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HOMEGROWN BUTTERFLY FEEDER

       Recently, a hard freeze brought an abrupt end to the growing season of many of our nectar plants.  The next morning when my wife and I walked outside and looked around the yard, it was not a pretty sight.  Mexican sunflower, cosmos and other plants were drooping and their flowers withered.  It was obvious that the butterflies that were still flying about our yard were in for some hard times. 

       Later in the morning when we noticed a cloudless sulphur was trying to nectar at a dead Mexican sunflower blossom, we decided try to come to the aid this and any other hardy survivor of the freeze.  Since we have not enjoyed great success attracting butterflies to commercial butterfly feeders, we decided to set out a couple of homegrown butterfly feeders.

        We immediately moved a pot containing several pineapple sage plants in full bloom to a spot near the dead Mexican sunflowers.  Talk about immediate gratification–within minutes a cloudless sulphur appeared and began nectaring on the pineapple sages’ long, scarlet blossoms.

       Encouraged by our success we later positioned a couple of containers containing scarlet sage to spots around the yard.  Since we have not experienced another frost since that time, we have enjoyed watching cloudless sulphurs and gulf fritillaries visiting our homegrown feeders every day.

       Our ability to take this action was due to the fact that we grow a number of nectar plants in large containers.  Once we heard of the impending, hard freeze we moved pots containing pineapple and scarlet sage either up against the side of the house or inside our sunroom.

       We realize that providing food for a handful of butterflies after a frost killed most of their food supply means little to the populations of gulf fritillaries and cloudless sulphurs.  However, it means a lot to handful of butterflies that are benefitting from our efforts.  In addition, it has made us feel good.

MY FIRST WINTER BIRD OF THE FALL–A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET

       For weeks, I have been eagerly awaiting the appearance of my first winter bird of the fall.  By that, I mean the migratory birds that winter in my backyard typically arrive well before winter actually begins.  Well, my wait is finally over as this week I spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet eating bird butter laced with peanuts.

       I find it interesting that, although the ruby-crowned kinglet is one of the last insectivorous birds to leave its northern breeding grounds, it was the first to arrive in my yard located in Middle Georgia.  I cannot help but wonder if the bird I saw will indeed winter here, or, was a migrant using my yard as a stopover to refuel before  moving on southward to its winter home is south Georgia or Florida.

       Since I never see more than one ruby-crowned kinglet at a time, I would like to know if only one of these tiny passerines establishes a territory in my yard each winter.  Since there is evidence that these small birds set up winter territories, perhaps more kinglets actually inhabit my three acres of land than I realize.  If such is the case, it could be possible that I host more than one ruby-crowned kinglet and the only one I see is the bird that claims the portion of the yard where my feeders are located.

       Overwhelmingly, when a ruby-crowned kinglet makes an appearance in my bird feeding area it dines on bird butter.  However, in one instance, I watched a kinglet sifting through white millet offered in a small feeder.

       If you would like to attempt to attract a ruby-crowned kinglet to your yard this winter, make sure suet or bird butter are on the menu of your backyard bird cafe.  Other foods known attract ruby-crowned kinglets are peanut butter, mixed seed, finely cracked nuts, peanut hearts, cornbread, and doughnuts.  They will even visit hummingbird feeders from time to time.

       I have never seen a ruby-crowned kinglet drink at my birdbath.  However, there are numerous reports of them doing so.

       If you are successful in attracting a ruby-crowned kinglet to your yard for the first time, you will quickly learn they are a joy to watch.  They are full of energy and are constantly on the move.  Some might even say they get tired just seeing them constantly flit about in search of food.

 

DO HUMMINGBIRDS SEEM TO BE LEAVING EARLY THIS YEAR?

        It appears that hummingbirds are leaving my yard early this year.

       Throughout most of August, my wife and I made lots of hummingbird food.  During these hot days of August, we were preparing and feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every day or two.  This was because we were feeding more hummingbirds than during any previous August.  Based on the maximum numbers of birds we were seeing at any given time, I calculated that we were feeding 100 or more hummers daily.

       These numbers remained steady until September 4 when the nectar consumption dropped significantly.  Suddenly we were feeding the birds 20-25 cups of nectar every three to four days.  This was surprising because, in a normal year, we don’t see a significant decline in hummingbird numbers that early in the month.

       On September 12, I was surprised to see an adult male ruby-throated hummingbird dining at our feeders.  The bird also returned the next day.  While seeing an adult male that late in the summer was big news, what was even bigger news was the male was one of only three hummingbirds using our feeders daily.

       Since then, the male has moved on, however, we are still feeding only two or three hummingbirds.  This is in spite of the fact that we are still providing the little migrants with plenty of sugar water and flowerbeds and containers are awash with the blooms of a number of nectar plants.

       The seemingly early departure of the birds has reinforced my realization that, in spite of studying these magical birds for decades, there is so much I still do not know about them.

       I sure would like to know whether you have noticed that rubythroats seemingly left your yard early this year also.  It would help me understand if this is a local or widespread phenomenon.

SAYING GOOD-BYE FOR ANOTHER YEAR

       Currently our backyards are abuzz with hummingbirds.  The birds we are now seeing are a combination of ruby-throated hummingbirds that have already begun their migration and local birds that are preparing to embark on their fall migration.

       The first birds to leave are the adult males.  Some males that that breed north of Georgia actually begin flying south during the first couple of weeks in July.  In comparison, males that spent the spring and summer in Georgia often do not commence their migration until late July or early August.  However, it is still possible to see a few males at our feeders right now.

       Adult females migrate next.  The vast majority of the birds that are now gorging themselves on the nectar provided by our flowers such as scarlet sage and feeders are a combination of adult females, immature females, and immature males.  As I have discussed in former blogs (check the archive), it is easy to tell the immature males from the females.  However, it is often next to impossible to distinguish an adult female from a female hatched this year from afar.  In fact, the only sure way to do this is capture them and closely examine their bills.  However, in some cases, at this time of the year adult females are often larger than immature females.

       While the migration of the adult females is already underway, some will be feeding in our yards for a few more weeks.

       The last to leave are immature hummers.  They will be devouring as much nectar as they can consume for a few more weeks.  Ideally, an immature that weighed only about three grams a few weeks ago will try to store enough fuel (fat) to bring its weight up to around five grams before leaving.

       My wife and I have enjoyed feeding more hummingbirds this year than ever before.  We have been feeding them around twenty cups of nectar a day for weeks.  In addition, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the birds visiting scarlet sage, zinnias, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, and a host of other plants.  We have also seen the birds apparently gleaning tiny insects and spiders from foliage and flowers that do not produce an abundance of nectar.  We realize the protein these small animals provide is an essential part of the hummingbird’s diet.

       Much to our chagrin hummingbird numbers have dropped off in recent days.  We know that they have to leave, but that we also realize we will miss them.  As such, even though we are still hosting lots of hummingbirds, we are already looking forward to their return next spring.

       If you are an avid fan of rubythroats, I am sure you understand why we feel this way.

A SIMPLE TIP THAT WILL HELP AVOID BEES AT HUMMER FEEDERS

        There are a number tactics folks employ to deter bees, yellow jackets, and wasps from their feeders.  Here is one you may not have considered: avoid using feeders decorated with yellow features. 

       Most often, yellow is used to decorate the artificial flowers surrounding feeding portals.  I am not sure why manufacturers go to so much trouble to include yellow in the color scheme of a feeder.  Perhaps they feel yellow flowers look more realistic, or attractive.  Who knows?  One thing we do know is hummingbirds are attracted to the color red found on such places as the feeder base and top.  As such, using yellow on a feeder does not enhance the chances that hummingbirds will use it.            

       When yellow is used to decorate a feeder, it simply makes the feeder more appealing to bees, yellow jackets, and wasps.  The reason for this is honeybees, wasps, and yellow jackets are attracted to the color yellow.  Consequently, in theory, feeders that do not feature the color yellow should not be visited by these insects as often as feeders without the bright color.

       However, if red feeders are coated with sugar water that has sloshed out of feeder portals, squadrons of these stinging insects will most assuredly show up.  In addition, these flying insects are capable of finding a source of food regardless of whether it has any yellow on it or not.  I know this is true as just last week I was stung by a yellow jacket as I tried to refill one of my red feeders.

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       Using feeders without yellow will not solve the problem of hummingbirds having to share nectar with hornets, honeybees, and yellow jackets.  However, it just might help alleviate the problem.

DO AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES PREFER UPSIDE DOWN FEEDERS?

 

       One of the benefits of feeding birds during the summer is that it enhances our chances of seeing male American goldfinches decked out in their striking black and yellow breeding plumage.  If you feed these beautiful birds at this time of the year, do you offer them nyger (thistle) seeds in a traditional upright feeder or one that requires them to feed while hanging upside down?

       Over the years, I have fed nyger seeds to goldfinches in feeders that require them to display their considerable acrobatic skills to pluck the seeds from the feeders by clinging to the feeders above the feeding portals.  More frequently, however, I employ feeders that allow them to feed while they are perched upright.  American goldfinches have used both feeder designs.

       However, I have often wondered whether American goldfinches prefer feeding from one type of feeder or the other.  Apparently, others think about such issues too since research has focused on this very subject.  According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, these studies have found that, when given a choice they prefer to feed while standing upright.

       The whole idea behind suet and nyger feeders designing feeders to be accessed while bird hang upside  down is to discourage unwanted birds such as starlings, grackles, and blackbirds from gorging on the food.  Fortunately, I have never found the need to thwart them from eating this luxury menu item.  Consequently, since I now know American goldfinches prefer feeders that allow them to stand upright as they feed, I am going use only nyger feeders that permit them to do so.  Perhaps this will encourage a few more American goldfinches to visit my backyard this summer.  If it doesn’t, I can always pull the feeders that require the birds to hang upside down feed out of storage and once again offer the goldfinches a choice as to where they want to dine.

THE ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK MIGRATION HAS BEGUN

       The spring migration of the rose-breasted grosbeak has begun.  Like many of our songbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks migrate at night in small flocks.  These flocks can be composed of upwards of 50 individuals.

       The birds that are now arriving in our yards wintered in Central and South America.  After spending some time refueling in our backyards they will continue on northward to the summer homes.  Here in the Peach State rose-breasted grosbeaks only nest in the extreme northeastern corner of the state.  Consequently, the vast majority of the birds that pass through Georgia backyards breed in the Appalachian Mountains, Mideast, Northeast, and southern Canada.

       Like ruby-throated hummingbirds, male rose-breasted grosbeaks are the first to migrate.  A few weeks later, the females make their first appearance at our feeders.

       The best way to attract rose-breasted grosbeaks to your yard is to offer the hungry birds a generous supply of black oil sunflower seeds.  Providing the birds with a place to bathe and drink is also helpful.

HAVE CEDAR WAXWINGS EVER FED AT YOUR FEEDERS?

       Like many of you, I try to attract as many different species of birds to my feeders as possible.  However, in spite of repeated efforts, I have yet to see a cedar waxwing dine at my feeders.

       It is often said that coming close only counts when you play horseshoes.  If that is the case, several years ago when a cedar waxing visited a birdbath located close by my feeders, I should be able to place it on my list of feeder birds.  Right?  Whom am I kidding? You know as well as I do, to add a cedar waxwing this prestigious list would totally delegitimize it.

       Other people report that they have coaxed cedar waxwings to their feeders by placing currents, raisins, and chopped apples in a platform feeder.  I have heard once they recognize your feeders as a place to dine, they will regularly appear and gorge themselves on your food offerings.

       With that in mind, I have decided to adopt a new strategy to attract these enigmatic birds to my feeders.  I am going to concentrate my feeding efforts during those times when flocks of cedar waxwings visit the large red cedar trees growing in our yard are loaded with berries.  When that occurs, it might be best if my wife hides the raisins and apples since they just might find their way to a platform feeder perched in front of my office. 

       I will let you know how things turn out.

       In the meantime, I would like know if you have ever been successful in attracting cedar waxwings to your feeders.

ARE THE GOLDFINCHES FEEDING IN YOUR BACKYARD LOYAL TO YOUR FEEDERS?

        Whenever we discuss bird feeding with other people we sometimes refer to the birds visiting the feeders in our yards as “our” birds.  It could be argued that when we make such a statement we are inferring that the birds using our feeders are not visiting other feeders in our neck of the woods.  In the case of the American goldfinch, the truth of the matter is that during the winter these songbirds are unfaithful.  With respect to the American goldfinch, the truth of the matter is more than likely we share “our” birds with multiple bird feeding enthusiasts.

      This assessment is based on studies that found that during the winter American goldfinches are not homebodies.  Indeed not.  During a single calendar day, a flock of American goldfinches sometimes flies four miles or more to visit feeders in a number of locations.

       Wow!  I guess all I can do is keep my feeders stocked with nyger and black oil sunflower seeds and hope these roving bands of goldfinches will find the feeders in my little corner of the world.

DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ATTRACT WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS TO YOUR FEEDERS?

       If you have trouble attracting white-throated sparrows to your feeding area this winter, here are a couple of tips that might solve your problem.

       First, keep in mind white-throated sparrows spend much of their time on close to the ground deep within shrubby, overgrown areas.  If your yard does not possess such a spot, chances are slim white-throated sparrows will winter there.

       If you do have a shrubby spot or two, place food near these areas.  The reason for this is, as a rule white-throated sparrow are reluctant to venture far from these safe havens.

       It is also a good idea to scatter millet or other small seeds on the ground.  Although the birds will feed from elevated feeders, they seem to prefer to dining on or very close to the ground.