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THE AMERICAN GOLDFINCH IS A STAR AT FEEDERS IN SUMMER

       There was a time in the not too distant past when the only bird most folks fed during the summer was the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The bird readily takes to feeders filled with sugar water.  In exchange, they provide homeowners with the opportunity to enjoy seeing this flying jewel on a regular basis.  If that isn’t enough they also treat us to countless hours of enjoyment watching them fuss with one another and displaying their aerial skills.     

        Nowadays feeding seed-eating birds during the summer is also becoming increasingly more popular.  Although the birds can easily exist without our seed offerings, feeding birds that eat seeds in the summer allows us to enjoy the comings and goings of birds we once regularly saw only during the colder months of the year. 

        Most of the birds that are attracted to summer seed feeders are birds we are all familiar with such as house finches, American goldfinches, cardinals, red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, eastern towhees, chipping sparrows, and others.  However, in the minds of many, the bird that immediately stands out as the star of the daily show played out around feeders is the American goldfinch.

        The reason for this is the male American goldfinch is dressed in his breeding plumage.  The golden radiance of the bird reaches out and grabs your attention.  Bedecked with a black cap, wings, and tail, it appears nothing like the drab yellowish-green bird we feed at our feeders in winter.

        Although both male and female American goldfinches commonly visit feeders in summer, the female retains its subdued colors.  As such, she will look pretty much the same as she does in the winter.  

        As we, all know, in winter, American goldfinches gather in flocks that can make short work of a feeder stocked with black oil sunflower seeds.  Don’t expect to see large flocks of American goldfinches at your summer feeder.  The flocks have long disbanded and scattered across the countryside.  This means you are most likely going to see one or a just a few birds come to your feeders.  However, often long before I see these beauties make their entrance onto your backyard stage; you just might hear them announce their arrival by calling, “Just look at me! Just look at me!”

        If you decide to try your hand at trying to attract an American goldfinch or two to your feeder this summer, stock it with black oil sunflower seeds.  Since you will not be feeding as many birds as you do in winter, don’t put out a lot of seed.  It is also a good idea to buy your seeds in smaller bags.  This will help prevent the stored sunflower seed from becoming infested with insect pests.      

        Once you see a male American goldfinch at your feeder this summer it will be easy to believe that, it is not the same bird you watched hulling sunflower seeds on cold winter mornings.  You will also wish that it retained its gold and black plumage throughout the entire year.

      

MEMORIAL DAY RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS

        For many years right around Memorial Day, I have received reports from homeowners throughout the state reporting the numbers of hummingbirds visiting their feeders dramatically increase.  Although it is great to have squadrons of rubythroats zooming around our yards, many hummingbird experts are scratching their heads trying to figure out why the birds are so abundant at that time of the year.  This year is no exception.

        The first ruby-throated hummingbirds begin arriving throughout much of Georgia in late March.  Typically, at this time of the year it is unusual to host more than two to four birds at a time.  At the peak of migration, you are lucky if you see six of eight of these aerial acrobats in your backyard.  Most of these linger only long enough to refuel before resuming their migration to points north.

        Once the migration has passed males and female scatter across the countryside and settle into breeding territories that possess a combination of suitable nesting sites and ample food supplies.  Once a male chooses a section of real estate, he spend the rest of his time trying to attract females.  These breeding territories rarely exceed an acre to two.  Consequently, if a male doesn’t select a territory that includes your yard, you might not see any hummers visiting your feeders for a month or two.

        If another male hummingbird happens to venture into a male’s breeding habitat, the interloper is attacked and usually driven off.  For this reason, during the peak of the breeding season, you are not apt to spot more than one ruby-throated hummingbird male using the same feeder.

        While male hummers are beating up on one another, the females are busy with the serious business of either incubating a fragile clutch of black-eyed pea-sized eggs or raising their first brood of the year.  During the 10-12 days that females are incubating eggs, they spend most of their time on the nest.  As such, they have little time to visit feeders.

        Once the eggs hatch, females are kept extremely busy finding enough food to feed their young.  During the approximately three weeks the young are preparing for their first flight, females are foraging for nectar as well as small, soft-bodied insects and spiders.  These animals provide the much-needed protein necessary for the development of the young.  As you might expect, females will visit our feeders more often during this time.

        Since most of the state is in the peak of the ruby-throated hummingbird nesting season, I think you can see why it is seems odd to have swarms of hummingbirds patrolling our feeders right now.  Some suggest perhaps this invasion is due to the fact hummingbird nesting was early this year, and the year’s first brood are now joining their parents at our feeders.  However, based on my observations, this theory doesn’t hold any water.  My banding efforts in prior years during this time frame revealed that all of the birds I captured in my backyard were adults.  This year, although I have not done any early banding, I have not seen any immature birds at my feeders.

        Another possible explanation is these the birds are late migrants.  This seems unlikely since some rubythroats actually begin their southward migration in July.  This leaves precious little time for the birds to reach their nesting grounds, establish breeding territories, and raise their young.  However, since very little hummingbird banding is conducted at this time of the year in the Peach State, this theory cannot be disclaimed or proven.

        A more plausible explanation is this dramatic change in hummingbird behavior is linked to another extremely dry spring.  Once again, this year Georgia was treated with winter temperatures that were well above normal.

       As a result, flowering plants bloomed much earlier than normal in many parts of the state.  This was followed by increasingly dry conditions throughout much of April.  A lack of rainfall has persisted throughout the month of May.  This has further reduced the number of nectar-rich blooms available to hummingbirds.  According to this theory, this situation has created a food shortage for hummingbirds and other nectar feeders.  Even in the best of times, a hummingbird must often venture far and wide to feed themselves and their young.  Our feeders offer hummingbirds with abundant sources of food that can be obtained with little effort.

        If this is the scenario that is playing out this year, it will be interesting to see how this affects the success of the birds’ first nesting efforts.  In the meantime, if hummers are not currently swarming around your feeders, be patient.  Hummingbirds will be jousting with each other around your feeders in about a month. If, on the other hand, you are lucky enough to have hummingbirds draining your feeders daily, don’t worry about why they are there, just sit back, and enjoy the show.

       

HUMMINGBIRD HAVENS

       Georgians love hummingbirds.  Each year residents from Woodbine to West Point, Bainbridge to Helen and countless cities and towns in between Peach State hummingbird enthusiasts spend hours enjoying the beauty and aerial acrobatics of the bird John James Audubon called “glittering fragments of the rainbow.”  

       Remarkably, although these tiny dynamos enjoy immense popularity, Georgians are not doing all they can to provide habitat for these tiny dynamos.  Realizing this Garden Club of Georgia and the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section (formerly known as the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section) and The Environmental Resources Network (TERN) have launched an ambitious initiative named the Hummingbird Haven Certification Program.

       The goal of the effort is to encourage homeowners to combine hummingbird feeders with an abundance of nectar-bearing plants in yards.  Hummingbird experts agree that the folks that attract the most hummingbirds to their yards are those that combine offering both feeders and an abundance of nectar-bearing plants.

       The initiative is part of the more than two decades old award-winning Community Wildlife Project (CWP).  This program has successfully promoted the concept that wildlife is a very important part of the communities in which we live.  It has shown Georgians that, with a little planning and effort, we can provide our wildlife neighbors with the food, water and cover they need to prosper while at the same time beautify the communities in which we live.

       Over the years, thousands of certifications have been awarded for areas large and small. Habitats have ranged backyards, neighborhoods, assisted living facilities, cities, towns, and even a county.  These efforts have benefitted a wide variety of birds, mammals, butterflies and other wildlife species.

       As the name suggests, the Hummingbird Haven certification is designed to encourage and recognize those Georgians that are doing outstanding jobs providing hummingbirds and abundance of food and cover throughout the entire year.

       While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that nests in the Peach State, eleven other species have been reported here.  This list includes the rufous, Allen’s, Anna’s, broad-billed, broad-tailed, black-chinned, magnificent, calliope, green-breasted mango, buff-bellied and green violet-ear.  Most of these birds are only seen in Georgia during the winter, which has been called Georgia’s second hummingbird season.

       The focal point of the program is to provide hummingbirds with a dependable supply of nectar supplied by plants throughout as much of the year as possible.  The plants that provide this natural food include a long list of trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials, annuals and vines.

       However, not all flowering plants are good nectar plants. For example, although popular plants such as daffodils, forsythia and crepe myrtle, are beautiful they offer hummingbirds and other nectar-feeders little food.  As such, the initiative encourages homeowners to plant excellent hummingbird nectar plants alongside garden favorites that provide little or no nectar.

       Since hummingbirds are found in Georgia throughout the entire year, The Garden Club of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section and TERN Nongame Wildlife Conservation are asking folks to plant a variety of plants that provide nectar throughout as much of the year as possible.  Believe it or not, there are actually nectar plants blooming in Georgia in the winter. 

       As for hummingbird feeders, homeowners are asked to maintain at least one feeder in their yards throughout the year. These feeders provide a dependable source of food when little is blooming nearby.  Feeders also allow hummingbirds that are preparing to migrate to consume a large amount of food in a short period of time with little effort.  They also provide migrating hummingbirds with food-rich rest stops along their migration pathway. Then when the migration is over, they offer wintering hummingbirds with much-needed food during the time of the year when natural nectar is scarcest.

       If you would like to see if your yard qualifies as a true Hummingbird Haven, there are three ways to do so. You can send a stamped, self-addressed size 10 envelope to Hummingbird Haven, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, and 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Georgia 31029.  You will be sent a Hummingbird Haven application for certification. You can call Melissa Hayes at 478-994-1438 and request an application. In addition, the application can also be obtained by emailing Melissa Hayes at Melissa.Hayes@dnr.gov. Once you complete your application and return it to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, it will be carefully evaluated. If you qualify, you will receive a certificate that acknowledges all that you are doing for the tiny birds. In addition, you will be eligible to buy an attractive metal Community Wildlife Project sign from the Garden Club of Georgia.

       If your application is rejected, you will be advised what you need to do to earn certification.

BACKYARD SECRET: ATTRACTING INDIGO BUNTINGS TO FEEDERS IN SPRING

         I do not know anybody that consistently attracts indigo buntings to their feeders.  The only times I have seen them feeding in my backyard has been in the spring.  In each case, the beautiful all blue birds fed on white millet seeds offered in open trays or scattered on the ground.

        With that in mind, if you want to try to attract this spectacular bird to your backyard for the first time, I suggest you begin making white millet available to any indigos passing through your area. 

        If you are successful, the first birds you see will be males.  Female indigo buntings migrate north a bit later.

HUMMERS ARE ARRIVING EARLY THIS YEAR

       In my last blog, I predicted that, in spite of our warm winter weather, ruby-throated hummingbirds would probably not arrive early this year.  Boy was I ever wrong.    Since the blog was posted, at least four hummers have been spotted in Monroe County.  The first bird arrived at a home near Juliette March 9.  Two birds were reported arriving three days later on March 12.  To top it all off, today (March 14) I spotted a male ruby-throated hummingbird visiting a feeder hanging in front of my office.  All four sightings are earlier than any I am personally aware of during the past 40+ years.  Personally, until today the earliest I have ever seen my first rubythroat of the year is March 18.

       Please let me know when you spot your first rubythroat.  I cannot believe folks in this Middle Georgia County are spotting   hummingbirds earlier than anybody else in the state.

HUMMINGBIRDS WILL PROBABLY ARRIVE ON TIME THIS SPRING

       Our unseasonably warm winter this year has raised expectations the ruby-throated hummingbird migration will be early this year.  As with most bold predictions, I suspect this one will prove to be wrong for the rubythroats that breed or pass through the Peach State.

        For years, the first report of the arrival of a ruby-throated hummingbird I received each year came from the Southwest Georgia city of Colquitt.  The recently departed Grace Moore would call to let me know she and her husband Hill just spotted a male rubythroat at their feeders. Based on their observations, the first birds would arrive in Colquitt around March 13.

       My wife and I usually see our first ruby-throated hummingbird at our Middle Georgia home in Monroe County around March 18, although other local hummingbird enthusiasts have spotted their first birds as early as March 17.

       In a typical year, the first rubythroats arrive in South Georgia around March 11.  Across much of Middle Georgia, the first hummer of the year appears during the third week in March.  Folks living in North Georgia rarely see their first ruby-throated hummingbird until April 1. 

       Each spring the males are the first to arrive.  They are followed 7-10 days later by the first wave of females.  However, I have noticed many homeowners throughout the state don’t see their first hummingbirds until April.  When they do see one, it is often a female.  This does not mean females arrived before the males.  It simply indicates both males and females were flying about their corner of the world when they spied their first birds.  This has happened to me a number of times.

       Often the first birds arrive before people have even hung up their feeders.  Countless times, I have homeowners have told me about looking out their window on cool March morning and spotting a hummer hovering at the spot where a feeder hung last year.  When this happens, it is hard not to feel like a heel.  This is especially true when you ponder the fact that a tiny, tired bird had traveled hundreds of miles from southern Mexico or Central America to reach your backyard only to find that it didn’t have an energy-rich meal waiting for it at a feeder where it fed the previous summer.

       If this has happened to you, I am sure you immediately scurried to the cabinet and pulled out a feeder, hurriedly filled it with nectar mixed a batch of nectar, and hung it outside your window.  Then you sat back a hoped that the bird would return.

       If you want to avoid going through this traumatic experience, I urge you to go ahead and hang out at least one of your hummingbird feeders as soon as possible.

       If you have never fed hummingbirds birds before, now is a good time to start.  Purchase a feeder that is easy to clean.  I also prefer feeders that have perches.  Feeders with perches encourage hummingbirds to linger longer and use less energy when feeding.

       Fill your feeder either with store-bought or homemade nectar.  If you want to make your own hummingbird food, simply mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  Bring the water to a boil before adding the sugar.  Boil the mixture for 2-3 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into you feeder.  Store the remainder in the refrigerator.

       I don’t know about you, but I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of hummingbirds.  It is a sure sign that our wacky winter is about to end.  It also marks the beginning of the 2019 hummingbird season.  During this special time of year, we will be treated to the beauty and aerial acrobatics of what is arguably Georgia’s favorite bird.

       I hope ruby-throated hummingbirds will arrive early this year.  If they do, nobody will be more excited that me.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.

BUTTERFLIES AT A FEEDER?

     For years, I have fruitlessly tried to attract butterflies to a feeder.  During that time, I would occasionally see a red-banded hairstreak, cloudless sulphur, or American snout perched on a hummingbird feeder.  However, I was never convinced any of these butterflies were actually feeding.

      I have even hung specially designed butterflies feeders in my gardens.  Much to my chagrin, the butterflies ignored them too.  Then, for reasons I do not understand, during the past week cloudless sulphurs have been feeding regularly at one of my Perky Pet Four Fountains Feeder. 

       It all started about a week ago.  While working in my office I noticed a single cloudless sulphur obviously nectaring at one of the feeding ports on the feeder.  When I spotted a single cloudless sulphur feeding at the feeder during each of the next two days, I realized that this was not an accident; a butterfly was selecting the artificial flower as a source of food.

       The next day, when I walked to my office, I was greeted to the astounding sight of seven cloudless sulphurs actively feeding at the feeder.  I have seen at least that many cloudless sulfurs feeding there every day since.

       I find it interesting that whenever a hummingbird shows up to feed, the cloudless sulphurs scatter.  However, within minutes of the hummingbird flying off, the cloudless sulphurs return and resume dining.

       I cannot explain why the butterflies are feeding at this feeder.  I have used it for a number of seasons and never saw a single cloudless sulphur visit it.  In addition, cloudless sulphurs have been feeding each day at zinnia, Turk’s cap, scarlet sage, and lantana plants.

       Obviously, I have a lot to learn about the feeding habits of the cloudless Sulphur.