Archives

PREDICTING THE BEST TIMES TO SEE SPRING MIGRANTS IN YOUR YARD

        April is a great time to see spring migrants in your backyard.  However, many homeowners see few of these beautiful birds as they pass through their yards en route to their breeding grounds  simply because they are not looking for them at the right times.  However, by closely watching changes in the weather, you can predict when to focus your search efforts for these often-elusive birds.

        Throughout the month of April, birds are streaming home from their wintering grounds south of our borders; some of the birds pass over your yard nightly.  As such, you have the opportunity of spotting some of these birds in your backyard, if you have the right habitat.  For example, many migratory warblers prefer to set down in forests.  If you yard has the most mature trees in your area, you are really in luck as migrants sometimes congregate there in large numbers.

        Northbound migrants prefer to fly with warm, southerly tailwinds.

In comparison, if a cold front suddenly brings chilly winds out of the north accompanied by either dry or rainy weather, migrants will often drop down from the skies and wait for more suitable flying weather.

        Another great time to see migrants occurs when your yard is located along the southern edge of a low system bearing rain. 

        Migrants will also interrupt their migration when faced with poor visibility brought about by clouds, rain, and foggy weather.

         When a large number of migrating songbirds suddenly appears in a small area the event is called fallout.  During these special times you sometimes have the opportunity to see a dozen or more species that otherwise would fly over your property. 

        Unfortunately, these amazing assemblages of birds do not last long.  As soon as the weather changes, they are on the wing again.  With that in mind, if any of weather conditions I have mention occur in your corner of the world this month, take the time to search the treetops in your yard before heading out to work.  If you do, you just might be lucky enough to witness every birder’s dream– a fallout.

A GREAT WAY TO ATTRACT MIGRATING SONGBIRDS TO YOUR YARD

       The spring bird migration is in full swing.  During the past few days, I have heard orchard orioles singing from the trees surrounding my house, watched a male indigo bunting at a feeder stocked with white millet, and even spotted rose-breasted grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seeds.  These are but a few of the birds winging their way back home from their exotic winter residences.  Although some of these birds will visit your seed feeders, others such as warblers and vireos will remain hidden in the treetops foraging for insects.  If you want to catch a glimpse of them, you will need a powerful incentive to entice them away from their leafy feeding areas.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to install a dripper in your birdbath.

        For reasons we do not fully understand, birds are almost magically drawn to the sight and sound of moving water.  When you equip a birdbath with a mister or dripper you greatly enhance the chance it will attract the attention of birds that otherwise be difficult to see.  I know folks that have spotted six or more species of warblers sharing a birdbath equipped with mister.

        I have personally witnessed the drawing power of moving water in my yard.  Late one summer I installed a dripper on one of my birdbaths.  Up until that time, I had seen birds such as northern cardinals, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, northern mockingbird, eastern towhees, and others make forays to the birdbath to bathe and drink.  However, I was amazed how much the frequency of their visits increased when I began using the dripper.  In addition, later in the year I spotted birds that I not seen previously at the birdbath became regular visitors.

        There are several ways you can create the sight and sound of dripping water.  I use a device made just for the purpose.  It hangs on the edge of the birdbath.  A small hose runs from the device to an outside spigot.  Water is regulated with a tiny valve located near the birdbath.  This allows you to adjust the water flow ranging from a fine mist to a steady drip.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER VISTING A BIRDBATH EQUIPPED WITH A MISTER

        A dripper can also be made by simply hanging a hose over a branch above the birdbath.  Adjust the water flow so that a very slow steady drip falls into the water below. 

        A dripper can also be fashioned from a plastic milk or soft drink bottle.  Simply hang the bottle over the water.  Poke a small hole in the bottom of the container.  The size of the hole and the tightness of the bottle cap determine the rate of flow.  The device works best if the bottle cap is loosened or removed. 

HUMMINGBIRD HAVENS

       Georgians love hummingbirds.  Each year residents from Woodbine to West Point, Bainbridge to Helen and countless cities and towns in between Peach State hummingbird enthusiasts spend hours enjoying the beauty and aerial acrobatics of the bird John James Audubon called “glittering fragments of the rainbow.”  

       Remarkably, although these tiny dynamos enjoy immense popularity, Georgians are not doing all they can to provide habitat for these tiny dynamos.  Realizing this Garden Club of Georgia and the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section (formerly known as the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section) and The Environmental Resources Network (TERN) have launched an ambitious initiative named the Hummingbird Haven Certification Program.

       The goal of the effort is to encourage homeowners to combine hummingbird feeders with an abundance of nectar-bearing plants in yards.  Hummingbird experts agree that the folks that attract the most hummingbirds to their yards are those that combine offering both feeders and an abundance of nectar-bearing plants.

       The initiative is part of the more than two decades old award-winning Community Wildlife Project (CWP).  This program has successfully promoted the concept that wildlife is a very important part of the communities in which we live.  It has shown Georgians that, with a little planning and effort, we can provide our wildlife neighbors with the food, water and cover they need to prosper while at the same time beautify the communities in which we live.

       Over the years, thousands of certifications have been awarded for areas large and small. Habitats have ranged backyards, neighborhoods, assisted living facilities, cities, towns, and even a county.  These efforts have benefitted a wide variety of birds, mammals, butterflies and other wildlife species.

       As the name suggests, the Hummingbird Haven certification is designed to encourage and recognize those Georgians that are doing outstanding jobs providing hummingbirds and abundance of food and cover throughout the entire year.

       While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that nests in the Peach State, eleven other species have been reported here.  This list includes the rufous, Allen’s, Anna’s, broad-billed, broad-tailed, black-chinned, magnificent, calliope, green-breasted mango, buff-bellied and green violet-ear.  Most of these birds are only seen in Georgia during the winter, which has been called Georgia’s second hummingbird season.

       The focal point of the program is to provide hummingbirds with a dependable supply of nectar supplied by plants throughout as much of the year as possible.  The plants that provide this natural food include a long list of trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials, annuals and vines.

       However, not all flowering plants are good nectar plants. For example, although popular plants such as daffodils, forsythia and crepe myrtle, are beautiful they offer hummingbirds and other nectar-feeders little food.  As such, the initiative encourages homeowners to plant excellent hummingbird nectar plants alongside garden favorites that provide little or no nectar.

       Since hummingbirds are found in Georgia throughout the entire year, The Garden Club of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section and TERN Nongame Wildlife Conservation are asking folks to plant a variety of plants that provide nectar throughout as much of the year as possible.  Believe it or not, there are actually nectar plants blooming in Georgia in the winter. 

       As for hummingbird feeders, homeowners are asked to maintain at least one feeder in their yards throughout the year. These feeders provide a dependable source of food when little is blooming nearby.  Feeders also allow hummingbirds that are preparing to migrate to consume a large amount of food in a short period of time with little effort.  They also provide migrating hummingbirds with food-rich rest stops along their migration pathway. Then when the migration is over, they offer wintering hummingbirds with much-needed food during the time of the year when natural nectar is scarcest.

       If you would like to see if your yard qualifies as a true Hummingbird Haven, there are three ways to do so. You can send a stamped, self-addressed size 10 envelope to Hummingbird Haven, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, and 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Georgia 31029.  You will be sent a Hummingbird Haven application for certification. You can call Melissa Hayes at 478-994-1438 and request an application. In addition, the application can also be obtained by emailing Melissa Hayes at Melissa.Hayes@dnr.gov. Once you complete your application and return it to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, it will be carefully evaluated. If you qualify, you will receive a certificate that acknowledges all that you are doing for the tiny birds. In addition, you will be eligible to buy an attractive metal Community Wildlife Project sign from the Garden Club of Georgia.

       If your application is rejected, you will be advised what you need to do to earn certification.

EXPECT TO FIND CAROLINA WREN NESTS IN ODD PLACES

        Although the Carolina wren is considered to be a cavity nesting bird I must confess I have never found a Carolina wren nest in a natural cavity or nesting box.  In fact, when it comes to Carolina wren nests, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

        I have found Carolina wrens nesting in my well house, beneath the cover of a propane tank as well as in a cardboard box sitting on a shelf in my garage.  Others have discovered Carolina wren nests is strange places too.

        For example, their nests have been located among the rocks of  stonewalls, clothespin bags, hanging baskets, open paper bags, mailboxes, buckets, as well as in old hats and shoes.

        One year Carolina wrens nesting in North Carolina chose as their nesting site a Jeep Wrangler.  They constructed their nest where a shock absorber was attached to the frame of the vehicle.  What makes this nesting so fascinating is the fact the vehicle made three trips before the nest was discovered.

        Carolina wrens apparently have no problem nesting in vehicles that are driven about.  Decades before the famous Georgia ornithologist, Thomas Burleigh reported that, in 1928, a pair of Carolina wrens nesting in Athens chose as their nesting site a touring car.  The vehicle was left near a sawmill for two days.  During this time, the wrens began building their nest beneath the hood of the car.  When the car was driven away and returned the next morning, the unperturbed birds resumed construction of their nest.

        If you have never located a Carolina wren nest on your property, perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places.  This year focus your search on places you would never expect a self-respecting wren to nest and you just might find the nest that has been eluding you for so long.  

        Good luck!

TALK ABOUT FUEL EFFICIENCY!

         Nowadays whenever we purchase a new vehicle, we want to know its fuel efficiency.  While current models are amazingly more efficient than they were 20 to 30 years ago, they do not even come close to being as fuel- efficient as the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Those ruby-throated hummingbirds that are returning to the United States this spring have to fly anywhere from 500-600 miles across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Remarkably, these tiny birds can make this journey using but 3/40th of an ounce of fuel (fat). To put this in perspective, if a 170-pound man or woman could fly like a hummingbird, it would require storing 85 pounds of fat! Now that is fuel efficiency!

BLUEBIRD BOX COLOR IS IMPORTANT

        Cavity nesting birds have a difficult time finding a place to nest.  In fact, there simply aren’t enough suitable cavities to meets the needs of the birds that need them.  Throughout Georgia a wide assortment of birds nest in tree cavities including the eastern bluebird, Carolina wren, house wren, house sparrow, tree swallow, European starling, purple martin, barn owl, tree swallow, screech owl, great crested flycatcher, Prothonotary warbler, and wood duck.  In an attempt to offset the shortage of natural cavities, for more than eleven decades folks have been building and erecting nesting boxes.  Beyond a shadow of doubt more nest boxes have been built for bluebirds than any other species. They have been so successful they have played a large part in the recovery of this beautiful bird.

       While the majority of bluebird nesting boxes look pretty much the same, some provide better nesting sites for the birds than others. Often the only thing that determines whether or not a box is better than another is its color.

       Bluebird nesting boxes are painted in a rainbow of colors. In fact, I once saw a black bluebird nesting in a blue bluebird box. I would like to know how many red and black See Rock City have been erected across the south. Some folks paint nesting boxes in the colors of their alma mater or favorite football team. Others leave boxes unpainted. With this bewildering array of colors to choose from, you might be wondering what works the best. In truth, bluebirds don’t seem to show a preference for any color.  However, studies have shown that year in and year out more bluebirds fledge from boxes painted certain colors over all others.   Let’s take a look at what’s best for the birds and your pocketbook.

      Most store-bought bluebird boxes are unpainted.  Typically, they are made from finished pine boards.  If you take such a box home and hang it out without doing anything to it, chances are it will rot in a season or two and end up lying on the ground. Consequently, if you want the box to last a lot longer, coat it with a good quality exterior paint or stain before you put it up.  When you treat a box in this manner, it will last several years.  With most bluebird boxes costing anywhere from $10-$25 or more, this is a significant savings.

       However, boxes made from cypress or cedar should not be treated. These woods naturally resist decay.  It is not unusual for a well-made cypress box to last up to 25 years.

       Here in the South, it is best to paint boxes a light color.  Any light color is suitable. Bluebirds don’t care if a box is white, gray, light pink or pale blue.  However, whatever you do avoid using dark colors.  The reason for this is simple, pastel colors absorb less heat than boxes coated in dark colors.

       Here in the Peach State during the spring and summer (the bluebird’s nesting season), the thermometer often soars above 90°F.  However, when air temperature reaches only 87°F, the temperature inside a nesting box painted a dark color can soar to 107°F or more.  When eggs are exposed to such intense heat, developing bluebird embryos can be killed.  Bluebird eggs seem to develop best when temperatures inside a box are no higher than 99°F. 

       When painting a box, I prefer using an oil-base exterior paint. You will find it will last longer than other exterior paints.  I ALWAYS avoid lead-based paints since there is always the potential that birds and other wildlife can ingest paint chips containing lead.

       It is always best to paint a box before it is erected. Use a medium-sized flat brush. Apply at least one coat of paint to all exterior surfaces. If the bare wood absorbs a lot of paint, apply a second coat.  I would recommend that you apply 3 or more coats of paint to the back of the box. Since this surface will be in direct contact to a tree, post, or metal pole, as such it will be exposed to water much longer than the other surfaces of a box.  The extra paint provides an added barrier to water.

       Under no circumstances should you paint the interior of box or its entrance hole. In fact, I recommend that you avoid using spray paint since there is always a possibility that paint can be accidentally sprayed inside the box.

       Isn’t it amazing how a little dab of the right color paint can be so important to such a gorgeous and popular bird?

LYRELEAF SAGE PROVIDES NECTAR FOR HUMMERS AND OTHERS

        Those of us who try to stock our gardens with a variety hummingbird nectar plants are constantly on the lookout for something new.  Too often, this quest leads us to nonnative plants while overlooking native plants.  One of these  native plants, the lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), may actually be blooming in your yard.  In fact, I found a few lyreleaf sage plants blooming in my yard.

        The lyreleaf sage grows in a wide variety of locations. It can be found anywhere from open woods, roadsides, lawns, damp meadows to dry waste sites. In spite of the fact that the plant displays beautiful lavender blossoms on a slender stalk (1-2 feet tall) it is often overlooked. In fact, many homeowners consider it a weed and mow it down.

        Lyreleaf sage begins blooming as early in February in some parts of Georgia and will continue blooming into May.  One of the reasons I am so fond of this plant is it provides hummingbirds with a source of nectar early in the spring when nectar is often scarce.   The plant also attracts butterflies and bees to its nectar-laden showy blooms.  

        The plant readily reseeds often forming robust colonies.  However, as with many roadside  and pasture plants, mowing often hinders its ability to reproduce.

        If you are fond of salvias, you will love this native salvia. Although its blossoms are small, they are every bit as beautiful as the salvias the grace our gardens.

        Although you can purchase lyreleaf sage seeds, they are often pricey.  I have seen 20 seeds cost more than six dollars.  Before you go out and buy some lyreleaf salvia seeds, explore your yard, there is a chance it has been hiding there in plain sight.  If you  do not locate it, I honestly believe it would be worthwhile spending a little money to get it established.

LEAD CAN AFFECT MOCKINGBIRD AGGRESSION

          We Georgia homeowners are well aware of the fact the northern mockingbird is one of our most aggressive backyard birds.  In fact, if you are like me, it is hard to believe you would want them to be any more aggressive.  However, the results of a study published by Stephanie McClelland in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggest that the amount of lead found in the soil within a mockingbird’s territory can affect its aggressiveness.

    The study was conducted in neighborhoods scattered across New Orleans, Louisiana.  The data collected during the study found mockingbirds living in areas where high levels of lead are present in the soil are more aggressive than those inhabiting neighborhoods where soils are not contaminated with this pollutant.

         Now that I know lead can affect the level of aggressiveness displayed by mockingbirds, I cannot help but wonder if this element is affecting the mockingbirds living in my yard.  I hope that is not the case.

BACKYARD SECRET: ATTRACTING INDIGO BUNTINGS TO FEEDERS IN SPRING

         I do not know anybody that consistently attracts indigo buntings to their feeders.  The only times I have seen them feeding in my backyard has been in the spring.  In each case, the beautiful all blue birds fed on white millet seeds offered in open trays or scattered on the ground.

        With that in mind, if you want to try to attract this spectacular bird to your backyard for the first time, I suggest you begin making white millet available to any indigos passing through your area. 

        If you are successful, the first birds you see will be males.  Female indigo buntings migrate north a bit later.