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BACKYARD SECRET–RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD EAT LOTS OF INSECTS AND SPIDERS

       Most hummingbird enthusiasts believe plant nectar is the primary food of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  At the same time, they recognize small insects and spiders are essential to the rubythroat’s diet.  However, according to entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy, renowned native plant proponent, and a growing number of hummingbird experts, hummingbirds are actually insectivorous birds that also consume nectar.  In fact, Dr. Tallamy has stated, Hummingbirds like and need nectar but 80 percent of their diet is insects and spiders.”

       Research conducted by biologists at Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology seem to corroborate this claim.  When the researchers trapped and followed the movements of a female hummingbird for two weeks never once did she eat any nectar.

                       

A RARE WHITE MOCKINGBIRD

       Whenever a white bird shows up in a backyard it is a special event.  Each year I receive from one to three reports of white ruby-throated hummingbirds appearing in backyards across the state.  A few years ago, a close friend photographed a white northern cardinal visiting his feeders.  In addition, many years ago a Middle Georgia couple reported a white bluebird nesting in one of their nesting boxes.  However, until a few weeks ago I had never been notified of a white northern mockingbird sighting.

       As you can see from the accompanying photograph, this bird is almost totally white except for a few black feathers on its wings.  The bird’s feet and bill are pinkish white.  However, the mockingbird’s eyes are dark.

       Ornithologists might argue as to whether this bird displays albinism or leucism.  However, I believe this mockingbird is a type of albino.  This condition is brought about by the bird lacking any pigment called melanin.

       The four types of albinism are true (sometimes referred to as total), incomplete, imperfect and partial.

       A true albino’s plumage is totally white whereas its legs, feet, and bill are white to pinkish.  A true albino’s eyes are always pink or red.  The presence of black feathers in the same areas of both wings, and seemingly dark eyes, leads me to believe this bird is a partial albino.

       Albinism has been documented among some 304 species of North American birds.  Interestingly, it is most commonly occurs in blackbirds, American robins, crows, and hawks.

       If an albino bird shows up in your yard, it will be an experience you will long remember.  I have never seen a white bird in my yard, however, several years ago a partial albino hummingbird fed at my neighbors’ feeders.  I was sure it would fly over to my feeders.  However, for some reason, it never did.  To have one come that close to your yard is tough to take.  However, I have never given up hope I will see a white bird in my yard.  Perhaps one will magically appear this year.

DON’T FORGET TO DEADHEAD BUTTERFLY BUSHES

       Butterfly bushes are truly butterfly magnets.  However, if you want them to continue blooming from now until migrating monarchs pass through out state months down to road; you must deadhead the plant’s spent blossoms.

       For reasons I do not understand, this spring my butterfly bushes have been covered with the largest clusters of flowers they have ever produced.  Unfortunately, few butterflies were around to enjoy them.  However, lots of bumblebees, honeybees, and carpenter bees constantly visited the nectar-rich blossoms while they were blooming. 

       Fortunately, butterfly bushes can be encouraged to produce a bounty of flowers throughout much of the growing season.  All it takes is deadheading the bush’s flower clusters before they go to seed.

         Butterfly bush w/spent blossoms

       Recently I deadheaded my butterfly bushes for the first time this year.  From experience, I know I will have to repeat this procedure many times.  However, I realize that, if I am diligent, countless butterflies and other pollinators will benefit from the food produced by crop after crop of fresh flowers.  In the past, I have been successful in prolonging the butterfly bushes’ blooming until the monarchs en route to their wintering home in Mexico.  When they use my yard as a stopover area on their epic journey it is not uncommon to see anywhere from four to eight monarchs on a single butterfly bush.

       When deadheading a cluster of flowers, remove the spent cluster down to the spot close to the point when the main flower stem joins two side branches.  If this is done at the right time, the two side branches will quickly produce flowers too.  When the blooms on the main branch and side branches have already turned brown simply, cut the stem just above the next juncture of side branches and the main stem.

       This is definitely a case where a little time spent cutting back spent flowers will produce a beautiful bush and remain a source of nectar throughout the summer.        

BACKYARD SECRET–NATIVE BEES ARE OFTEN MORE EFFICIENT POLLINATORS THAN HONEY BEES

       As odd as it may sound, many of our native bees are at least three times more efficient pollinators as the introduced honeybee.

       Take for example the bumblebee: many of us grow blueberries in our yards.  Many pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees visit the blueberry plant’s creamy white flowers.  Studies have demonstrated that a honeybee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a bumblebee can in only one visit. 

       In addition, native bees are more common than honeybees in many of our yards.  Unfortunately, few honey bees visit the flowers in my yard.  Luckily, tiny solitary, bumble, and carpenter bees are routinely seen visiting a wide range of flowers found there.

       This summer, as you walk around your flower and vegetable gardens take note of the bees you find pollinating your flowers.  If you do, don’t be surprised if you see very few honeybees and an abundance of native bees hard at work pollinating the plants that provide you with food and a cascade of beautiful flowers.

       I am convinced that we are guilty of underestimating the value of the 532 species of native bees that can be found flying throughout Georgia.

HERE IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU FIND A YOUNG BIRD ON THE GROUND

      Every year countless Georgia homeowners find helpless young birds on the ground beneath trees and shrubs.  In some cases, the young birds and their nests are torn out of a tree by an intense storm.  In other cases, a young bird simply accidentally falls from its nest.  If you happen across such a bird, do you know what to do?

       If you find a hatchling, look about and see if you can locate its nest.  If you do locate it, simply place the young bird back in the nest.  More than likely, parents are perched nearby and will resume raising the youngster.

       On the other hand, if you find a whole or partial nest containing young, place the nest or its remains and young birds in something like a hanging basket.  If the container is much larger than the nest, place the nest atop some mulch (choose mulch that will not get soggy when wet).  Then hang it in the tree as close as you can to its original location.

       After you have replaced the nest and young birds all you can do is wait.  In the best-case scenario, the parents will return to the young.  However, after a reasonable length of time, if the parents have not returned to claim their hatchlings, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

       A list of Georgia’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found at www.gadnrle.org.  Once you open the site scroll down the subject list to Wildlife rehabilitators.  These dedicated, skilled individuals are listed by county and the types of wildlife they are qualified to treat.

DISCOURAGING BEARS FROM PAYING YOU A VISIT

       When most Georgia homeowners fuss about the problems caused by wild animals making a nuisance around their home they are typically referring to the likes of white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and eastern chipmunks.  However, some of us also have to contend with an animal that takes being a nuisance to a new level.  The animal I am talking about is the black bear.     

       Some 4,100 black bears live in the Peach State.  Most of these large animals never have a conflict with humans.  However, as the state’s black bear population grows, and humans continue to convert bear habitat into residential areas, it is highly likely that human-bear encounters will increase.  However, when a bear destroys a valuable bird feeder, explores a front porch, or scatters trash across a yard people often become frightened and are left wondering what can be done to ensure such events will cease.

       According to Adam Hammond, Georgia’s state bear biologist, “Avoiding problems with bears is usually simple, though it may not always be convenient.” 

                          photo credit: GA DNR Wildlife Resources Division

       In an effort to assist homeowners deal with bear problems, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and 14 other state wildlife agencies have developed an educational program named BearWise.  Below you will find six BearWise recommendations that will help you safely deal with bears in your yard.

  1. Never feed or approach a bear.
  2. Secure food, garbage, and recycling. Since bears are attracted to food odors, don’t store garbage or other food-related items outside.
  3. Remove bird feeders when bears are active in your area.
  4. Never leave pet food outdoors.
  5. Thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. In addition, store grills insecure locations.
  6. If you happen to see a bear close by, notify your neighbors.  If you and your neighbors take preventative measures, bears will not be able to find food and will look elsewhere for a free meal.

              One the other hand, if you and your neighbors do not take preventative measures to discourage bears, chances are bear problems will become more frequent.  This, in turn, can lead to increased property damage and potentially dangerous encounters between humans, pets, and bears.

              More detailed information can be obtained by visiting www.bearwise.org

SUPER LIST OF NATIVE PLANT DEALERS

With your help, during the past several weeks we have been developing a growing list of native plant dealers.  Recently a fellow blogger (whiteandredroses) submitted an extensive list of native plant dealers. 

Here it is: https://gnps.org/georgias-native-plants/sources-native-plants/

CAT’S EAR IS A SHOWSTOPPER

       Whenever cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) is blooming, the shear abundance, and beauty of its bright yellow blooms dominates the landscape.  Currently cat’s ear is blooming in lawns, along road shoulders, and scores of other places across the Middle Georgia.  Since it grows throughout much of eastern North America, it may be growing in your corner of the world too.  However, in spite of the fact that it so abundant, I suspect when most folks see large stands of cat’s ear waving in the spring breeze, they think they are actually looking a patches of dandelions.

       From a distance, this wildflower looks much like a tall dandelion, however, there several differences between the two plants.  Here are a couple of things to look for that will help you tell a cat’s ear from a dandelion.  The flowering stalks of a true dandelion are unbranched and hollow; those of the cat’s ear are branched and solid.  In addition, the cat’s ear leaves are hairy while those of the dandelion are smooth.

       Many also call cat’s ear false dandelion.  However, most folks familiar with the plant refer to it as cat’s ear.  The plant got its name from the hairs found on the plant’s leaves.  These hairs are supposed to resemble the true hairs found in a domestic cat’s ear.

       This wildflower is not native to the Peach State.  It is actually an import from the Old World and North Africa.

       In spite of its abundance, the plant does not provide an abundance of food for pollinators.  While cat’s ear blossoms are occasionally visited by butterflies, they most often provide pollen and nectar for native bees.        I find one of the plant’s most interesting traits is that it opens and closes its flower every day.  Each morning the blossoms remain closed until the stand receives around an hour of sunlight.  They the close again late in the afternoon.  Back in the day, some farmers would say that it was not time to begin haying until the plant’s blossoms open.  Then at the end of the day, the closure of the blooms signaled the time to quit haying.

       My yard is full of cat’s ears.  If you haven’t treated your lawn with a herbicide, I suspect cat’s ear growing in your yard too. 

BACKYARD SECRET – THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD CANNOT WALK

       There are many reasons why the ruby-throated hummingbird is such an amazing bird.  For example, no other backyard bird is capable of performing the aerial fetes routinely carried out by this master of flight.  In spite of its performance in the air, it simply cannot walk a step.  At best, the bird can only shuffle its feet sideways.

       The ruby-throated hummingbird’s legs and feet are both extremely small.  In fact they are so small, the only time the vast majority of us ever seen them is when a hummingbird is perched on a hummingbird feeder.

       A retired elementary school teacher told me that many of her young students did not believe hummingbirds possessed legs and feet.  She went on to say the only way she was able to convince them otherwise was to show them the mummified body of a hummingbird that flew into her garage and died before it could be rescued.

       It might seem that not being able to walk would be a hindrance.  Obviously, that is not the case with rubythroats.  These aerial dynamos feed primarily while remaining airborne.  The only exceptions of this seem to be when they are perched at a feeder or flower petal eating nectar.

       If fact, if hummingbirds were burdened with legs and feet large enough to enable them to walk or run, the added weight of the bones and muscles would undoubtedly prevent them from being true masters of the air.

LITTLE KNOWN CHOKEBERRY OFFERS WILDLIFE NECTAR AND FRUIT

       Few people have made an acquaintance with the chokeberry.  I am sure this is probably because this Georgia native often goes unnoticed unless people are looking for it.  However, in the right garden setting, this shrub provide homeowners with a splash of color in spring and autumn, as well as a source of nectar for native pollinators and fruit for wildlife.

       When trying to purchase chokeberry plants at a nursery, you might find red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa), as well as a hybrid (A. prunifolia).  Cultivars are also available, however, having had no experience with them, I cannot attest to their value to wildlife.

       Chokeberries are deciduous shrubs that can attain heights ranging from 6-12 feet.  In the spring, the plants produce 2-3-inch clusters of white blossoms.  These blooms provide pollinators such as butterflies and bees with nectar at a time of the year when it is often extremely scarce.  Retired teacher and conservation educator Betty Esco reports that on her property during early spring the chokeberry’s snow white blooms attract Henry’s elfins and falcate orangetips.

       From midsummer into fall and winter chokeberry shrubs display their small astringent fruits.  Birds such as cedar waxwings, chickadees, and even eastern meadowlarks eat these fruits.  Small mammals will also dine on chokeberries. 

       I should also mention that chokeberries are not rated as a top wildlife food plant.  However, this may be because it is rarely found in large enough numbers to provide large quantities of food.

       Unfortunately, white-tailed deer will browse on the plant.

       In autumn, the shrubs’ leaves are painted with lavender, red and orange hues.

       The shrub will tolerate a wide range of soils even those that are extremely moist. However, as you might expect, they prefer damp, rich soils with a ph of 6.8.

       Chokeberries will grow in moderate shade as well as direct sunlight.  Although, if you are looking to maximize plant’s growth and fruit production, plant it a well-drained location that receives full sunlight and features slightly moist soil.

       As is the case with many plants, these shrubs have their greatest impact when grown in mass plantings.  Such stands can be achieved by setting out a small number of plants. This is due to chokeberry’s propensity for producing numerous shoots.