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BACKYARD SECRET—THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD’S BRAIN IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

        I am truly amazed at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s memory.  For example, studies have revealed rubythroats can remember the locations of every feeder and flower they visit in our yards as well as how long it takes each flower to replenish its supply of nectar.  They can even remember the locations of the feeders and flower beds that provided them with food the previous year.

       Wow! It must take a truly large brain to accomplish such mental fetes.  In truth, the rubythroat’s brain is smaller than a pea.  While that is indeed physically very small, comparatively speaking it is larger than our brains or those of any other bird in the entire world.  Let me explain.

       The hummingbird brain makes up about 4.2 percent of its body weight.  This makes its brain is proportionally larger than the brains of all other birds.  In comparison, our brains comprise only about 2 percent of our body weight.

      

       

LOOK FOR BEGGING AT YOUR FEEDERS

        At this time of the year, it is common for adult birds to appear at our feeders accompanied by their fledglings.  When this happens, we are able to observe the young begging for their parents to feed them.

       The fledglings’ parents have been feeding their young in the nest for quite some time.  Interestingly, once their brood leaves the nest the adults will continue to feed young birds for anywhere from one to three weeks.  During this time the young birds will make their first attempts to feed themselves. However, most fledglings would undoubtedly starve if their parents did not continue to feed them.

       When a family of birds arrives at your feeding station the youngsters will sometimes perch atop or nearby a feeder waiting for a parent to feed it.  However, it seems that more often than not a fledgling will perch alongside a parent that is dining on seeds or other foods.  In an attempt to coax a parent to feed it, a fledgling will typically anxiously chirp at an adult while rapidly fluttering its wings.  This usually does the trick and the parents succumb to their youngsters begging.

       This morning I watched a family of house finches arrive at one of my sunflower feeders.  Immediately the fluffy, drab youngsters began begging for food.  Their irritating behavior worked and quickly the parents were placing food in the large, gaping mouths of their young. 

As I watched this fascinating behavior, I said to myself, “Little guys, you had better enjoy the free lunch while you can as it won’t be long before you will be fending for yourselves.”   

BACKYARD SECRET—ORCHARD ORIOLES OFTEN NEST CLOSE TO EASTERN KINGBIRD NESTS

     For reasons that are not fully understood, some orchard orioles will nest close to the nests of eastern kingbirds.  This might come as a surprise since eastern kingbirds have the reputation of aggressively defending their nests.  Well, many experts believe that this is the reason why orchard orioles will choose nest sites sometimes within mere yards from the nests of eastern kingbirds.

     It seems obvious that kingbirds do not feel threatened by North America’s smallest oriole.  However, when kingbirds fly out to confront a crow, common grackle or other potential avian nest predator flying close to their nests, they unwittingly also defend the nearby nests of orchard orioles.

 

    Some studies suggest that this behavior may translate into real benefits for the orchard orioles.  Studies have shown that, when the nesting success of orchard orioles that nest close to eastern kingbirds was compared with the success of those that do not, they discovered the nesting success of orioles that nest some distance away from eastern kingbird nests was lower.  In fact, there also seems to be a correlation between kingbird populations and orchard oriole populations.  When eastern kingbird numbers are high orchard orioles are more abundant too.

     

AVIAN FLUE AND BIRD FEEDING IN GEORGIA

       Recent reports that a new virulent strain of avian influenza (HPAI) has been found in wild birds in Georgia and more than 29 other states have raised concerns that feeding backyard birds might play a role in the spread of this deadly disease in the Peach State.

       To date, the only species affected by the disease in Georgia have been lesser scaup, gadwall, and bald eagle.  However, avian flu has been detected in at least 100 species of wild birds and other animals.

       Avian influenza also infects chickens, wild and domestic waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans), quail, pheasants, and other domestic birds,

       The disease is spread in the droppings and nasal secretions of infected birds.  It has also been reported healthy birds can also catch the disease when they walk across surfaces contaminated by infected birds.

       While it is possible for wild birds to contract the disease form domestic poultry, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that, in every case they have investigated this year, domestic flocks were infected by wild birds.

       Fortunately, as of March 30, no commercial or backyard flocks of poultry have been infected in Georgia.  However, such is not the case in 23 other states. Most of these outbreaks have occurred in the Midwest and East.   This has resulted in the slaughter of 27 million chickens.

       If you enjoy feeding birds in your yard, you are probably wondering if you should cease feeding bird in your backyard until the disease subsided.   So far, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section has not recommended that people stop birds in their yards.

      However, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section urges the public to report dead or sick eagles to their office in Forsyth (478-994-1438). (Three bald eagles were found killed by the disease along the Georgia Coast.)

      In comparison, the USDA suggests that homeowners can continue feeding birds unless they keep domestic birds.  On the other hand, extension specialists at Cornell University recommend that the public cease feeding “until the threat of the disease has passed.”

      I will let you know if the outbreak becomes more serious in Georgia and if Georgia officials issue any recommendations concerning feeding wild birds.  Those bloggers that live in other states should check with their state wildlife agencies to see if they recommend that feeding birds be discontinued in their states.

GROWING OLD NURSERY SELLS HEIRLOOM AND NATIVE PLANTS

     Recently my wife and I attended THE FLOWER FANTASY AT PINEOLA FARMS located near Fort ValleyThe flower show was sponsored by the Magnolia Garden Club.  The event was great and the most unusual and fascinating flower show I have ever attended.   If the Magnolia Garden Club stages the event next year, prior to the event, I will describe what makes the flower show  so different than any others that I have attended.  This is a flower show you don’t want to miss.

       One of the vendors selling plants at the event was Growing Old Nursery.  The relatively new nursery is located between LaGrange and Columbus.  While the owners grow and sell a wide variety of plants they specialize in heirloom flowers and vegetables, and native plants.

       My wife and I bought a number  of plants from them including native azaleas, butterfly weed, touch-me-nots and hollyhocks.  I have found it hard to find hollyhocks that produce single flowers.  Invariably when I locate hollyhock seeds or plants they are double-flowered varieties.  The ruby-throated hummingbird and other pollinators prefer feeding on hollyhocks that display single flowers.

       For more information regarding the availability of plants, contact Mary Ann Johnson  at (706) 366-6863 or growingoldplants@gmail.com.

      

 

 

ATTRACTING MIGRANTS TO YOUR BACKYARD WITH MOVING WATER

  Currently, scores of species of songbirds are migrating northward.  Many of these birds will pass over and even stop in our backyards.  However, since many of these birds rarely visit feeders, they are often only seen by those among us that have time have learned their vocalizations and take the time to scan the bushes and treetops surrounding their homes looking for these magical birds.  There is, however, another way that you can catch a glimpse of these often rarely seen birds; they can be attracted with moving water.

       Although many of these birds will visit a birdbath, those birdbaths that are equipped with a mister or dripper are far more likely to attract these long-distance migrants.  The reason for this is the sight and sound of moving water act as a magnet to both resident and migrant birds alike.

       Some of the simplest ways to create moving water range from hanging a hose of a limb and allow the hose to slowly drip water into a birdbath or pan.  You can also punch a small hole in the bottom of a bucket or soft drink container full of water and hang it above a birdbath.

  

    I personally have had better success in attracting birds to my birdbath using misters and drippers.  The best misters and drippers are engineered specifically for birds use.  They vary widely in price and design.  While they all work, the ones that I prefer permit me to adjust the flow of the water passing through them.  I often use this feature to adjust the nozzles so that they emit both a mist and water droplets.  This creates ripples when the droplets fall onto the surface of the water below.  When it is windy the mist is often blown away from the birdbath.  When this occurs, I simply adjust my mister nozzle so that it emits only droplets.

       If you want to catch a glimpse at some of the warblers, tanagers, vireos and other songbirds that may be stopping in your yard, go ahead and install a mister.  Even after the migration has passed, a mister will help attract backyard residents throughout the entire year.

       These devices are readily available at stores that specialize in birding supplies.

SHOULD I HELP BLUEBIRDS FEED THEIR YOUNG?

 

   

       I am sure you have wondered if eastern bluebirds have difficulty feeding their young in the spring when temperatures are low a rainy weather dominates the weather for days on end.  Actually, bluebird parents can sometimes find it hard to find enough insects and other invertebrates to feed their seemingly insatiable nestlings during times when these important food items are not moving about.

       If you suspect this is happening in your yard, you can offer the adult bluebirds a number of supplemental foods.  Here are some of the food items you might try:  mealworms, fruits and berries, sunflower hearts and suet.   Some bluebird enthusiasts even feed bluebirds scrambled eggs during these trying times.

     Experiment with different foods until you determine which delicacies are favored by your bluebirds and then focus on feeding the bluebirds only their preferred foods. 

     Your feeding efforts can actually save the lives of many young bluebirds. However, even if the parents don’t actually need additional food to meet the demands of their young, the extra food you provide will most likely be gobbled up by other birds.  In the meantime, you will sleep better knowing that you did all you could to ensure a new generation of bluebirds lived through a potential food shortage.

        

BACKYARD SECRET—GEORGIA IS HOME TO THE SMALLEST ORIOLE IN NORTH AMERICA

       The orchard oriole is the smallest oriole in North America. Since the bird nests throughout the entire state, we get to enjoy it in our backyards from spring into the summer.

       Orchard orioles are early migrants.  My first orchard oriole of the year arrived in my yard just a couple of days ago. Unfortunately for those of us that enjoy watching the colorful birds, many begin migrating southward as early as late July.

       Due to its small size, orchard orioles are sometimes mistaken for large warblers. Orchard orioles measure 7.25-7.5 in length.  A photograph of an adult female accompanies this blog.  The adult male has a totally different plumage.  Its plumage features a black back, hood and chest and chestnut-colored underparts.

       One thing I really like about the orchard oriole is that it sings a lot.  I cannot adequately describe the song. However, the Father of Bird Watching, Roger Tory Peterson, described the song as, “… a fast-moving outburst interspersed with piping whistles and guttural notes.”  Once you see and hear an orchard oriole singing it is easy to identify from then on.

       Although the bird’s primary foods are nectar, berries, fruit, and seeds, it will also consume white bread, cut fruit, and suet.  It also often drinks nectar from trumpet creeper flowers.  In addition, it also feeds at hummingbird feeders.

       I have been fortunate to have orchard orioles nest in my yard a number of times. Whenever this happens I get see them on a daily basis.  I hope a pair decides to nest in your yard so that you can become better acquainted with this fascinating bird.

THE FROGLOG CAN SAVE THE LIVES OF WILDLIFE IN YOUR YOUR BACKYARD

        Each year untold numbers of frogs, toads, bats, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and other wildlife species are trapped in swimming pools and decorative water features with sides that are simply too steep for the animals to crawl to safety.  If they are lucky, they will be spotted by someone that can gently remove them from the water with long-handled net. However, in far too many instances the animals swim around until they become exhausted and drown.

       This past week, during a visit to the River Banks Botanical Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, my granddaughter, Anna, and her friends stumbled across a simple device that was being used to avoid such tragedies.  It seems they found 25+ toads mating in a pool surrounding a decorative fountain. Since the edge of the concrete pool was extremely steep, it was obvious the adult toads had little chance of climbing out of the pool after the female toads laid long gelatinous strings of eggs and the males fertilized them.

       In an effort to prevent the toads from drowning, several FrogLogs had been positioned along the edge of the pool.  The FrogLog is a simple device that serves as an exit ramp leading from water to dry land. If they are left in place after the adult toads hop to safety, they will serve as exit ramps for a new generation of toads.

       That is amazing when you consider the FrogLog consists of nothing more than an inflatable floating platform and fabric bag attached to a nylon mesh ramp.

       If you have a problem with animals becoming stranded in your pool, this might be a simple solution to a perplexing problem.

DOES RAIN DILUTE NECTAR IN HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS?

       Recently severe weather has been sweeping across the Peach State dropping heavy rain in our backyards.  The last front that passed over my home dropped almost three inches of rain in just a few hours.  When such an event occurs, you cannot help but wonder if heavy rain dilutes the sugar water in our hummingbird feeders.

      Although many hummingbird fanciers are convinced that heavy rainfall can dilute the concentration of sugar in a feeder, I do not know of any studies that corroborate this claim. However, enough people believe this to be the case that some manufacturers of hummingbird feeders offer feeders that are less susceptible to rain flowing into the food reservoirs on their feeders.  In an effort to hinder rain draining through feeding portals, some hummingbird fans place a plastic dome over their feeders.  Others simply shroud their feeders with plastic plates. Others address the problem by purchasing feeders featuring very small feeding portals.  If water pouring into a feeder is a problem, it makes sense to use feeders equipped with small feeding ports.

       If you find that hummingbird use of your feeder drops off significantly after heavy rain, this could be an indication that your hummer food is diluted.  It has been shown that when given a choice hummingbirds prefer flowers that produce nectar with the a high sugar content.  Since that is the case, it is understandable that they would also prefer hummingbird food with at least a 25 percent concentration of sugar.

       The best advice I can offer is until we know for sure if rainfall can dilute hummingbird food, if feel your food is diluted, go ahead and replace it.