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RESPONSES TO SAPSUCKERS EATING SEEDS BLOG

        Bloggers have responded to the blog regarding a yellow-bellied sapsucker eating sunflower seeds.  It seems some folks are enjoying success attracting yellow-bellied sapsuckers to their feeders.  With that in mind, I thought that you would like to know what they have to say.

       Nudicale says, “They regularly see yellow bellies feed on manufactured suet. We also have seen them feed on scrub oak logs in which they feed on a peanut butter and oatmeal mixture placed in holes drilled into the logs.”

       Pat Kinser wrote to say that she and her husband watched a male yellow-bellied sapsucker dine on a Brome Nut Feeder eating Clinger’s Charms, a great no waste nut mixture.

       Igrid Sanders responded to the blog by saying, “A yellow-bellied sapsucker has been visiting one of our feeders for the past few days.  This is the first time I’ve seen a sapsucker visiting.  It comes often, stays for several minutes at a time, and appears to be eating black sunflower seeds, though I have seen it well enough to be sure.  It feeds on a woodpecker block of mixed seeds that are largely black sunflower seeds, but there are others and maybe fruits.”

       An unnamed blogger added the only thing that he/she has seen eat around their home is grape jelly.

       I hope you will benefit from these reports; I know that I have.

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER EATS SUNFLOWER SEEDS

       Those of us that regularly feed birds during the winter know that it is big news when a yellow-bellied sapsucker visits our feeders.  When one does appear, it invariably dines on sugar water housed in a hummingbird feeder poised to entertain a rare wintering hummingbird, grape jelly, or a bird pudding.  You can imagine how surprised retired wildlife biologist, John Jensen was when a male yellow-bellied sapsucker began dining every day on whole black oil sunflower seeds.

       We know that, on rare occasions, yellow-bellied sapsuckers will eat small bits of sunflower seeds, but never whole sunflower seeds.  It makes you stop and wonder why this particular bird has adopted this feeding behavior.

       John told me that he feels that it is possible that the sapsucker chose this feeder because it is fashioned from a log.  This indeed may be the case since yellow-bellied sapsuckers routinely feed while perched on the trunks and limbs of trees. 

       We really do not know much about the winter-feeding habits of this odd woodpecker.  We know that they drill holes in trees and eat cambium (inner bark) and the sap that wells up in these tiny reservoirs. However, the birds are also known cache seeds and nuts during the winter.  Why would they do this unless they eat them too?

       If you have a theory as to why this woodpecker is feeding on sunflower seeds, drop me a line.  In addition, I would like to know what yellow-bellied sapsuckers are dining on at your feeders this winter.

YELLOW-BELLIED-SAPSUCKER

 

BIRDBATHS ARE NEEDED IN WINTER TOO

       There are untold numbers of birdbaths in backyards throughout Georgia.  I would venture to say most birdbaths are bought and placed in yards during the spring and summer. It is also safe to say homeowners maintain them during these two seasons than at any other time of the year.  Have you ever wondered why this is the case?  I know that I have.

       It seems to me this is due, in large part, to two popular myths.  Some folks harbor the mistaken belief that birds do not have as great a need for water in the winter as they do during the warmer months of the year.  When you stop and think about it, if the reason for providing is birds with an easily accessible source of water is that water is scarce of nonexistent in a neighborhood; the changing of the seasons doesn’t alter the need for water.   

       Another myth goes so far as to say that birds should be prevented from bathing in cold weather.  In fact, some bird fanciers that do maintain birdbaths in the winter actually cut a hole in piece of plywood and place it atop the birdbath.  The hole is cut large enough to allow birds to drink but not bathe.

       Well-meaning individuals that believe that, if birds are allowed to bathe when it is extremely cold, ice will form on a bird’s feathers; when this happens, a bird is unable to fly.  The truth of the matter is when the temperature dips well before below freezing birds refrain from bathing.  Why should we try to prevent them from bathing when nobody is preventing birds from bathing when they are away from our birdbaths?

CARDINAL TRYING TO DRINK WATER FROZEN IN BIRDBATH

  Actually, birds need water every bit as much in the winter as they do at other time of the year.  Birds require water for both drinking and grooming.  Without it, they quickly become dehydrated.  This hinders the movement blood throughout a bird’s body as well as the normal functioning of tissues and organs.   

       Bathing also allows birds to properly clean and groom their feathers.  By so doing, the feathers are better able to insulate the birds from the cold.

       Often the only water available to birds in many neighborhoods is provided by birdbaths. One biologist took the time to determine how far the birds living in his Long Island, New York backyard would have to travel to drink and bathe if he did not provide them with water in a birdbath.  He discovered the nearest water was some two miles away.

       When birdbaths are lacking, the numbers, and variety of birds using a backyard drops.  In fact, the numbers of birds using a yard is often dictated more by the availability of water than food.

       Another important point to keep in mind is when birds are forced to travel some distance to obtain water, they are more apt to be preyed upon by predators or killed while crossing a road.

       I hope you will consider keeping a birdbath full of fresh, clean water this winter. The only inconvenience this should cause you is, on those increasingly rare days the temperature drops below freezing, you might have to break a thin skim of ice that formed overnight atop the cold water. Alternatively, if water in the birdbath completely freezes, you will have to brave the icy temperatures and pour warm water on top of the ice. 

       When you look out your frosty kitchen window on a cold winter day and see chickadees, waxwings, sparrows, cardinals and others flying into drink and bathe in your birdbath, I am sure you will feel the efforts you put into providing these winter residents with a dependable source of water have been handsomely rewarded.

PROTECTING HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS FROM FREEZING

       For days, the United States Weather Bureau has been warning us that severe cold weather in about to blanket Georgia.  If these prognostications prove to be correct, this weekend temperatures will plummeted into the teens.  For those Georgians that are currently hosting, or hope to host, a hummingbird in their backyard this winter, this is disturbing news.  Obviously, hummingbirds cannot feed on frozen nectar. In addition, if the nectar in feeders freezes the feeders often break.    A hummingbird feeding solution of four parts water to one part sugar typically does not freeze until the temperature dips below 25ºF. If the temperature drops lower, feeders can be taken in at night and replaced the next morning. Another option is to use a light to keep hummingbird food from freezing.  Many folks use a 150-watt bulb mounted in a light fixture attached to an alligator clip placed near a feeder to provide the heat needed to keep nectar from freezing on a cold winter night.

       If the temperature remains freezing for a few days, you might find that you have to change out feeders during the day.  In this way, hummingbirds will have access to an uninterrupted supply of sugar water.

 

MONARCHS IN THE WINTER?

       More than two decades ago, I spotted a monarch on Sea Island in February.  To say the least, I was surprised.  At the time, I convinced myself that the butterfly might have been one that was released during one of the many wedding ceremonies staged at the Cloister.  However, recent evidence suggests that the butterfly might have been trying to winter in the state.

       It seems that last year volunteers reported more than 5,800 monarch sighting made throughout the Southeast and Gulf States.  This has prompted biologists to launch studies designed to determine how many monarchs are seen each winter in this part of the world and how they might affect the future of the monarch.

       One of these studies is named Monarchs Overwintering in Southeastern States. It is being sponsored by a number of partners including the University of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Monarchs over Georgia.

       We all can help by reporting any monarchs seen from December 1-March 1 in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

       In you want to take part in this fascinating study, the first thing you need to do is create a free account at journeynorth.org/reg. Once have accomplished this, learn how to report monarch sightings at journeynorth.org/monarchs. Then whenever you spot a butterfly during the reporting period, submit it at journeynorth.org/sightings.

BLOGGERS SHARE SUET TIPS

       Two bloggers have taken the time and effort to share with us their tips regarding suet.   This information is very helpful.  With a dizzying variety of suets available to us, it is great to know what works and what doesn’t.

       Joan wrote to say that she makes her own suet.  Her suet recipe consists of lard and a mixture of sunflower and millet seeds.  She went on to say that her birds prefer it to commercial woodpecker blocks.  She also added that since her suet melts when daily temperatures begin rising at the end of winter, she stops feeding it to her birds in early spring.

       Brooks commented that he stopped stocking his suet feeders with peanut butter suet because hungry squirrels like it too much.  In an effort to remedy this problem, he now stocks his feeders with suet laced with hot pepper flakes.  The suet containing hot pepper flakes doesn’t seem to bother the birds, but the squirrels don’t like it.

       If you have found a suet that either works great or doesn’t work at all, let me know about it.

YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH A CHIPPING SPARROW MUST EAT TO SURVIVE THE WINTER

       The feeding activity around my bird feeders has picked up over the past few weeks. One of the birds that is becoming more common with each passing week is the chipping sparrow.  Although it is small, weighing only 0.43 ounces, it has a hefty appetite.

       Ornithologists have found that a chipping sparrow must eat some two pounds of seeds to survive the winter.  In other words, a winter flock of 24 chipping sparrows will consume 48 pounds of seed before spring arrives.

       What is even more amazing is that much of their diet consists of tiny seeds.  Most folks offer chipping sparrows and other birds mixed seed.  Such mixes often include canary seed, white millet, and rape. I prefer to offer these petite winter residents white millet. 

       While I am certain that the chipping sparrows that visit my white millet feeders do not rely exclusively on food I offer them, I am glad my seed offerings are helping ensure I these birds will be visiting my yard for years to come.

CHIPPING SPARROW

CEDAR WAXWINGS HAVE ARRIVED IN OUR BACKYARD

       For the past few weeks, winter visitors have been arriving in our Middle Georgia backyard.  Yesterday cedar waxwings made their first appearance.

       While my wife and I were checking out the plants growing in containers on our deck, I activated my Merlin Bird Identification App.  In in matter of seconds, the app detected the call notes of a cedar waxwing.  Once the bird’s name appeared, I looked for the bird(s) in the trees and shrubs growing nearby.   When I did not see one, I decided that Merlin had made a mistake.

       Seconds later, I was proven wrong when a flock of a couple of dozen cedar waxwings swooshed in from the northwest and landed in the top of a tall red cedar tree.  As the birds flew from limb to limb searching for the tree’s small berries, a slightly smaller flock joined them.  We watched the birds disappearing in and out of the cedar’s thick canopy, for a few minutes, when without warning the cedar waxwings took to the air and flew over the house.

       Although cedar waxwings visit our yard each winter, we do not consider them a feeder bird simply because they have never visited our feeders.  Here they feed exclusively on red cedar and mistletoe berries. 

       However, data collected through Project FeederWatch indicate they will dine on dried fruits. One of their favorite dried fruits is raisins. There are reports that cedar waxwings can devour a half a pint of raisins in a matter of minutes.  The birds will also eat halved and chopped apples and other fruits.

 

       Although these gregarious birds do not feast at our feeders, they do visit our birdbaths to both drink and bathe.

       If cedar waxwings do not visit your backyard, it could be due to the fact you are not offering them anything to eat or a place to bathe.  With that in mind, consider planting a red cedar and/or other native trees and shrubs that retains their fruit throughout the winter in your area of the state.

       In addition, keep your birdbath full of clean water throughout the winter.  This will benefit cedar waxwings and your other backyard winter guests.

A HANDFUL OF NECTAR PLANTS LINGER ON

       As I write this column, we are well into the second week of November.  Nowadays when my wife and I walk outside and scan our gardens, it is obvious that most of the wild and ornamental nectar plants that fed untold numbers of wild pollinators this fall are no longer blooming.  Yet, in spite of this, a variety of insects is still hard at work collecting nectar and/or pollen.  Fortunately, for them, they can still find food in some plants that my wife and I have grown in containers on our deck.  These plants are now the primary source of food for a wide variety of pollinators.

       Although some of the plants we grew on our deck have been nipped by a frost a couple of weeks ago, four species of plants are still blooming and attracting most the of butterflies, carpenter bees, bumblebees and other pollinators we are now seeing.

       Globe amaranth has been blooming since last summer.  Currently their blooms seem to be favored by checkered skippers, fiery skippers, whirlabouts, dun skippers, common buckeyes, and fiery skippers.  Occasionally a cloudless sulphur or gulf fritillary we land on the plants’ colorful globe-shaped blooms.  Bumblebees also visit the plants.

       A single Mexican sunflower is still producing blooms that are being visited by bees and butterflies.  It survived the frost because it was growing close to the house.

       With each passing day, our scarlet sage plants are  producing fewer new blossoms.  Nevertheless, there are still enough red blossoms to attract their share of the cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, and gulf fritillaries pollinators that are still hanging on in our yard. 

       However, beyond a shadow of a doubt, pineapple sage is the star of the show.  Our pineapple sage plants are still blooming in profusion.  A day ago, I saw seven cloudless sulfurs and a couple of gulf fritillaries nectaring at the same time at a blossoms produced by scarlet sage plants growing in a single large container.  Bumblebees and a few carpenter bees are still feeding on the blossoms  too.

       We hope our plants continue to bloom for some time to come. However, we know eventually we will be left with lots of fond memories of the beauty and pollinators the plants have brought us this year.

       After they cease blooming, we plan on leaving the plants in place, as we know the seeds they have produced will be eaten by cardinals, American goldfinches, house finches and others well into the winter.

       We are already making plans for next year.  We want to continue expanding the number and variety of autumn bloomers.

If we are successful, I am certain our backyard pollinators and birds will benefit from our efforts.

 

NOTE:  If you would like more information regarding pineapple sage, go to the SEARCH feature on the blog and type in, Pineapple Sage Is Great For Late Season Pollinators And More. When you hit the return key, this archived blog will appear on your screen.

RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS HOARD INSECTS

       I find the behavior known as hoarding fascinating.  Hoarding simply refers to an animal storing food for future use.  Fall is a great time to watch hoarding.   Over the years, I have enjoyed seeing blue jays, chipmunks, gray squirrels and red-bellied woodpeckers store caches of food in my yard.  However, I have never been lucky enough to see a red-headed woodpecker hoard food.  One of the main reasons I would like observe this behavior is that it hoards insects.

       Like the other hoarders that hoard feed throughout my yard, red-headed woodpeckers store a wide variety of nuts and other seeds.  They are, however, especially fond of beechnuts and acorns.  The birds stash these bits of food away in traditional places such as under the bark of trees, cracks in railroad ties, wooden fence posts, and dead trees.  However, on occasion, they will even slip food beneath the shingles on barns and houses.  One of their favorite places to hide food in the cracks found on the flat surfaces of tree stumps.  Interestingly, it is our only woodpecker that covers stored seeds with bits of bark or wood.

      However, what I find most interesting is the fact that they will store both live and dead insects.  They are especially fond caching grasshoppers and crickets.  Often live insects are crammed into holes and cracks so tight that it is impossible for them to escape.  I find that truly remarkable.

       Perhaps this will be the year that I will witness the seemingly unbelievable hoarding habits of this intriguing bird.

       In the meantime, if you have been lucky to witness red-headed woodpeckers hoarding food in your backyard, I would like to hear about it.