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ESTIMATING HUMMINGBIRD NUMBERS BY NECTAR INTAKE

Lately it seems like everywhere I go folks are talking about how many hummingbirds are visiting their backyard feeders.  Indeed, it seems there is no shortage of these small, flying dynamos invading Georgia backyards this summer.  With that in mind, most hummingbird fanciers would like to know how many hummingbirds they are feeding.

       Several years ago, an Arizona hummingbird fancier named Stephen Russell came up with a novel way to estimate the numbers of hummingbirds feeding in his backyard.  This technique is based on the amount of hummingbird food the birds consume.  Here is how it works. RUBYTHROAT AT FEEDER 2 - Blog - 2 August 2017

       I will not go into all of the calculations he used to determine how many birds a gallon of hummingbird food mixed at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water will feed.  Suffice it to say he determined that a quart of hummingbird nectar will feed 137.25 birds.

       Therefore, if you know how much food disappears from your feeders in a day’s time, you can easily calculate how many birds you are feeding.  For example, if the birds consume a pint of nectar in a day, your are feeding roughly 68 hummers.

       If you try this technique, let me know what you think of the estimate obtained using the Russell formula.

 

 

CLUES OFFERED BY A BROKEN EGGSHELL

              If you are like me, each year you find a number of broken eggshells in your yard.  When you make such a find, one of the first questions you often ask yourself is, “I wonder if this egg successfully hatched or was broken by a predator?”

       Today I found the eggshell shown in the photo accompanying this blog.  I found in lying on the driveway beneath a tall loblolly pine.  Based on its size and color, I suspect it is a mourning dove eggshell.  

       The first thing to look for when you discover  a shell is whether or not it looks like it was broken open along a jagged, line near the center of the shell.  If that proves to be the case, more than likely a young bird made this cut using an egg tooth attached to its upper bill.  Shortly after the bird hatches, it loses this handy tool.  If this cut extends around the circumference of the egg, more than likely the young bird successfully hatched.

       If, however, the shell appears crushed, has yolk attached to the inside of the shell, or displays puncture holes, the egg was the victim of a predator.

       From the looks of this eggshell, it appears my yard is home to at least one hatchling mourning dove.  I hope the other eggs in the nest successfully hatched too.

RUBYTHROATS LOVE THIS RED SALVIA

     There are literally hundreds of varieties of salvias. With so many available, it is difficult to choose which one you need to plant in your yard.  If you want salvia that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies such as the cloudless sulphur, I have just the one for you.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the salvias are native to Mexico, Africa, South America, Eurasia, and elsewhere, the one I am recommending is native to parts of the Southeast, including Georgia.  Like so many of the salvias, it is called red salvia or scarlet sage.  However, the one I am referring to bears the scientific name Salvia coccinea.

RED SALVIA - Blog - 15 July 2017

This plant grows one to two feet tall and blooms from late spring into the fall.  Bright red blossoms are borne on tall slender stalks.  If you take a close look at a flower, you will find it is tubular in shape.

It grows in a wide range of soils ranging from sandy to clay-laden. It will grow in gardens situated in full sun as well the shade.

Scarlet sage plants can be established from both seed and seedlings.  Seedlings are readily available at many nurseries.  It can also be easily grown from seed.  In fact, once it becomes established it usually reseeds itself year after year.

My wife and I have grown it in large pots, patches and mixed in with other butterfly and hummingbird nectar plants.  The versatile plant has done well in all situations.

Since the numbers of hummingbirds has increased dramatically during the past week or so, we have been enjoying watching hummingbirds visiting the bright red blossoms of red salvia and the other hummingbird nectar plants that are currently blooming in profusion in our yard.

Although have been seeing more butterflies in our backyard lately, cloudless sulphurs remain scarce.  As such, cloudless sulphurs have yet to be seen at our scarlet sage blooms. However, I know that, as we move toward autumn, the cloudless sulphur population will explode and ruby-throated hummingbirds will then be vying with cloudless sulphurs for the opportunity to nectar at our red salvia.

I have purchased plants purported to be red salvia that were far from hummingbird and butterfly magnets. Perhaps they were cultivars of Salvia coccinea that simply don’t produce as much nectar as the true native red salvia.

If you find and plant the right one, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

 

HOW TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF AN ORCHARD ORIOLE IN YOUR BACKYARD

       If the truth were known, the orchard oriole is far more common around Georgia backyards than most people think. 

       I believe three of the reasons for this are that this colorful, small oriole rarely makes an appearance at bird feeders, most people are not familiar with its song, and finally, far too many folks do not maintain a birdbath.

       My wife and I are fortunate that orchard orioles annually make their spring and summer home in our backyard. In fact, throughout the spring the song of the orchard oriole can be heard throughout the entire day.  Consequently, when we hear the birds singing, we focus our attention on the trees or shrubs where the calls are coming from.  Often we are rewarded with seeing one of the birds suddenly burst from the foliage and fly across the yard.

       One of the best ways to learn the song is by listening to it on one of the many online sites that allow you to listen to recordings of the various birdcalls. 

       Once you becoming familiar with the call, you may discover that you are already hosting orchard orioles. 

       Some say that they are able to catch a glimpse of orchard orioles visiting their hummingbird feeders.  We have never been that lucky.  If you want to try it, here is a suggestion that may work.  Hang up a hummingbird feeder that is equipped with large feeding portals.

       The reason I mention this is last winter a Baltimore oriole fed at a hummingbird feeder that has large feeding portals.  When I replaced it with a feeder with normal-sized feeding portals, the bird would not use it; obliviously they were too small.  Perhaps this approach will work with orchard orioles too.

       By far, we get our best views of orchard orioles at our birdbaths.  Orchard orioles visit these watering holes daily.  With that in mind, keep your birdbaths full of fresh, clean water.

       If orioles are not regularly using your birdbaths, it may be because they are too deep.  Orchard orioles are not large birds.  As such, they will not wade out into water a couple of inches deep.  Ideally, a birdbath should have a gently sloping bottom that provides birds of all sizes with ideal bathing conditions.

       If you are successful in catching a glimpse of an orchard oriole or two using one of these tips, please let me know.

 

THE BLUEBIRD EGGSHELL MYSTERY

Have you ever wondered what happens to the shells left after bluebird hatchlings peck their way into the light of day?   You do not see them in the nest nor on the ground beneath a nest box.  Since you know they do not simply vanish into thin air, there must be a logical answer to this age-old mystery. Actually, one of two things can happen to the shells.  Most birds, including the eastern bluebird, carry the shells some distance from a nest and simply drop them.  This is why, as you walk about your yard, you sometimes stumble across wild bird eggshells in places where no nests are in sight.  Many bird experts suggest this behavior makes it more difficult for a predator to locate a nest full on young, helpless birds.  If the eggs were simply dropped out the entrance hole, a predator would have a much easier time finding a nearby nest. In the case of the bluebird, parents sometimes eat the shells.  Nobody knows why they do this.  It is thought that perhaps it is done to obtain the calcium found in the shells.

DOWNY WOODPECKER VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

If you feed hummingbirds sugar water, you know that hummingbird feeders attract a variety of other critters. 

       Right now my wife, Donna, and I are chagrined because house finches seem to be eating more than their share of the nectar contained in a feeder hanging in our backyard.  To add insult to injury, the voracious finches also chase away any hummingbirds that fly in for a quick meal.

       This past winter a Baltimore oriole fed daily at a feeder hanging in our backyard.  Although we tried to coax it to eat grape jelly, this finicky bird showed nothing but distain for this often-reliable oriole food.

       From time to time, we have see butterflies at our feeders.  Most often these infrequent visitors are red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs.

       Gray squirrels also raid our feeders from time to time.  As you might expect when they try to rob a feeder they end up with more sticky nectar on their bodies than in the mouth. 

       Once while we were a church,  a squirrel visited a backyard hummingbird feeder and chewed up a portion of the artificial flower surrounding the feeding portal.

       Folks that live in North Georgia sometimes have black bears try to drink from their hummingbird feeders.  When this happens, often the hungry behemoths leave behind a damaged feeder.

       The other day Ron Lee told me that for the past several days he and his wife had been enjoying watching a downy woodpecker regularly visit their hummingbird feeder.  When I told Ron that I had never seen a downy at a hummingbird feeder he promptly sent me a picture to document this apparently rare occurrence.

       If woodpeckers have ever visited your hummingbird feeders, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I will keep my eyes on my feeders.  Perhaps I will lucky enough to see a downy woodpecker fly in for a meal.  If one does show up, I hope it does not try to chase the hummingbirds away.