Archives

BACKYARD SECRET: MOST BIRDS THAT NEST IN NORTH AMERICA MIGRATE

        From now into autumn, untold millions of birds that nested throughout North America will be migrating southward to their wintering grounds.  In fact, approximately 75 percent of the birds that nest across the length and breadth of the continent migrate.

       Some of the migrants that nest in our backyards include the gray catbird, orchard oriole, Baltimore oriole, barn swallow, tree swallow, chimney swift, summer tanager, great crested flycatcher, wood thrush, and ruby-throated hummingbird.

PROTECTING PETS FROM COYOTES IN BACKYARDS

       Regardless of whether you live in a large city, small town, subdivision or in the rural countryside  you need to protect your small dogs and cats from coyotes.

       Georgia’s coyote population is rapidly expanding.  This is truly remarkable when you consider the coyote is not native to the Peach State.  However, since the 1850s the range of the coyote has increased threefold and now can be found in every state with the exception of Alaska.

       As the coyote has expanded its range, it has demonstrated its adaptability for living in a variety of new habitats by altering their diet to fit the food available.  In other words, in addition to dining on rodents and rabbits, in some areas their diets include birdseed and an occasional small domestic pet.

       Although it is unlikely a coyote will capture your small pet, by adopting a handful of preventative measures you can guarantee that it will never happen.

       It is always a good idea not to let your cats and small dogs stay outside at night.  Coyotes hunt at night and, if given a chance, they will prey on small domestic animals.

       If it is necessary to let your pet out for a “bathroom” break from dusk to dawn,  go outside with it, keeping it within sight at all times.  During this time frequently talk to your pet.  This will alert a coyote that a human is close by.  A healthy coyote will avoid humans.  In addition, it is also best to keep your pet on a leash.

       If you feed pets outside, remove any uneaten food by sundown.  Pet food will attract a variety mammals such as opossums, foxes, skunks, and rodents.  Coyotes will also eat the food as well as many of the other mammals they attract.

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A PROGRAM FOR YOUR CLUB, CHURCH OR CIVIC GROUP?

For more than 45 years, I have been making presentations dealing with Georgia wildlife across the state of Georgia. Currently, I am giving talks dealing with backyard wildlife and plants. Here is a list of the programs I am currently offering:

Gardening With Georgia Native Plants

Hummingbirds Our Dazzling Flying Jewels

Hummingbird Havens

Butterflies – Georgia’s Fragile Beauties

Inviting Butterflies to Your Backyard

Georgia’s Backyard Birds

Living With Nature

A Natural Partnership

Backyards Can Be Special Places For People And Wildlife Too

Georgia’s Backyards – The New Frontier

Feeding Birds – A Menu For Success

Backyard Wildlife Watching

              If you would like additional information regarding any of these programs, or would like to book a presentation, let me know.

Send email requests to: backyardwildlife@yahoo.com and my team will get back with you to set and schedule the appointments.

BACKYARD SECRET: GRAY CATBIRDS SEEM TO RECOGNIZE BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD EGGS

       The brown-headed cowbird does not build its own nest or raise its young.  Instead, it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds and leaves the arduous job of raising its young up to them.

       The brown-headed cowbird lays its eggs in the nests of more than two hundred species of birds.  The list of birds parasitized by this nest parasite includes backyard favorites such as northern cardinals, brown thrashers, and northern mockingbirds.

       In many cases, although their eggs look very different from the eggs of the unsuspecting host birds, the hosts accept them as their own.  As such, they end up raising cowbird hatchlings along with their own young.

       Interestingly, gray catbirds are rarely parasitized by brown-head-headed cowbirds.  Biologists believe this is because, unlike far too many birds, catbirds seem to be able to distinguish color and size differences between their own eggs and those of the cowbird.  As such, when a nesting catbird discovers a brown-headed cowbird egg in its nest, it unceremoniously removes it.

BACKYARD SECRET: Orchard orioles

        Measuring only 7 1/4″ in length, the orchard oriole is the smallest oriole found in North America.

       Chances are, if you find an oriole is nesting in your yard, it is going to be an orchard oriole. Orchard orioles breed statewide from late April to mid-June.

       Orchard orioles can be frequently seen using birdbaths for bathing and water. 

       Although this oriole rarely visits seed feeders, they will  drink nectar from hummingbird feeders.

       Also, look for them feeding on nectar contained in trumpet creeper blossoms.

       If you want to catch a glimpse of one of the beautiful little orioles, don’t procrastinate; they leave Georgia for their winter home as early as July.

BACKYARD SECRET: Native Americans Were The First To Discover Purple Martins Would Nest in Gourds

        When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States they found gourds (sometimes called calabashes) erected nearby many Native American villages.  The gourds were hung near the encampments in an attempt to attract nesting purple martins.  They knew nesting martins would vigorously defend their nest sites from any bird perceived to be a threat to their eggs or young.  By so doing, the large swallows would inadvertently help keep crows, vultures, and hawks from stealing drying meat and hides hung near the gourds used as nest sites.

       The new settlers were quick to adopt this practice and erected gourds and later manmade martin houses around their own homes. 

       The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon noted in his journals that he could always tell the fineness of an inn’s accommodations by the quality of the martin housing provided by the tavern’s proprietor.