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A DEVIL’S RIDING HORSE MAY BE GRAZING IN YOUR BACKYARD

       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.

 

   

Photo credit: Angela Dupree

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.

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.

      

BLOGGERS SHARE EXPERIENCES WITH BIRDS EATING DOG AND CAT FOOD

       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.