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BACKYARD SECRET – EASTERN BLUEBIRDS SOMETIMES HAVE DIFFERENT MATES IN THE SAME YEAR

       During the past few weeks, I have received reports that eastern bluebirds have already begun nesting in many locales throughout Georgia.  Being able to watch a pair raise their young in our yards is always one of the most enjoyable wild dramas played out in our backyards. 

       When we see a pair nesting one or two more times, it is only natural to assume we are watching the same two birds that we saw earlier in the spring.  This belief is so popular, most bluebird landlords rarely wonder if this is indeed the case.  This assumption has, however, been tested in a number of studies. You might be surprised at what these research projects found.

       For example, in one study, biologists learned that most bluebird pairs remained together, if their first nesting attempt proved to be successful.  However, when it fails, only 30-50% of the pairs remain together for another attempt to nest in the same nesting season.  In an apparent effort in be successful during a re-nesting effort, the adults will breed with another mate.

PROVIDING BIRDS WITH NESTING MATERIAL

      Although some birds are already nesting it is not too late to provide the birds that nest in your backyard with nesting material. While birds typically have no difficulty finding all the nesting material they need, you can make their job a little easier by providing them a wide assortment of items.

       In a former blog, I discussed the fact that an increasing number of folks are providing nesting hummingbirds with cotton in something called hummingbird nesting balls.  The balls are fashioned from vines and contain loose cotton.  Hummingbirds will pluck cotton fibers from the balls and use it to create their nests.  If you type Providing Hummers with Nesting Material in the search bubble found on the right-hand side of the blog page, the blog will appear, and you can read all about them.

       Even though other birds will take advantage of this source of soft nesting material, there are other ways that you can supply titmice, chickadees and other birds with nesting material.  One of the easiest ways to do so is to put nesting material in a suet cage. If you do so, make sure the cage is not greasy.  Hang cages where they can be easily seen by birds. You can also make small piles of nesting material on the ground.  It can also be placed in small baskets that are often used to display blueberries and other small fruits and berries.  The baskets can then be hung from the limb of a tree or Shepherd’s hook.

       Some of the various items that can be offered to the birds include short pieces of yarn, feathers (tree swallows like white feathers), slender strips of bark, pet and human hair, moss, and dry grass.

       Materials that should be avoided are dryer lint, cellophane, plastic, aluminum foil, wire, and tinsel.

       Who knows?  You just might find the birds ignore your offerings.  Then again, if they do, you will experience the thrill of watching them carry fly off with something you offered them.  Even if you are not lucky enough to see birds collecting nesting materials, after the nesting season is over you might find some of your items woven into a nest—that’s great too.

DO EASTERN BLUEBIRDS USE THE SAME BOX FOR MORE THAN ONE YEAR?

        If you erect bluebird boxes, more than likely you have wondered if bluebirds return to nest in the same nest box they used the year before. 

       As it turns out, banding studies demonstrate anywhere from 26-44% of the bluebirds that nested in box last year will return to nest there this year. 

       One factor that determines if bluebirds use the same box from year to year is whether their nesting efforts the previous year were successful.  As you might imagine, they are more likely to use the same box if they successfully raised young in that box the previous breeding season.

BACKYARD SECRET – AMERICAN CROWS USE ANTS TO KEEP THEIR FEATHERS CLEAN

        If you have never taken the time to watch the behavior of the American crows that visit your yard, you are missing the opportunity to see birds exhibit some amazing behaviors.  For example, if you are lucky, you just might see a crow engaged in a behavior called “anting.”

       It seems that American crows will literally stand or lie on top of an ant mound and let swarms of these six-legged insects crawl all over them. Once the ants begin running around on the crows’ feathers, the birds grab the ants and rub them on themselves.  Ornithologists believe the formic acid found in ants helps the birds ward off parasites.

       Have you ever witnessed this activity?  I must admit that, although I have not done so, it is something that I definitely want to see for myself.

RARE WHITE CARDINAL APPEARS AT FEEDER

       Recently a Bibb County, Georgia homeowner looked out her window and saw an odd bird.  The bird had the shape of cardinal; however, it was mostly white.  One of the first things that popped into her mind was the mysterious bird was a species she had never seen.  What was she looking at?

       It turns out the bird is a leucistic cardinal.  This cardinal displays some pigment.  Albino cardinals have no pigment.

       Such birds are extremely rare.  The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology conducts an annual FeederWatch Survey.  Each year survey participants report approximately 5.5 million birds. On an average, only 236 of the birds tallied annually had albinism or leucism.  This works out of roughly one out of every 30,000 is either leucistic or albinistic.

       Leucism is much more common than albinism. According to the experts, out of every 100 birds that are reported with abnormal plumage only three are true albinos and 82 are leucistic.

RUBYTHOATED HUMMINGBIRDS RETURN TO GEORGIA IN MARCH

        March is the month ruby-throated hummingbirds return to Georgia. 

       Over the years, countless Georgia hummingbird enthusiasts have told me that they saw the first hummingbird of the year hovering in the spot where a hummingbird feeder hung outside their kitchen window a year earlier.

       With that in mind, if you do not already have a hummingbird feeder hanging in your backyard, there is no better time to hang a feeder in your backyard than right now.

       The first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in South Georgia in late February and early March.  On the average, from there, they make their way northward at a rate of about 23 miles per day.  By March 20, the birds reach Middle Georgia.   The first northbound birds arrive in North Georgia in late March and early April.

       The first hummingbirds to arrive are males; the females make an appearance about 10 days later.

       Let me know when the first male and female rubythroats arrive in your backyard. 

      

 

 

FOLKS ONCE THOUGHT HUMMINGBIRDS DID NOT MIGRATE

       As we anxiously await the arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbird, there is no better time to reflect on the fact that early colonists did not believe that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrated all.  Here is one theory that was put forth to explain the disappearance of hummingbirds at the end of summer.

      A book published in 1651 named The Pennsylvania Cyclopedia offered a bizarre explanation why hummingbirds vanished at the end of the growing season. According to this tome when the flowers visited by hummingbirds throughout the year faded away, the birds did not migrate to places where flowers bloomed throughout the winter.  Instead, they simply stuck their long bills into the trunks of trees.  Here they remained motionless until spring rains began to fall. At that time, they would miraculously come back to life and resume their quest for nectar.

BACKYARD SECRET—SAPSUCKERS SUPPLY FOOD TO MIGRATING RUBYTHROATED HUMMINGBIRDS

       An amazing relationship exists between migrating yellow-bellied sapsucker and the ruby-throated hummingbird. It seems that yellow-bellied sapsuckers help fuel the ruby-hummingbird’s migration northward each spring.

       Beginning in March each year yellow-bellied sapsuckers leave the Peach State and begin flying home to their breeding grounds in eastern Canada and our northeastern states. As the sapsuckers make their way northward, they often stop every so often and feed for a couple of weeks or so before moving on.  As expected, at each stopover area the birds chisel out numerous sap wells in a variety of trees.  This provides them with an energy-rich source of fuel that will enable them to complete their long journey.

       Often ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to their northern breeding grounds some two to three after the sapsuckers leave.  Since they are heading north at a time when nectar plants are typically in short supply, food is often at a premium. 

      While hummingbird fanciers that hang hummingbird feeders outside their homes in late winter and early spring help feed the migrants along the way, they alone cannot provide enough food for all of the migrating birds.

       Here is where yellow-bellied sapsucker plays an important role in feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds that are also flying north.  The tiny rubythroats dine on the sucrose and amino acid-laden tree sap they obtain from sapsucker wells.  Sapsuckers drill lots of holes whenever they locate an excellent source of tree sap.  Consequently, when they abandon these sap wells to resume their journey home they unwittingly leave behind a valuable source of food needed by tiny hummers that are following behind them.

       Once again, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

TAKE PART IN THE GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT

       If you are seeking a wonderful birding event that can involve the entire family, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) may be just the event that fits the bill.

       This year it will run from Friday, February 17 through Monday, February 21.  During these four days, hundreds of thousands and conservation-minded citizens living in more than 250 counts scattered across the globe will make an effort to count as many birds as they can.

       If you were wondering why so many people would want to engage in such an activity, the answer is simple—it is providing a unique opportunity to have fun birding with a conservation purpose in mind. The enormous volume of data collected by these thousands of participants will assist biologists and leaders throughout the world gain a better understanding to the state of the world’s bird populations.

       Believe me, this is one of the easiest ways to become involved in a conservation project.  On top of that, it is free!  All you have to do is first select a location you want to survey.  A survey area can be as small as your yard or as large as a city park, state park or wildlife refuge, you name it.

       You simply record all of the birds you can identify in as little as fifteen minutes at that locale.  You can even survey the same area each day during the count period. In addition, can you tally birds in as many different sites as your like.

       Once you have collected data at your location(s), submit your findings online at birdcount.org.  It is as simple as that.

       If you so desire, you can go to the map feature as watch as you survey area is added to growing number of other places survey during the count.

       If you have not yet installed the free Merlin Bird ID app, this would be a great time to do so.  The app will help you locate and identify birds that you might not have realized are present.

The app will identify their call display a photo of each bird heard.

       If you think you might be interested in taking part in this enjoyable event, go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website.  The site will provide all of the information need to get started, including a checklist of the birds you are most likely to see in your area.

       Does all seem too good to be true? It almost is.

BACKYARD SECRET – REDWINGS DO THE DOUBLE-SCRATCH

       This past week a couple of small flocks of red-winged blackbirds made an appearance at my bird feeding area for the first time this winter.  The birds ignored my seed and suet feeders and fed on the ground.  This provided me with an excellent opportunity to witness them perform the double-scratch.

       This is not a dance step; far from it, it is instead a fascinating foraging behavior. Ornithologists tell us that redwings, sparrows and some other birds use this maneuver to uncover hidden food.

FEMALE RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD

  As I watched the birds from my office window, I saw several of the redwings rapidly hop forward and back…twice.  Ornithologists say that birds exhibiting this behavior use their toes to latch onto plant litter and pull it aside to expose any hidden insects or seeds. 

       If you are lucky enough to see birds demonstrating the double-scratch in your backyard, you will know that they are not dancing but simply trying to locate food.