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OFFERING HUMMINGBIRDS NESTING MATERIAL

        If you are looking for a gift for hummingbird devotees, a hummingbird nesting kit may be the answer.

       You can purchase kits from several companies or make your own.  Each kit consists of a wire suet feeder and a supply of nesting material.  All of the kits I checked out online contain either raw or processed cotton.  Some even include kapok and lichens.

       Currently hummingbird nesting kits are rarely employed in Georgia.  In fact, I only know one couple that annually offers cotton to ruby-throated hummingbirds .  They have told me that, on several occasions, they have seen female hummingbirds collecting cotton from their wire cages.  They also mentioned hummingbirds have a definite preference for loose cotton over cotton balls.  Perhaps this is because the birds find it more difficult to pull fibers out of a compacted ball.  Who knows?

       I suspect, in most locales, hummingbirds have little problem finding plant down to line their nests.  If that is the case, you might ask yourself,  “Why would anybody want to offer ruby-throated hummingbirds cotton?”  One reason might be having an ample supply of cotton fibers available to line their tiny nests makes the female’s arduous job of constructing a nest a little easier.  However, it may be because hummingbird fans simply want to experience the exhilaration that stems from watching a hummingbird actually use “their” cotton to construct its nest. 

       I know it would make my day!

BACKYARD SECRET — IT IS POSSIBLE TO TELL ONE DOWNY WOODPECKER FROM ANOTHER

       It is common knowledge that the male downy woodpecker has a red patch on the back of its head.  Female downies lack such a patch.  Knowing this, you can easily tell a male from a female downy woodpecker.

       However, did you know that you could distinguish between individual downy woodpeckers?  Remarkably, this is possible.  It seems that the black and white pattern displayed on the back of the head of each downy woodpecker is slightly different from that displayed by any other downy.  

       With that in mind, if you photograph or sketch the patterns displayed on the napes of each downy woodpeckers seen at your feeders, you can learn all sorts of neat things regarding the downy woodpeckers that feed in your yard.  You can determine how many individuals use your feeders.  It would also be possible to discover if some birds are more dominant.  You name it.

       This technique is similar to the one used by biologists to differentiate between individual zebras.  In the case of zebras, each animal has its own distinctive pattern of black and white stripes.

A GREAT TIME TO LOOK FOR THE WHITE-HEADED PROMINENT

   March is not a great month for butterfly enthusiasts.  At this time of the year the seasons transition from winter to spring.  As such, temperatures remain are cool and nectar is often hard to come by.  This translates into few butterflies flitting across our backyards.  However, there is any number of moths that can be seen this month.  One of these fascinating creatures is the white-headed prominent (Symmerista albafrons).

       During March this small (wingspan 1 19/64-1 47/64 inches) moth is commonly flying about backyards across the state.  This is especially true if its host plants (oaks) are growing nearby.

       Finding one is not difficult at all.  Instead of stumbling around in the dark looking for it, it will come to you.  Let me explain.  This moth is attracted to outside lights.  Therefore, it is most often seen perched on the side of a house beneath outside lights that are glowing in the dark.                                               If you spot one, the first thing you will notice is that its wings are folded over its back.  This will permit you to see a distinctive toothed, white spot running down the edge of its folded wings.  Since this month is extremely tame, it will allow you to view it from a close range.  In fact, it will often permit you to touch it.

       I find it amazing that the white-headed prominent can be seen on chilly spring evenings.  Recently, I found on perched below an outside garage light when the temperature was only 55˚F.  

       If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you should explore the world of moths.  The diversity of moths than can be seen in a backyard is astounding.  In fact, far more different species of moths inhabit your yard than butterflies.

       If you want to venture into the amazing world of moths, this evening before you sit down to watch your favorite television show, turn on the outside garage lights.  Then when your program pauses for a commercial, walk outside and see if your lights have attracted any moths.  If some moths have been drawn to the lights, don’t be surprised if one of them is a white-headed prominent.

AM I REALLY BUYING A NATIVE PLANT?

       Since most wildlife gardeners are finding room in their gardens for native plants that benefit hummingbirds, bees, moths and other wild pollinators, it is important that they know what they are buying.

       The first thing to keep is never buy plants actually taken from the wild.  Always buy native plants from reputable plant dealers that sell plants grown in nurseries.  The ensures that wild populations of native plants are not decimated.

       Also, be certain you are purchasing the correct plant.  You can never be sure what you are getting when you refer to a plant only by its common name.  Many different plants often share the same common name.  For this reason, always provide a dealer with both the plant’s common and scientific name.  This eliminates any ambiguity as to what you have in mind.

       It is also important to know whether you are purchasing a hybrid.  Often hybrids do not produce the same amount of pollen and/or nectar as the original form of the plant.  The reason for this is during the hybridization process the focus is often on developing varieties that display traits the plant breeders feel are improvements on the natural form of the plant.  In many cases, in the attempt to attain these goals, the variety’s ability to produce nectar and/or pollen is either lost or diminished.  If you purchase a hybrid and later discover it does not benefit wild pollinators you are not going to be happy.

       Therefore, before you purchase a hybrid, do a little research, and make sure it produces nectar and pollen.

MORE NEST BOX INFORMATION

        In response to the recent blog regarding the placement on birdhouses in backyard settings, one of our fellow bloggers requested information concerning the minimum size of entrance holes recommended for the species mentioned.  Realizing many others might have the same question, below you will find this information.  In addition, I have included the recommended  minimum height a box should be placed above the ground for each of these eight species.

Species Minimum Hole Size Height Above Ground
Eastern Bluebird 1.5″ 5′
Carolina Chickadee 1 1/8″ 5′
Tree Swallow 1 3/8″ 5′
Tufted Titmouse 1 1/8″ 5′
Carolina Wren 1.5″ 5′
House Wren 1 1/8″ 5′
Great Crested Flycatcher 1.5″ 6′
Brown-headed Nuthatch 1 5′

BIRDHOUSES ARE OFTEN PLACED TOO CLOSE TOGETHER

     Nesting birds are often very territorial.  As such, when one pair spots another pair of the same species trying to nest too close to their nesting site, conflicts emerge.  With that in mind, one of the reasons why birds do not use birdhouse in some yards is boxes are placed too close together.  When nesting boxes are packed in too closely, some birds of the same species will fight with one another and sometimes end up not nesting at all.

      NESTING PAIR OF BLUEBIRDS

       With this in mind, here is a list of some of the birds that commonly nest in Georgia backyards and the recommended spacing between boxes designed avoid territorial battles.

Eastern Bluebird – Minimum of 100 yards.

Carolina Chickadee – 30 feet

Tree Swallow – 35 feet

Tufted Titmouse – 580 feet

Carolina Wren – 330 feet

House Wren – 100 feet

Great Crested Flycatcher – 1 box per 6 acres

Brown-headed Nuthatch – 1 box per 6 acres

       Keep in mind that some species tolerate birds of another species nesting close to their nest.  For example, eastern bluebirds will allow Carolina chickadees to nest well within 100 yards of their nests.  In this case, if a Carolina chickadee nest box  is equipped with an entrance hole measuring 1 1/6th of an inch in diameter, bluebirds would never try to nest in a birdhouse with an entrance hole that small. 

TOOLS TO EASE CLEANING UP FEEDING AREAS

      Although we know, it is imperative that we keep the ground below bird feeders free from seed hulls, droppings, and wet seeds; we don’t always do something about it.  One reason for this is it is not an easy task, especially when you have to dig out seeds and hulls imbedded in thick grass.  With that in mind, I want to tell you about two tools that I have found really help make completing this necessary task a whole lot easier.

       I use a small garden rake and an industrial long-handled dustpan.  Being only seven inches wide, the rake’s spring steel teeth make it easy for me to rake out the droppings, seeds, and hulls hidden beneath the grass growing beneath my feeders.  I then simply rake them into the long-handled, large capacity dustpan and pour them in a cardboard box of plastic trash bag.

       These two simple tools have eliminated my having to bend over.  In addition, I am able to clean my two bird feeding areas in a fraction of the time I once devoted to this task.

       If you have been putting off cleaning your feeding areas, now is the time to change your ways.  This need is been amplified by the fact regular rainfall and daytime temperatures that have been are soaring into the 70s and low 8os have created perfect conditions for the growth of the bacteria, fungi, and protozoan parasites that cause the majority of the disease outbreaks among our backyard birds.  

       As a result, reports of sick and dying birds at feeders are on the rise.  Using the two tools, I have just mentioned, spending a few minutes cleaning up the area beneath your feeders will help ensure that the birds feeding in your yard will not be the next site of an outbreak of salmonella, aspergillosis, avian pox, conjunctivitis (finch disease), or trichomoniasis.

BACKYARD SECRET–THE HUMMINGBIRD HAS THE FEWEST FEATHERS OUT OF ANY OF OUR BACKYARD BIRDS

As remarkable as it may seem, the hummingbird is cloaked with fewer feathers than any other bird in the entire world.  Depending on the species, a hummingbird’s plumage is comprised of only 1,000 – 1,500 feathers.  In comparison, the emperor penguin is covered with 80,000 feathers.

THE HUMMINGBIRD WATCH HAS BEGUN

       With March arriving this week, if you are a fan of the ruby-throated hummingbird, I am sure you are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first rubythroat of 2021.

       Although some of the feathery, flying jewels are seen in Georgia during the month of February, the vast majority of the them don’t make landfall on the Gulf Coast until March.  From there, where you live in the Peach State will dictate when you spot your first rubythroat of the new year.

       For example, most years one doesn’t show up at the Johnson Homestead located in Monroe County until March 18.  By that time, rubythroats have already been making regular visits to backyard feeders scattered across the Coastal Plain.  However, many residents that live in the northern quarter of the state tell me they do not expect to see a rubythroat at their feeders until April.

       Males are the first to arrive in your neck of the woods.  Typically, females follow about 10 days later.  However, if a female is spotted at your feeder before you ever see a male, more than not, the first wave of males has already passed through your area and either did not linger long enough for you to see them, or, simply bypassed your home entirely on their way north.

       With the arrival of the year’s first hummers literally only days away, if you do not already have a hummingbird feeder hanging in your backyard, now is the time to put one up.  If you do so, you enhance your chances of seeing a rubythroat as early as possible.  In addition, you just might attract a rufous or other western hummingbird trying to store enough food to fuel his migration back to its breeding grounds far in the far west.

       I hope that you will take the time to share with me the arrival dates of your first male and female rubythroats of the year.  Your sightings will help me pin down the status of the 2021 ruby-throated hummingbird migration in Georgia.

GREATER SANDHILL CRANE ALERT

       Flocks of the largest bird you are apt to see from your backyard are currently passing over Georgia.  The birds I am referring to are greater sandhill cranes.  The birds are flying NNW (North-Northwest) over the state en route to their breeding grounds in a broad breeding range that includes, but is not limited to, Ohio, Michigan, and southern Ontario.

       The greater sandhill crane can weigh anywhere from 9-15 pounds, have a six to seven-foot wing span, and stand five feet tall.

       Sandhill cranes migrate in long, meandering V-shaped formations at elevation ranging from 500-5,200 feet above the ground.  At times, flocks abandon this flight pattern and seemingly become disoriented.  Then they suddenly regroup and continue their journey.

       Often you will hear the birds approaching long before you see them.  This is because when they are aloft they are constantly communicating with one another with their loud, unmusical calls that sound something like karoo, karoo, karoo.  These notes can be heard a mile or two away.

       Often when a migratory flock of sandhill cranes is spotted, they are mistaken for Canada geese.  However, the Canada goose’s often repeated karonk call sounds nothing like the call of the greater sandhill crane.

       After hearing the birds, if you are still perplexed as to whether or not you are looking at geese or cranes, take a close look at the birds.  If you see the birds’ legs and feet protruding well behind their bodies, you are looking at a flock of sandhill cranes.  Alternately, if the birds’ legs and feet do not extend beyond their tail feathers, you are looking at Canada geese.

       I hope you have the opportunity to view one or more flocks of these magnificent birds.  Every time that I see them, I consider it a special event.  I expect you will too.