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LOOK FOR BEGGING AT YOUR FEEDERS

        At this time of the year, it is common for adult birds to appear at our feeders accompanied by their fledglings.  When this happens, we are able to observe the young begging for their parents to feed them.

       The fledglings’ parents have been feeding their young in the nest for quite some time.  Interestingly, once their brood leaves the nest the adults will continue to feed young birds for anywhere from one to three weeks.  During this time the young birds will make their first attempts to feed themselves. However, most fledglings would undoubtedly starve if their parents did not continue to feed them.

       When a family of birds arrives at your feeding station the youngsters will sometimes perch atop or nearby a feeder waiting for a parent to feed it.  However, it seems that more often than not a fledgling will perch alongside a parent that is dining on seeds or other foods.  In an attempt to coax a parent to feed it, a fledgling will typically anxiously chirp at an adult while rapidly fluttering its wings.  This usually does the trick and the parents succumb to their youngsters begging.

       This morning I watched a family of house finches arrive at one of my sunflower feeders.  Immediately the fluffy, drab youngsters began begging for food.  Their irritating behavior worked and quickly the parents were placing food in the large, gaping mouths of their young. 

As I watched this fascinating behavior, I said to myself, “Little guys, you had better enjoy the free lunch while you can as it won’t be long before you will be fending for yourselves.”   

ATTRACTING MIGRANTS TO YOUR BACKYARD WITH MOVING WATER

  Currently, scores of species of songbirds are migrating northward.  Many of these birds will pass over and even stop in our backyards.  However, since many of these birds rarely visit feeders, they are often only seen by those among us that have time have learned their vocalizations and take the time to scan the bushes and treetops surrounding their homes looking for these magical birds.  There is, however, another way that you can catch a glimpse of these often rarely seen birds; they can be attracted with moving water.

       Although many of these birds will visit a birdbath, those birdbaths that are equipped with a mister or dripper are far more likely to attract these long-distance migrants.  The reason for this is the sight and sound of moving water act as a magnet to both resident and migrant birds alike.

       Some of the simplest ways to create moving water range from hanging a hose of a limb and allow the hose to slowly drip water into a birdbath or pan.  You can also punch a small hole in the bottom of a bucket or soft drink container full of water and hang it above a birdbath.

  

    I personally have had better success in attracting birds to my birdbath using misters and drippers.  The best misters and drippers are engineered specifically for birds use.  They vary widely in price and design.  While they all work, the ones that I prefer permit me to adjust the flow of the water passing through them.  I often use this feature to adjust the nozzles so that they emit both a mist and water droplets.  This creates ripples when the droplets fall onto the surface of the water below.  When it is windy the mist is often blown away from the birdbath.  When this occurs, I simply adjust my mister nozzle so that it emits only droplets.

       If you want to catch a glimpse at some of the warblers, tanagers, vireos and other songbirds that may be stopping in your yard, go ahead and install a mister.  Even after the migration has passed, a mister will help attract backyard residents throughout the entire year.

       These devices are readily available at stores that specialize in birding supplies.

THE FROGLOG CAN SAVE THE LIVES OF WILDLIFE IN YOUR YOUR BACKYARD

        Each year untold numbers of frogs, toads, bats, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and other wildlife species are trapped in swimming pools and decorative water features with sides that are simply too steep for the animals to crawl to safety.  If they are lucky, they will be spotted by someone that can gently remove them from the water with long-handled net. However, in far too many instances the animals swim around until they become exhausted and drown.

       This past week, during a visit to the River Banks Botanical Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, my granddaughter, Anna, and her friends stumbled across a simple device that was being used to avoid such tragedies.  It seems they found 25+ toads mating in a pool surrounding a decorative fountain. Since the edge of the concrete pool was extremely steep, it was obvious the adult toads had little chance of climbing out of the pool after the female toads laid long gelatinous strings of eggs and the males fertilized them.

       In an effort to prevent the toads from drowning, several FrogLogs had been positioned along the edge of the pool.  The FrogLog is a simple device that serves as an exit ramp leading from water to dry land. If they are left in place after the adult toads hop to safety, they will serve as exit ramps for a new generation of toads.

       That is amazing when you consider the FrogLog consists of nothing more than an inflatable floating platform and fabric bag attached to a nylon mesh ramp.

       If you have a problem with animals becoming stranded in your pool, this might be a simple solution to a perplexing problem.

BACKYARD SECRET—RUBYTHROATS MIGRATE CLOSE TO THE GROUND OR SEA

      There is much we do not know about the ruby-throated hummingbird.  For example, most of what we know about how high rubythroats fly when they are migrating is based on anecdotal evidence.  With that in mind, it appears that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate much closer to the earth than many other feathered migrants.

       What sketchy information available suggests ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate close to the land.  In fact, many appear to migrate very close to the tops of trees.  It is believed that this enables the tiny migrants to spot places where they can refuel before resuming their journey.

       This is not to say that some hummingbirds don’t fly much higher.  Hot air balloonists have reported seeing rubythroats cruising along upwards of 500 feet above the ground.

       Once rubythroats reach the Gulf of Mexico, they appear to wing their way along just above the tops of the waves.  This conclusion is based on sightings made by men and women working on oil and gas platforms far from shore in the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen seeing these tiny, feathered dynamos zipping along close to the waters of the Gulf.  These sightings appear to indicate ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate closer to the earth than many other migrants.

       Most small birds migrate at altitudes ranging from 500 to 1,000 feet. Raptors migrate anywhere from 700-4000 feet up whereas waterfowl migrate to and from their breeding grounds at altitudes of 200-1450 feet high.

       However, a mallard was once struck by an airplane flying 21,000 feet above the earth.

IT IS TIME TO REMOVE VINES AND TALL PLANTS GROWING NEAR NESTING BOXES

        Before we know it, spring will be here, and birds will be nesting in the nesting boxes we have erected for them.  Among the chores we all need to tackle in preparation for this year’s nesting season is trim back the vines, saplings and shrubs growing close to each of our nesting boxes.

       One of the main reasons why this should be done is it helps protect the birds nesting in our boxes from arboreal snakes (those that climb trees).  Snakes such as the rat snake are capable raiding nesting boxes erected on poles.  For that reason, it is always best to mount nesting boxes on poles equipped with predator guards.  However, even the best predator guards cannot protect a nest if vines encircle the pole or tall vegetation is growing nearby.  Such plants create a veritable superhighway for snakes trying to raid a nesting box.  Even if vegetation is not actually touching a box or pole, a snake can circumvent a predator guard and gain access to adults, eggs and/or young birds by simply climbing up nearby vegetation and then extending their body the distance between their head and the box.

       For this reason, we need to make every effort to cut back tall vegetation in a wide circle around each nest. While we are creating this protection zone, any branches growing close to the top of the box should also be trimmed away.  Snakes are also capable of using a canopy of branches to gain access to a nesting box.

       Taking a little time to perform this simple task can give the birds nesting in our boxes a better chance of being successful.

 

 

A NOVEL WAY TO KEEP FIRE ANTS OUT OF NEST BOXES

       Here in Georgia fire ants can threaten birds that nest in nesting boxes.  These pesky ants will enter nesting boxes and actually kill hatchlings.

       Several decades ago Jackson, Mississippi resident R.B. Layton came up with a novel way to keep these dreaded imported insects from reaching his nesting boxes.  Layton soaked either wood thread spools or sweetgum balls with the oil additive STP and placed them between the boxes and the poles that held them aloft.  Supposedly, this formed a barrier over which the ants would not pass.

       If you decide to try this technique, since thread now comes on plastic spools, you will have to find them at a craft store.  They are available in a variety of sizes.  I would imagine that you need to buy spools that are unpainted; an unpainted spool would probably retain more STP than those that are painted.  As for sweetgum balls, they can be located beneath sweetgum trees across the state.

       Since I have never had a problem with fire ants entering my nest boxes, I have never tested this technique.  However, if you try it, I would love to know if it worked for you.

A PIECE OF MUSHROOM

       The January 16 post features a beautiful group of fungi that were identified as being bracket fungi.  The photo was taken by our Webmaster, Kim Walton.  In the post, I asked if anyone could identify the organisms. 

       In response to the request, one of our fellow bloggers, Joan Knapp, wrote back that and said that, from what she could tell from the picture; the fungi did not appear to be bracket fungi.  Instead, she suggested that perhaps they were a species of mushroom.  She went on the say that if it was a stand of mushrooms, they were probably a Pleurotus species.  However, in order to know for sure if the fungi were actually mushrooms, she needed to see if they had gills on the underside of each fruiting body.

       Joan’s need to see the underside of the fungi prompted Kim to return to the site where she found them, and photograph the underside of at least one of the organisms.  When she arrived at the location, she was astonished to find the tree and the mushrooms had disappeared.  The tree had been cut down and hauled away.  All that was left were a tree stump and a couple of scattered pieces of mushrooms (see photo). 

       When I sent the photo to Joan, she said that, although the mushroom had rotted, she could detect gills–this meant they were mushrooms. It seems bracket fungi do not have gills but mushrooms do.  However, the piece of the mushroom depicted in the photo was so far gone; she would not hazard a guess as to what it species it was.

       In spite of a paucity of evidence, someone familiar with mushrooms used her knowledge to ensure that the organisms depicted in the blog were correctly identified.

       One lesson that I have taken away from this whole experience is that the identification of the hundreds of species of fungi that grow in Georgia is best left to the experts.

       Thank you, Joan.

 

      

BRACKET FUNGI ARE ODD BACKYARD INHABITANTS

       Remarkably, our backyards are home to untold wild inhabitants.  I don’t think there is anybody that can identify all of them.  However, the fact is we do not know the correct name of them to appreciate their beauty and the role they play in wild communities.  One group of organisms most of us are largely unfamiliar with is known as the tree bracket (also called shelf) fungi. 

        As their name suggests, tree bracket fungi grow on trees (both dead and alive).  The shelf-like structures were see growing on the sides of trees are the fungi’s fruiting bodies. Each species of bracket fungi has its own distinctive appearance.

Photo taken South Monroe County, Forsyth, GA

 

       Kim Walton (this blog’s webmaster) submitted the attractive fungi depicted in the accompanying photo growing on the side of a tree near her home in Monroe County.

       Shelf fungi are more than just pleasing to the eye.  Throughout history, some species have been used as folk remedies.  In addition, these fungi provide cover for spiders, songbirds, insects, and a variety of other critters.

       If you know the name of this type of bracket fungi, I would appreciate it if you would share its identity with me.

MANAGING PLANTS FOR WILDLIFE IS LAGGING BEHIND

       Once every five years the United States Fish and Wildlife Service surveys the participation of American’s in hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related activities.  The latest report (2018) documents the findings from the 2016 survey.  Although the report revealed that, from 2011-2016, wildlife watching increased 20% (71.8-86.0 million individuals); Americans have not fully embraced the value of managing plants for wildlife in their yards. 

       The survey revealed that that around-the-home participants 16 years and older jumped to 81.1 million.  They accounted for 94% of all of the Americans that watched wildlife.  The most popular activity of these 59.1 million folks was feeding birds and other wildlife; they represented 73% of all around-the-home participants.  Thirty-eight percent said they photographed wildlife.  Those that fed other wildlife accounted for 18% of around-the-home participants.  However, only 10% maintained plants for wildlife in their yards.  In addition, just 9% maintained and managed natural areas for the benefit of their wildlife neighbors.

       It is exciting that interest in wildlife watching is on the rise.  However, it is concerning that we wildlife watchers are, largely focusing our attention on simply feeding the wildlife that we enjoy living just outside our backdoors.  Meanwhile, we are losing thousands of acres of wildlife habitat each year.  Unless we enhance the wildlife habitat that remains, the time may come when many of the wild animals that provide us with so much enjoyment will become rare or simply disappear.

       One way to ensure this does not happen is to restore and create wildlife habitats in our yards.  There are so many ways that we can provide backyard wildlife with suitable places to live, the task seems impossible.  One of the best ways to tackle this daunting task is to begin by selecting a species or species that you are most fond of and direct your efforts at addressing their needs.  Then begin by setting just a few goals to accomplish.  For example, if you are interested in butterflies, incorporate a few host plants into your landscape.  If you are fond of birds, plant one or more seed, fruit or berry-producing plants.   Only after you have made these changes, make the decision as to whether you are going to try to accomplish anything else this year.

       Whatever you do, make planting native plants a priority.  These plants are often best suited to survive in your neck of the woods and require less care.  In addition, the food they often produce more food and support far more insects than ornamentals.

       When you start looking for lists of these plants, as other habitat enhancement tips, begin by checking out the Archive section of this blog.  It contains a treasure trove of often hard to find information relating to backyard wildlife.

       We can all be better stewards of our yards.  With that in mind, can you imagine how much our backyard wildlife neighbors would benefit if each one of us made a conscientious effort to enhance our property for them this year?  With that in mind, I hope you will make a New Year’s resolution to enrich your home landscape for wildlife.  I know I plan to do just that.

 

BACKYARD SECRET–NOT ALL EASTERN TOWHEES HAVE RED EYES

       When we are watching the birds living in our backyards, are we REALLY looking at them?  For example, the eastern towhee is a common backyard resident throughout the state of Georgia.  In spite of the fact that we are likely to see the bird scores of times over the course of a year, more than likely most of us do not know the color of an eastern towhee’s eyes.  This is because we rarely take the time to look at a common bird long enough to note any of its subtle features.

       The truth of the matter is throughout most of Georgia eastern towhees have red eyes.  In comparison, those towhees that reside in extreme south Georgia have white eyes (sometimes referred to as yellow eyes).  In fact, white-eyed eastern towhees also abound in Florida and south Alabama.  Towhees displaying both red and white eyes inhabit the vast area between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina.

EASTERN TOWHEE with red eyes

       Ornithologists believe that the first white-eyed towhees originated in Florida during the Pleistocene era. At that time, Florida was a large island.  When the seas began to retreat Florida was no longer an island.  This allowed populations of towhees with white eyes to move northward.

       If you live in extreme south Georgia, or in that portion of Georgia located between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina, take a closer look at the towhees feeding on the ground beneath your feeders.  Who knows, towhees with white eyes may have been dining on your food offerings for quite some time and you did not even know it.  If you live elsewhere in the state, there is always a chance to you might see a towhee with white eyes too.

       As for me, I live in an area where I have a reasonable chance for seeing a towhee with white eyes.  Although I have been looking such a bird for decades, I have only seen towhees with red eyes.  Perhaps 2022 with be the year I will spot both. I hope so.