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THE BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER IS NOT A FEEDER BIRD

       Spotting a black-and-white warbler is always a treat. Seeing one in your backyard is something extra special, especially in the winter. In my case, most years I can count the number of times I see this bird on the fingers of one hand.

       I have never heard of anybody saying they attracted a black and white warbler to a feeder. However, since the bird eats insects, I suspect, if one did show up, it would come to a suet feeder.

       Black-and-white warblers nest each summer above the Fall Line. However, even then most of the folks that live in the upper portion of the state often do not see the bird. However, in the winter, those Georgians that live south of the Fall Line have a better chance of seeing the bird than those living elsewhere. It is amazing to me that any of them choose to winter in the Peach State as the vast majority of their kin winter in the warmer climes of Central America, the West Indies, and Cuba.

       The male black-and-white warbler’s back, head, and flanks are adorned with bold black and white stripes. The female appears to be a pale version of the male.

       Since black-and-white warblers are definitely not feeder birds, if you want to enhance your chances of seeing the bird in your backyard this winter, you need to know something about its feeding habits. First keep in mind the black-and-white warbler is a loner. Also, do not look for this warbler feeding on the ground or on the small tree branches. This reason for this is the primary feeding grounds for this hardy bird are the trunks and large branches of trees. In fact, it is our only warbler that regularly feeds in such locations.

       If you regularly look for this bird in the right places, you just might spot one this winter. If you do, please let me know. As for me, I have been vainly looking for the bird all winter.

WARNING: CONDITIONS ARE PERFECT FOR THE SPREAD OF DISEASE AROUND BIRD FEEDERS

      For days, Georgia has experienced exceptionally warm and wet weather. This weather has caused a host of problems for backyard gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts. Who would have ever thought that during mid-January, regardless of where we live in the Peach State, we would be dealing with temperatures soaring into the 70s and a continuous dose of rain ranging from a heavy mist to severe thunderstorms?

       As a result, in my yard, daffodils are blooming far too early. Blanket flowers and sweet alyssum are also blooming and garden plants are sprouting in my flowerbeds. These developments do not bode well for many of these plants, as next week they will suffer when temperatures plummet into the 20s.

       We should also be concerned about the health of the birds visiting our feeders. It has been so warm and wet seeds in hopper, tube, and platform feeders are sprouting before the birds have a chance to eat them. In addition, any birds dining on our seed offerings in or below our feeders can be exposed to deadly bacterial and fungal diseases. The reason for this is warm, moist weather creates a perfect environment for the spread of salmonella and aspergillosis and other diseases; they thrive on wet seeds and discarded seed hulls.

       With that in mind, we all need to assess feeding conditions at our seed feeders. If we think we might have a problem, we need to act promptly to remedy the situation before we begin to see sick and dead birds in our yards.

       For more information on how you can deal with this problem, go to the Search bubble on the right side of the blog. Type in Feeders and hit return key; immediately all of the blogs I have written concerning addressing problems at bird feeders will pop up.

      

BATHING IN WINTER HELPS BIRDS KEEP WARM

       Remarkable as it may sound birds bathe in the winter to keep warm. In fact, bathing during this our coldest season of the year is actually more important to birds than it is in summer. This may seem hard to fathom at first. However, when you stop and think about it, bathing at this time of the year makes a lot of sense.

       A bird’s feathers help insulate it from the cold. These feathers provide the most insulation when they are clean and properly groomed. If you were to look at the feather of a bird through a microscope, you would find that each feather is equipped with a myriad of tiny barbs or hooks. The barbs on adjacent feathers interlock with one another forming barrier that helps to hold body heat in and cold air out.

       As a bird goes about feeding and flying, these barbs become “unzipped.” When this occurs, the feathers’ ability to insulate a bird from frigid weather diminishes.

       After a bird takes a bird in your birdbath, it will spend considerable time preening its feathers. During this process, the bird uses its bill interlock the feathers once more. Once this task is accomplished, the bird is better able to deal with winter’s blustery weather.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–THE MOST COMMONLY SEEN BIRDS IN AMERICAN CITIES ARE NOT NATIVE TO NORTH AMERICA

      Would you believe the three birds most commonly seen in American cities are not native to North America? Each one of these birds were brought to the United States by our ancestors. It is true. The short list of birds that have found ways to thrive in these manmade habitats are the European starling, house sparrow, and rock pigeon.

THE ROBIN IS THE SUBJECT OF A CHRISTMAS LEGEND

       Over the centuries, a number of wildlife-related legends regarding the birth of Christmas have surfaced. Perhaps you have heard the one that explains why the robin has a red breast.

       Supposedly, Mary was concerned that the small fire that was burning in the stable where she gave birth to Christ was not providing the newborn baby with enough warmth. Consequently, when a robin flew into the stable to escape the winter’s chill, Mary asked the bird if it could fan the fire. In response to her plea, the robin flew down, stood beside the fire, and began rapidly flapping its wings. As the bird continued to beat its wings, the fire grew brighter. Soon the flames leaped upward filling the stable with both light and much-needed heat. Since the robin was standing so close to the now raging fire, the bird’s breast turned dark red.

                                                  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BACKYARD SECRET – STARLINGS FREQUENT RED-BELLIED WOOPECKER CAVITIES

       Woodpeckers excavate cavities for nesting and roosting. These tree hollows are also essential to birds that cannot chisel out their wood-lined nesting sites. Among the birds that nest in abandoned woodpecker holes are backyard favorites such as tufted titmice and eastern bluebirds. Unfortunately, these cavities are highly prized by non-native birds such as the European starling.

       The truth of the matter is in most parts of state, demand for natural cavities far exceeds the availability of such natural nesting sites. When an aggressive alien bird such as the starling competes with these a native bird for the same cavity, the starling invariably wins out, often leaving the native bird without a place to nest.

       It is a sobering fact that starlings usurp half of all cavities created by red-bellied woodpeckers.

BARRED OWLS BECOME MORE VOCAL THIS MONTH

       The barred owl is a bird that we are more apt to hear than see in our backyards. Even in wild areas, it is a true will-o’-the-wisp. However, from December through March you are more apt to see or hear a barred owl than at any of other time of the year.

       There are a couple of reasons for this. During the winter months, as food become scarcer, barred owl will expand their feeding territories to include residential areas. In addition, these large owls begin breeding in December. Consequently, the birds become more vocal. This special time of the year extends into February and March, with the peak occurring in mid-February and March.

       Most Georgians are familiar with the owl’s Who cooks for you, who cooks for ya’ll call. However, since the barred owl has this most extensive range of calls of any of our owls, they also vocalize a collection of wails, gurgles, cackles and other strange sounds that just might raise the hair on the back of your neck. I have heard some people say the calls sounded like they were made by a band of monkeys. Others liken the calls to the sound made by a pack of baying hounds hot on the trail of a raccoon.

       With that in mind, during the next few months take the time of venture out into your yard just as the sun melts below the horizon. Then pull up a lawn chair and listen. If any barred owls are nearby, you will soon hear the birds.

       The best nighttime concerts take place when two birds are courting. These events often begin at twilight and extend well into the night. If you are lucky enough to hear the birds’ concert, it will be a show you will long remember.

ATTRACTING FLICKERS TO FEEDERS IS A CHALLENGE

       Attracting the northern flicker to a backyard feeder is a challenge.  However, you have the best chance of doing so during the winter months.

       Roughly, 75% of the northern flicker’s diet is composed of a variety of insects.  As anybody that has watched a northern flicker forage for food on their lawn realizes, the bird is particularly fond of ants.

       The remainder of the bird’s diet consists of a number of native fruits, berries and seeds produced by plants such as the sumac, dogwood, hackberry, pine, oak, black gum, and Virginia creeper (the bird is particularly fond of the berries produced by this vine).

       It has been reported northern flickers can sometimes be attracted to feeders stocked with shelled peanuts and hulled sunflower seeds.  Since animal matter makes up the majority of this large woodpecker’s diet, it should come as no surprise to learn flickers will often also dine on suet.  Some folks feel hungry flickers prefer suet laced with insects, however, the truth of the matter is the birds also eat regular suet cakes.

       I must confess I have never been able to attract a northern flicker to my backyard feeding area.  However, from time to time, one will drink from a birdbath.

       If you are looking for a challenge this winter, consider trying to attract a northern flicker to your feeders.  By winter’s end, if you are successful, I suspect you will be one of an elite group of homeowners that successfully met this daunting challenge.

FEMALE MONARCHS ARE BETTER FLIERS THAN MALES

      One event that backyard wildlife enthusiasts look forward to each autumn is the migration of the monarch butterfly. During the fall of the year, these beautiful butterflies stop and feed in our backyards as they make their way to their winter home in Mexico. This epic flight takes a tremendous toll on these gossamer-winged insects.

       Ever since it became apparent monarch populations have plummeted to a fraction of what they once were, researchers have been scrambling to learn as much as they can about this fascinating insect. The results of one such study recently conducted by University of Georgia, Odum School of Ecology researchers provide us with answers as to why female monarchs are better fliers.

       When the UGA research team compared the wings of male and female monarchs, they discovered some notable differences. It seems the females’ wings are thicker, and somewhat smaller. In addition, their flight muscles are smaller and lighter.

       One might think having larger and heavier wing muscles, coupled with thinner and lighter wings would benefit the males. Actually, the reverse is true. The males’ larger and thinner wings are more susceptible to damage. Their wings also forced to bear more weight per square inch than those of the females.

       In essence, this means female monarchs are more efficient fliers than males. This, in turn, enhances the chances of the females surviving the autumn migration.

BACKYARD SECRET—BLUEBIRDS ARE MORE COMMON IN GEORGIA IN WINTER THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR

         Here in the Peach State, the eastern bluebird is often associated with spring and summer. This is the breeding season for the gorgeous blue-colored bird–a bird that nests in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. Although thousands of bluebirds nest throughout the state, the total size of the bluebird population flying about during these months pales in comparison to the numbers of birds that winter here.

        This is because Georgia is a favorite winter home to thousands of bluebirds that migrate here from their breeding grounds far to the north. Here they intermingle with our resident bluebirds. When this happens, our bluebird population swells significantly. How much does it increase? A study conducted just south of Georgia offers some insight into this matter. Researchers in the Tallahassee area found that during the winter the local bluebird population in their study area increased 100 percent.