After reading my latest post concerning how much force a pileated woodpecker can endure without harming itself a fellow blogger chastised me for not explaining how this is possible. In hindsight, I indeed did leave a major part of the story untold.
There is no simple answer to this question. The truth of the matter is a number different factors work together to enable a woodpecker is able to hammer a tree with a force some 1,000 times the force of gravity without injuring itself. To begin with, the woodpecker’s brain is oriented in such a manner that it is better able to absorb force from the front. In comparison, the human brain is far better able to cope with forces from below. The woodpecker’s brain also fits tightly into its cranium. This prevents the brain from easily moving about. The woodpecker’s aspect of the woodpecker’s hyoid bone also plays a critical role. This bone actually loops around the head of the woodpecker and helps dampen the force exerted on the bird when it hammers into the wood of a tree. A number of “spongy” plate-like bones found in different spots in the skull help spread out the force of a hammer-like blow.
The design of the bill is also important. Upon close examination it is obvious that the lower bill is a bit larger that the upper bill. Why is this important? Since the upper mandible is shorter than the lower mandible the force of the bill striking the wood passes through lower jaw before it reaches the bird’s skull. Whereas the force exerted on the upper bill is cushioned by spongy bones found at its base.
The fact that the woodpecker’s chisel-like bill is self-sharpening is also an important asset. Since is bird’s bill is always sharp the bird can hammer into wood using less force than would be required if its bill was dull.
It is also important that the woodpecker make every attempt to strike its bill directly at the wood. This helps ensure that the force of the strike originates from the same direction.
It is also important that woodpeckers possess strong neck muscles.
Research conducted by Chinese scientists was able to quantify how successful the complex design of the woodpecker’s head is in muting the extremely high forces it has to withstand. Their findings demonstrated that these modifications are so effective in transferring forces down the woodpecker’s body the head receives only 0.3 percent of the initial force of a blow. That is remarkable.
Two of our fellow bloggers have responded to the recent post regarding where homeowners can purchase native plants. Here is the contact information they have provided.
Flat Creek Natives Phone: 478-955-1731
Comments: The blogger that suggested this addition to the list commented those interested in purchasing plants are required to make an appointment with the nursery owner Greg Lewis. Details can be found on the nursery’s Facebook page.
Nearly Native Nursery Phone: 770-460-6248
770 McBride Road email: nearlynative nursery.com
Fayetteville, Georgia 30215.
Telephone Number: 770-460-6249
In response to the recent blog regarding the placement on birdhouses in backyard settings, one of our fellow bloggers requested information concerning the minimum size of entrance holes recommended for the species mentioned. Realizing many others might have the same question, below you will find this information. In addition, I have included the recommended minimum height a box should be placed above the ground for each of these eight species.
|Species||Minimum Hole Size||Height Above Ground|
|Carolina Chickadee||1 1/8″||5′|
|Tree Swallow||1 3/8″||5′|
|Tufted Titmouse||1 1/8″||5′|
|House Wren||1 1/8″||5′|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||1.5″||6′|
Recently my daughter and granddaughter made their first attempt to feed crows . What they did not know as they scattered sugarcoated popcorn on their lawn, was that they would soon have front row seats watching a crow do something they never imagined they would ever see.
Remarkably, 15-30 minutes after they returned to the house after setting the table for the crow banquet, two American crows showed up and slowly walked up to the food offerings. The birds fed for a short while and then departed leaving a small amount of popcorn here and there across the lawn.
Later that same day three crows flew in to the feeding area. While the birds were feeding on the remaining food, one of the crows picked up some popcorn, carried it to another part of the lawn, and pushed the food down into the dry two to three-inch tall grass. It then placed grass clippings atop the stash of food. This behavior was repeated a few more times before the birds left. They thought it was odd that the bird tilted its head sideways each time it hide popcorn.
The next morning two crows reappeared at the recently- opened crow diner. During this visit, one of crows walked over to some of the spots where popcorn had been hidden the day before and retrieved the food hidden there.
Clearly, what my daughter and granddaughter witnessed was a behavior often referred to as short-term hoarding. The bits of grass arranged above each stash served as a marker. In addition, it is believed that when the crow tilted its head sideways at each location of a stash it was forming a mental image of the marker with one eye, as well as the general locale with the other.
After the crows left, my daughter and granddaughter were left with the unforgettable memory of a remarkable example of bird feeding behavior that far exceeded their expectations.
The next time American crows fly into your feeding area, keep a close eye on them. Who knows what you will see?
One of the most bizarre insects that inhabits our backyards is a critter known by a number of unnerving names such as the devil’s riding horse, devil’s darning needle, witch’s horse, and musk mare.
The names referring to horses relate to the fact that the much smaller male of the species is often seen attached to the back of a female. If you closely look at the picture accompanying this blog, you will notice a male clinging to the back of a much larger female.
The name musk mare refers to the insect’s ability to spray would-be predators with a foul-smelling fluid. It is believed this defensive spray helps thwart the attacks of ants, beetles, and even mice.
With that in mind, if you stumble across a devil’s darning needle, do not get your face too close to the insect. Should one happen to spray you; the chemical might cause temporarily blindness as well as irritation to your mucous membranes.
This insect is fairly large. Males may be only 1.5 inches long, whereas females can attain a length of 5 inches.
Even though this invertebrate may have been living in your backyard for years, you may never have seen one. However, your chances of seeing one are greater in the fall than at any other time of the year.
The places where you are most apt discover one of this fascinating insects are hidden in grass, secluded beneath the loose bark of a trees, as well as under logs, and other objects littering the ground.
Interestingly, in spite of the insect’s frightening names, it is not a ferocious, flesh-eating predator. It prefers instead to graze on the leaves of a variety of trees and shrubs including oaks, roses, rosemary, privet, and crepe myrtle.
I am surprised that, although I have spent a large portion of my life outdoors, I have never seen a witch’s horse. However, a couple of weeks ago my daughter found the two illustrated here. I guess that goes to show you can spend a lifetime watching wildlife and never see everything that is living just outside your backdoor.
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.
Some months ago, I posted a blog regarding backyard birds eating dry dog food (the blog can be found by using the blog’s Search feature). Since that time four backyard wildlife enthusiasts have shared their experiences concerning birds eating both dog and cat food.
One woman reported that, on a couple of occasions, she has seen sparrows venturing into her carport to dine on cat food.
Another blogger said he successfully raised a young crow feeding the bird a mash consisting of water and Purina Puppy Chow. The bird eventually fledged and remained flying about his neighborhood where it was remained throughout the summer before finally disappearing.
Another backyard birder wrote that she pours regular dog kibble into a sunflower feeder. This unusual offering has attracted dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice.
Yet another fan of backyard wildlife shared his experience with an American robin. It seems several years ago he was surprised to see an American robin feeding on dry dog food served in a shallow pan sitting on his deck. For three consecutive days, the robin flew in, nestled in the dog food, and leisurely feed on the chunks of food while his Eskimo Spitz calmly watched nearby.
If you would like to share your experiences regarding birds eating pet food, please send them to me. I am sure other folks would like to read about them.