I try to keep abreast of what the wildlife eats throughout the year. This exercise has allowed me to watch how the food habits of a number of my backyard residents change throughout the year. Recently I was reminded of this fact as I watched a northern mockingbird dine on pokeberries.
Throughout the spring and much of the summer mockingbirds I watched them dining on suet, insects, blackberries, and other delicacies. Then seemingly, overnight birds seemed to abandon the places where they had been feeding. Last week they reappeared at pokeweeds that have colonized my property. The birds were dining on the plants’ juicy, purplish-black berries. While I have only seen mockingbirds eating the berries so far this summer, I suspect they have to share them with other backyard residents such as brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, cardinals and even red-bellied woodpeckers.
The first time I witnessed a mockingbird eating pokeberries a couple of weeks ago the bird was having a difficult time plucking them from a cluster of fruit dangling from a droopy branch. Since it was seemingly impossible for the bird to perch on the flimsy branch and dine of the berries at the same time, it was forced to attempt to hover close to the berries. It immediately became obvious that the mockingbird’s ability to hover will never be favorably compared with that of a hummingbird. In spite of this, after several tries grab the berries, the cluster of berries eventually disappeared into the mouth of the determined bird.
If you find pokeberry plants sprouting in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard, let them grow. If you do, you will be rewarded with an attractive plant, and a great source of food for birds and other wildlife. In addition, you will be offered with some great wildlife viewing opportunities and the chance to learn more about the feeding habits of wildlife without having to leave your home.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds face a host of perils. One of these is being caught by a snake. Over the years, hummingbird fanciers have sent me pictures of snakes coiled around feeders seemingly patiently waiting to pluck an unsuspecting hummingbird out of the air as it flies in to catch a quick meal. Since this unsettling scene is rarely reported, I suspect it does not happen very often. In our case, during the decades my wife and I have been feeding hummingbirds we had never seen it until this past week. Not only did I find a rat snake hanging onto one of our feeders, it was also clutching a hapless hummingbird in its gaping mouth. None of the photos I have received in the past ever captured this.
All of this changed when I stepped out on to on our deck on a quiet late summer morning less than a week ago and spotted what appeared to be a dark lump on the far side of one of our hummingbird feeders. I immediately stopped and tried to figure out what I was looking at. When I advanced closer to the feeder, I could see that the unknown object was a young rat snake. It was so small (three feet long) that it did not have to wrap itself around the feeder.
Once I realized what I was looking at, I turned around and went back into the house to tell my wife to grab her camera and hurry outside to see what was taking place. On the way back outside, I picked up my camera too.
When we returned, we realized that the best view of the snake was from the yard. When we found just the right spot to record the event, we started snapping pictures. All of this time the snake remained motionless. Finally, the snake moved its head away from the perch that encircled the feeding ports enough for us to realize it was just not waiting for a bird—it had already caught one and was in the process of swallowing it headfirst. Initially all we could see of the hummingbird was its emerald green back, wings, tail, and legs.
As we stood, transfixed, the snake began making swallowing motions that consisted of moving its head forward and opening and closing it mouth. As it did so, the bird slowly slipped deeper into the snake’s mouth and throat. Remarkably, in only five to 10 minutes the bird disappeared.
I then removed the feeder from the shepherd’s hook on which it was hung, and slowly walked to the far back of our spacious backyard and set the feeder on the ground. Throughout the whole process, the snake showed no signs of fear. However, when I placed the feeder on the grass the snake slowly slithered off.
Of course, we are disappointed that we lost a hummingbird to a rat snake. However, we realize that each year an untold number of hummingbirds succumb to predators, being caught in spider webs, accidents, and disease. At the same time, it will not hurt of feelings if we never witness it again.
Trying to estimate how many birds migrate through North America twice each year seems like an impossible task. However, Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology has taken on this task. Using data from 143 weather stations scattered across the contiguous United States the lab has come up with the best estimates to date.
These data indicate that an average of 4 billion birds fly south out of Canada into the United States each fall. Some 4.7 billion leave the country heading on to their wintering grounds.
Far fewer birds return in the spring. According to Edward W. Rose, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Ornithology, “in the spring, 3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border.”
Whenever an exotic plant or animal is introduced and begins expanding its population across the landscape it is often impossible to know far it will spread and what, if any, affect it will have on native species. Unfortunately, far too often foreign introductions have a deleterious impact on our native flora and fauna.
In the 17 August 2022, I provided an update on the rapid spread of the Joro spider across North Georgia. In response to the blog, Julie H. posted a thought-provoking response in which she described the impact the spider appears to be having on the some of the wild animals living on her property.
I found her comments so insightful I decided to share them with each of you. Below you will find this posting.
Blogger Julie Hemminger replied to the August 17th post…
I completely disagree with the low key/ low threat assessment of the joro spider. I live in the Hoschton area, where they were first discovered. I have lived in this home & area for 18yrs, so I have a decent long range perspective.
I am an avid gardener & love bugs, insects, etc. As a result, I notice all these wonderful creatures in my garden & enjoy them all. Unfortunately, *ever since* the joro spider began showing up in my wooded yard & garden, 8yrs ago, I no longer see the beautiful garden “writing/zig zag” spiders that I so enjoyed, or the cool orb spiders that would appear in the fall, or many other delightful small spiders.
The joro spiders are highly invasive in my observation. It has been at least 7yrs since I’ve seen the garden writing spider! I’m not mixing them up either. To me, it’s very easy to tell the diff btwn the garden & the joro spider, even though many people do get those 2 spiders mixed up. The easiest way is the joro spider has a red dot on it’s underside, the garden spider does not.
This June ‘22 summer, I killed a joro spider up in WNC, @ Lake Santeetlah, near Robbinsville, NC – when we there vacationing. I was angry to see it now in NC. I will kill every joro spider I see. They have thrown off the spider status quo in our area where they first appeared. They’re just about the only spider you ever see now & that does not appear to be a good sign at all. Everything in our environment needs balance. There is no balance with the joro.
If you want to engage in an activity designed to help conserve our valuable pollinators, take part in The Great Georgia Pollinator census. This year the census takes place August 19-20, 2022.
The University of Georgia, Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and a number of other conservation groups sponsor the count.
You do not have to be an expert in the identification of the state’s pollinators to take part. The reason for this is UGA provides participants with a color tally sheet. The pollinators are divided into eight broad categories ranging from honeybees and butterflies to flies and spiders. All you have to match the insects you spot with photos on sheet.
Simply select an area you want to census. Then count all of the pollinators you see in just 15 minutes. Once the survey is complete, upload your data and your duties as a citizen scientist are completed.
Now that is what I call simple.
If you would like more information concerning all aspects of the count, visit the count’s official website The Great Georgia Pollinator Count – Citizen Science at Work (ggapc.org)
I am surprised that more Georgians are not familiar with the sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). Since it bears some of the most fragrant blossoms of any of our native woodland shrubs, you would think that most folks would want it growing in their yard.
The sweetshrub’s blossoms are maroon in color and produce a pleasing aroma that my wife and I are convinced smells like apples. However, some describe the scent as smelling like spicy strawberries. Others inhale the shrub’s pleasing aroma and say it reminds them of a mixture of pineapples and bananas.
Regardless of how you interpret the pleasing odor, the vast majority of us love it. In fact, some people think so highly of it they plant sweetshrubs near their outside doors. This allows them to lean over and take a whiff of the flowers before heading out for the day.
The sweetshrub is also a pollinator plant. Although Sweetshrub blooms generate pollen used by native bees and butterflies, sap beetles are the plant’s main pollinator. However, since sap beetles are small (1.4-inch) and nondescript we often overlook them.