If, on the other hand, you want to buy a Carolina chickadee nesting box, you will probably find it difficult to find one. This problem can be easily remedied by purchasing a standard bluebird box and installing an inexpensive 1 1/8’inch hole guard over the traditional 1 1/2-inch entrance hole cut in the box.

       This will do a couple of things. First, it will prevent larger cavity nesting birds from nesting in the box. It will also prevent squirrels from destroying the box by trying gain access to it by enlarging the entrance hole.

AMAZING HUMMINGBIRD FACTS

        In a few weeks, ruby-throated hummingbirds will be making the long trip from their winter home to Georgia. Those hummers that fly across the Gulf of Mexico have long are arduous flight without having the luxury of stopping to rest or refuel.      

       Depending on where they take off and land, this migratory flight spans anywhere from 500 to 600 miles of open water. In order to successfully make the flight, a rubythroat must beat its wings some 2.7 million times. To top it all off, a hummingbird may use only 3/40th of an ounce of fuel.

FEEDING DARK-EYED JUNCOS

        Dark-eyed juncos are always our favorite whenever they show up at our feeders. However, from the reports I have received over the past few years, they do not seem to be visiting Peach State feeders as often as was the case in the not too distant past. When they do make it this far south; instead of showing up in small flocks, folks that feed birds feel fortunate if one or two make an appearance.

       When they do appear, dark-eyed juncos will visit a variety of feeders and dine on a wide range of food. Although they will dine at elevated feeders, it has been my experience they prefer to feed on the ground. When they glean seeds from the ground, they seem to prefer feeding near shrubs.

       They eat a variety of foods including canary seeds, sunflower seeds, white millet, as well as both suet and suet mixtures offered in traditional wire suet feeders. However, some bird feeding enthusiasts have successfully attracted the birds to suet chopped up into small chunks served in a shallow pan placed on the ground.

       I have also seen them dine on bits and pieces of deer fat that had accumulated beside a deer weighing station located on a wildlife management area.

       Dark-eyed juncos will also avail themselves of baked goods such as white bread, cornbread, crackers, and doughnuts.

       If you have a small log covered bark with deep fissures, juncos will eat peanut butter smeared into the crevices.

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS USE MOST OF THEIR ENERGY JUST TO KEEP WARM

       You might find it surprising to learn birds use most of their energy just to keep warm. Studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of the energy birds derive from the foods they eat in the wild and at our feeders is used by their bodies to keep warm. This leaves them with precious little energy devoted to reproduction and growth. This is in stark contrast to the green anoles, toads and other reptiles and amphibians living in our backyards. It seems they are able to employ 90 percent of the energy obtained from their diets directly into growth and reproduction.

       For this reason, it is always a good idea to offer our bird diners foods containing oils, fruits, and fats. With this in mind, the menu we provide our feathered guests should include such foods as suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as dried and fresh fruit.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE SIGHTINGS

        Just when it appeared Baltimore orioles would not make an appearance at Georgia feeders this winter, within the past two weeks, two bird enthusiasts reported they are hosting orioles at their backyard feeders.  Up until then the only Baltimore oriole report I had received this winter came from a woman the feeds birds in her backyard in Tennessee.

       The first report originating from the Peach State came from a woman that describes herself as an amateur birdwatcher living in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta.  She first saw a female Baltimore oriole January 21.  The bird was seen inspecting Hot Meats sunflower seeds at one of her seed feeders.

         As soon as the bird flew away, she immediately put out half of an orange.  Much to her delight a couple of hours later, the bird returned.  The oriole has revisited the orange several times a day since it first dined on the citrus.

       On January 27, she sent me an update on the status of the bird.  Accompanying the message was a fabulous picture of the oriole eating grape jelly.  She wrote that the bird had been coming to feed in her backyard frequently since her initial sighting on the 21st.  She went on to say the bird was eating grape jelly from an oriole feeder she bought a year ago.  Although neither a hummingbird nor oriole ever used the feeder before, her new winter guest visits it regularly.  She fills the feeder with grape jelly water instead of nectar.

       The second report that I received was sent January 26.  This message came from a wild bird enthusiast that resides in Warner Robins.  She reported spotting two Baltimore orioles.  The homeowner wrote, “Yesterday I saw a bright orange and black bird at my suet feeder.”  The next morning she observed what appeared to be the same bird dining on suet.  However, in the brief time it took her to grab her camera and return to the window, the bird disappeared.  Much to her delight, in a few minutes, a second Baltimore oriole appeared.  The plumage of this bird was much duller.

       Wow! I wish a Baltimore oriole would show up at my home this winter.  Although I have a small container of grape jelly waiting for them in the corner of one of my platform feeders, nothing resembling an oriole has visited it.  However, the fact three orioles have recently shown up at two locales this late in the winter, gives those of us that have not seen an oriole in our backyards hope one may still make an appearance before spring arrives.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–A CHIPPING SPARROW CAN HUSK A MILLET SEED IN ABOUT ONE SECOND

        I enjoy watching chipping sparrows feeding on white millet seeds. I am amazed how a chipper can daintily pluck a single tiny round millet seed from a feeder with its bill. However, I find it even more even more fascinating that, while it takes the tiny brown up to three seconds to husk some seeds, it can remove the outer coat of a white millet seed in only about one second.

SPOTTING A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET AT A FEEDER IS ALWAYS A TREAT

       I find it is always a treat to spot a ruby-crowned kinglet in my backyard. Although a handful of these petite birds winter in my backyard each winter, they only occasionally visit my feeders.  

       Most of the time, I spot ruby-crowned kinglets looking for tiny insects, spiders, and their eggs among on twigs and on the undersides of the leaves of the shrubs and trees that are scattered across my yard.

       When they do decide to visit my bird feeding area, they always dine on suet laced with peanut butter offered in a rectangular metal cage. I never see more than one ruby-crowned kinglet dining at a time. When I do spot one feeding at a feeder I cannot help but wonder whether I am hosting one or several kinglets.

       Among the other foods ruby-crowned kinglets have been known to consume at feeders are cornbread, peanut hearts, peanut butter, hulled sunflower seeds, tiny chips of nuts such as pecans and even cake doughnuts.

       Chances are ruby-crowned kinglets are hiding in plain sight in your backyard this winter. They are easy to overlook since they are just a bit larger than a ruby-throated hummingbird, olive-green in color, and sport two white wing bars. This male also flashes a bright ruby crowned when it is agitated.

       If you are fortunate enough to coax one away from its leafy winter home with one of their favored foods, I am certain you will agree seeing one at a feeder is truly a treat.

BACKYARD SECRET–AMERICAN ROBINS WERE ONCE SHOT FOR FOOD

       In this day and time, it does not seem possible that the American robin was once shot for food however, it is true. It seems that up until the adoption of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on March 4, 1913, each year thousands of robins were legally harvested for food.  

       This practice was more common in the South than anywhere else was in the country. The reason for this is large flocks of robins spend the winter throughout the Southeastern United States. Some of these flocks are tremendous in size. One year on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Christmas Bird Count, observers recorded an estimated 2 million birds flying southward along the Ocmulgee River.

       While I have never personally eaten one of these large songbirds, I once worked with a colleague that grew up in rural Arkansas. He said that each year his mother canned American robins shot by members of his family. According to him, the birds were quite tasty.

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER IS NOT A FEEDER BIRD

       Spotting a black-and-white warbler is always a treat. Seeing one in your backyard is something extra special, especially in the winter. In my case, most years I can count the number of times I see this bird on the fingers of one hand.

       I have never heard of anybody saying they attracted a black and white warbler to a feeder. However, since the bird eats insects, I suspect, if one did show up, it would come to a suet feeder.

       Black-and-white warblers nest each summer above the Fall Line. However, even then most of the folks that live in the upper portion of the state often do not see the bird. However, in the winter, those Georgians that live south of the Fall Line have a better chance of seeing the bird than those living elsewhere. It is amazing to me that any of them choose to winter in the Peach State as the vast majority of their kin winter in the warmer climes of Central America, the West Indies, and Cuba.

       The male black-and-white warbler’s back, head, and flanks are adorned with bold black and white stripes. The female appears to be a pale version of the male.

       Since black-and-white warblers are definitely not feeder birds, if you want to enhance your chances of seeing the bird in your backyard this winter, you need to know something about its feeding habits. First keep in mind the black-and-white warbler is a loner. Also, do not look for this warbler feeding on the ground or on the small tree branches. This reason for this is the primary feeding grounds for this hardy bird are the trunks and large branches of trees. In fact, it is our only warbler that regularly feeds in such locations.

       If you regularly look for this bird in the right places, you just might spot one this winter. If you do, please let me know. As for me, I have been vainly looking for the bird all winter.