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CAROLINA CHICKADEES ARE HARD-WORKING PARENTS

             Anyone that feeds birds in the Peach State is familiar with the Carolina chickadee.  This feathered sprite is a regular visitor to our backyard feeders where it invariably selects a single sunflower seed on each of its countless visits throughout the day.

            The bird’s fondness for these oil-rich seeds will lead you to believe is its main source of food.  In truth, the Carolina chickadee’s diet varies from season to season.  It seems that berries, fruits, and seeds do make up the bulk of its diet during the winter.  However, during the warmer months insects and spiders make up a large portion of its diet.  Among all of the various invertebrates consumed by this chickadee, caterpillars often make up the bulk of animal portion of its diet.

CAROLINA CHICKADEE CARRYING A CATERPILLAR TO ITS HUNGRY YOUNG

            The importance of caterpillars to Carolina chickadees is dramatically illustrated by research conducted on their nesting habits.  According to the National Audubon Society, one study found that a pair of chickadees feeding a brood of four to six young fed the rapidly growing youngsters in excess of 9,000 caterpillars before they left their nest.  Can you imagine what it takes for a pair of chickadees to find and feed 9,000 caterpillars to their young in the 14-16 days they are in the nest?

            I guess that helps explain why we do not see Carolina chickadees around our feeders as often while they are nesting.

A BIRDBATH CAN BE A HUB OF ACTIVITY

       Although the birds in my yard visit my birdbaths on a regular basis throughout the entire year, activity around these artificial ponds has definitely increased as of late.  For example, in a little over an hour one afternoon this week I watched, a northern mockingbird, common grackles, American robins, brown thrashers, and orchard orioles visited the birdbath outside my home office.

       While a couple of the birds that showed up drank, most were intent solely on bathing.  If you have never seen wild birds bathe, you have missed a real treat. 

       Each bird would hop into the deepest water (only about two inches deep) and began rapidly flapping its wings.  I suspect they also shook their bodies, but I cannot say for sure that was the case.  What I do know is that while bathing, each bird had water flying everywhere.  They would then suddenly stop, look around and repeat the process several times.  Finally, when they finished they laboriously flew to nearby trees and shrubs on water-soaked wings to shake off the water and preen.

  Interestingly, all but one of the visitors bathed alone.  However, at other times I have seen more than one bird bathe at the same time.

       When the last bather left, the birdbath was almost empty and the ground within a three to four foot circle around the bath was soaking wet.

       Their departure left me with the task of refilling the birdbath, and fond memories of what I had witnessed.

THE MOCKINGBIRD YOU THINK YOU HEAR SINGING IN YOUR BACKYARD MAY BE A BROWN THRASHER

Both brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds inhabit backyards across the state.  However, while both are excellent songsters, the songs uttered by the brown thrasher are often attributed to the northern mockingbird. One reason for this is the voices of both birds sound quite similar.  However, whereas mockingbirds seem to sing more often from an open perch, brown thrashers seem to have a tendency to sing more frequently from the sanctuary provided by thick shrubs and other dense vegetation.

As a result, whenever you hear a beautiful mockingbird-like song sung by a bird that you cannot see it is human nature to assume it is being performed by a mockingbird.  In truth, that may not be the case.   Once you learn how to separate the songs sung by both birds, you will never confuse them again.  The brown thrasher repeats the phrases in its songs twice.  In comparison, the northern mockingbird repeats the verses in its songs three or more times.  Once you can identify the songs of both birds, chances are you will discover that both of this accomplished vocalists have long been serenading you.  If that is the case, I think it is only fitting that both birds are given equal credit for helping make your backyard such a special place.

HUMMINGBIRDS, AN ORCHARD ORIOLE AND A DAY OF FIRSTS

Both ruby-throated hummingbirds and orchard orioles reside in my backyard during the spring and summer.  Over the years, these birds have been key players in some of my most memorable wildlife sightings.  Recently, they transformed what was otherwise a typical spring day into one I will never forget—a day of three firsts.

This trio of events began while I was standing beneath a cherry tree listening to the songs of gray catbirds and orchard orioles. 

All of a sudden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to a nearby patch of Wendy’s Wish salvia and began thrusting its bill into the plants’ long, slender, maroon blossoms. 

Although the plants had been blooming for several weeks, this marked the first time I had seen these new additions to my backyard visited by rubythroats. 

Then, early in the afternoon, as my wife and I were standing in our sunroom I happened to spot a bird land on a stalk topped with a torch-like cluster of red hot poker blooms.  I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused on the bird.  Much to my surprise, the bird proved to be a female orchard oriole. 

       As my wife and I watched, the bird pushed her bill upward into a number of drooping, slender, orange-red blooms.  The oriole fed at two more stalks of the odd flowers before flying to a nearby birdbath where she drank before flying off. 

       This sighting was my second first of the day.  While my wife and I planted the red hot pokers to provide nectar for hummingbirds, until then, we had never seen red hot poker blossoms visited by an orchard oriole

       To top it all off, late in the afternoon, my wife was watering plants on our deck as I stood on the ground between the deck and a nearby flowering dogwood tree.  While talking to my wife a flash of red originating from something on the ground not twenty-five feet away caught my eye.  When turned my head toward the source of the red color, I realized that the afternoon sun had set the gorget of a male rubythroat aglow.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that a pair of hummingbirds were mating.  I called to my wife in hopes she too would see the bird.  When I walked a couple of steps toward the deck, the male lifted a couple of feet off the ground, hovered, and then returned to its mate.  A few minutes later, they both flow away.

       My wife and I were spellbound.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine we would witness anything like this.

       I was indeed extremely fortunate to experience three firsts in one day. 

       Each day when I walk into my backyard, I wonder what I will see next.          

ODD RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD BEHAVIOR

       Recently I had the honor of speaking at the Spring Garden Symposium in Plains.  Plains Chautauqua, the Magnolia District of the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail sponsored this wonderful event.

       One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy making presentations such as this is that it gives me the opportunity to meet fantastic people that enjoy and appreciate nature.  In addition, over the years, I have learned volumes about wildlife and plants from the folks that I meet at these events.  Such was the case in Plains.

       This time, a woman from Oglethorpe recounted to me something she witnessed taking place just outside her window that added to my knowledge about ruby-throated hummingbirds.

It seems that she just happened to notice a rubythroat fly up to a planter filled with various plants, including a cotton plant festooned with balls of cotton.  As she watched, the hummingbird flew up to a cotton ball, dislodged a snippet of cotton fibers and fly off.  She said she could not believe what she saw until the bird returned again and again for bits of cotton.  I told her that I had never heard of a ruby-throated hummingbird collecting bits of cotton.  I also said that I believe there is a good chance the bird was using the soft, white cotton fibers to line its nest.

       A quick check of the literature revealed that rubythroats are known to line their nests with down collected from a number of plants such as milkweed, thistle, and ferns, but not cotton.

       I am convinced that people throughout the state are harboring a wealth of information about wild plants and animals that is unknown to the scientific community.  In this case, the woman that reported a hummingbird collecting cotton fibers may be the first or only person that has ever witnessed and reported this odd behavior.

       I find it exciting to know that, even though we are living in the early twenty-first century, there are so many unsolved mysteries swirling around the natural world.

       If you have ever seen something unusual such as this, please let me know.  The knowledge you possess may help us better understand and appreciate the plants and animals with whom with share the world.

A BLUEBIRD NESTING SITE LIKE NO OTHER

BLUEBIRD BOX ON BOTTLE TREE

 

Over the years, I have encountered eastern bluebirds nesting in a variety of locations, however, recently I was shown a bluebird nesting site like no other.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the most colorful and unique nesting location I have ever come across.

This nesting box is situated in a forest of trees.  This is not a forest of pines or hardwoods; this forest is composed of a kaleidoscope of more than 140 bottle trees.  Dr. Jerry Payne, the creator of this fanciful forest, has dedicated one of his beautiful creations to the eastern bluebird.  Bluebirds must have found this special tree as pleasing to their eyes as we do.  During each of the three years the box has hung on a bottle tree nestled between  an array of colorful bottles, bluebirds have successfully fledged young.

If you have encountered an unusual bluebird nesting site, I would like to hear about it.

BACKYARD SECRET: NEST BUILDING AND PARENTING ARE NOT SHARED BY MALE AND FEMALE RUBYTHROATS

In the world of the ruby-throated hummingbird, males do not assist the females in nest building, incubation of the eggs, or feeding the young.  To the contrary, although males are sometimes seen in the company of females until eggs are laid, their attraction for one another wanes shortly after mating.

FEMALE RUBY-THROATED__ HUMMINGBIRD