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A BROWN THRASHER HERALDING THE IMPENDING ARRIVAL OF SPRING

      When late winter begins releasing its icy grip on the on the landscape I am constantly listening for sounds that herald the coming of spring. One sound that I am hoping to hear is the song of the brown thrasher.

       In spite of the fact the temperature hovered in the low 30s, one of the first birds I heard as I stepped outside my home Saturday morning (March 7) as the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon was a song uttered by a brown thrasher. I must admit I was both surprised and happy to hear the bird’s pleasant melody. In fact, it so startled me, I had to convince myself I was not listening to a northern mockingbird. However, after listening to the songster for a couple of minutes I was sure I was indeed being serenaded by a brown thrasher.

       I hear the brown thrashers more often than I see it. This comes as no surprise since they stake out its domain in and near the shrubby border surrounding my yard. As such, unless you can recognize their rambling, complex song, thrashers can be easily overlooked. However, in springtime when males are courting females they will sing atop a high perch. However, since the brown thrasher’s song sounds much like the more often seen and heard northern mockingbird, it is easy to assume you are listening to a brown thrasher. Since we hear mockingbirds sing so often, even when a thrasher is singing from upon high, we might not even look up to take a glimpse of this accomplished minstrel.

       It is actually very easy to separate the vocalizations of the brown thrasher and the northern mockingbird. All you have to remember is the brown thrasher typically utters a rambling series of phrases twice.

       One of the earliest descriptions of the brown thrasher’s song was penned by the famous American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. In his well-known book “Walden, or, Life in the Woods,” published in 1854, Thoreau recalls a time when he was hoeing a row of beans as a brown thrasher kept repeating, “Drop it, cover it up, cover it up, — pull it up, pull it up, put it up.”

       The Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s modern version of the song is “Plant a seed, plant a seed, bury it, bury it, cover it up, cover it up, let it grow, let it grow, pull it up, pull it up, eat it, eat it.”

       The mockingbird, on the other hand, usually repeats the phases in its song three times.

       The next time you are taking a walk about in your backyard and hear what sounds like a mockingbird, listen carefully the songster just might be listening a brown thrasher.

       Now that I have heard a brown thrasher singing, seen the and realize I should spot my first ruby-throated hummingbird in a little over a week, I know spring is knocking at my backdoor. The only thing that would make things better is spring’s arrival will finally end the weather pattern that has dumped far too much rain on Georgia during the past several weeks.

BACKYARD SECRET–THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD POPULATION IS DOING WELL THROUGHOUT THE USA

       Experts estimate the breeding population of the ruby-throated hummingbird is roughly 20 million birds. It is interesting to note that at least 16.8 million of these birds spend a portion of the year in the United States. The population of rubythroats that nest in the Southeast increased one percent per year from 1966-2005.  Currently the ruby-throated hummingbird population in Georgia is considered to be stable. This is great news for the millions of folks that enjoy watching these amazing birds.

AMAZING HUMMINGBIRD FACTS

        In a few weeks, ruby-throated hummingbirds will be making the long trip from their winter home to Georgia. Those hummers that fly across the Gulf of Mexico have long are arduous flight without having the luxury of stopping to rest or refuel.      

       Depending on where they take off and land, this migratory flight spans anywhere from 500 to 600 miles of open water. In order to successfully make the flight, a rubythroat must beat its wings some 2.7 million times. To top it all off, a hummingbird may use only 3/40th of an ounce of fuel.

BACKYARD SECRET—LAWNS DOMINATE OUR HOME LANDSCAPES

        I recently stumbled across a sobering statistic. It seems that, if we are a typical homeowner living in the eastern United States, 90 percent of the landscape around our home is lawn.

       Most wildlife enthusiasts would find this figure depressing. However, if you view this green carpet as a giant pallet, think of all of the ways you can transform this sea of grass into a wildlife haven, you cannot help but be excited about all of the possibilities it provides.

       There is no better time to begin the transformation than right now!

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS USE MOST OF THEIR ENERGY JUST TO KEEP WARM

       You might find it surprising to learn birds use most of their energy just to keep warm. Studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of the energy birds derive from the foods they eat in the wild and at our feeders is used by their bodies to keep warm. This leaves them with precious little energy devoted to reproduction and growth. This is in stark contrast to the green anoles, toads and other reptiles and amphibians living in our backyards. It seems they are able to employ 90 percent of the energy obtained from their diets directly into growth and reproduction.

       For this reason, it is always a good idea to offer our bird diners foods containing oils, fruits, and fats. With this in mind, the menu we provide our feathered guests should include such foods as suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as dried and fresh fruit.

BACKYARD SECRET–A CHIPPING SPARROW CAN HUSK A MILLET SEED IN ABOUT ONE SECOND

        I enjoy watching chipping sparrows feeding on white millet seeds. I am amazed how a chipper can daintily pluck a single tiny round millet seed from a feeder with its bill. However, I find it even more even more fascinating that, while it takes the tiny brown up to three seconds to husk some seeds, it can remove the outer coat of a white millet seed in only about one second.

BACKYARD SECRET–AMERICAN ROBINS WERE ONCE SHOT FOR FOOD

       In this day and time, it does not seem possible that the American robin was once shot for food however, it is true. It seems that up until the adoption of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on March 4, 1913, each year thousands of robins were legally harvested for food.  

       This practice was more common in the South than anywhere else was in the country. The reason for this is large flocks of robins spend the winter throughout the Southeastern United States. Some of these flocks are tremendous in size. One year on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Christmas Bird Count, observers recorded an estimated 2 million birds flying southward along the Ocmulgee River.

       While I have never personally eaten one of these large songbirds, I once worked with a colleague that grew up in rural Arkansas. He said that each year his mother canned American robins shot by members of his family. According to him, the birds were quite tasty.

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.