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THE HUMMINGBIRD’S ABILITY TO SELECT NECTAR-RICH BLOOMS

       August is a special month for both ruby-throated hummingbirds and those of us that enjoy watching them.  Throughout the entire month, the number of hummingbirds visiting our feeder swells as they voraciously feed on the nectar provided by our feeders and flowers.  The reason for this increased activity is these flying jewels must quickly eat enough food to enable them to store the fat required to fuel their long journey to their winter home.

       In order to accomplish this task, hummingbirds make frequent feeding forays to our feeders and as many flowers as possible.  Since hummingbirds have one the highest rates of metabolism known, they expend huge amounts of energy trying to prepare for their arduous migration.  Obviously, anything that makes this task more efficient greatly benefits these flying dynamos.

       One way the birds would be able to streamline their feeding binge would be to possess the ability to avoid visiting flowers that harbor little or no nectar.  Well, as amazing as it may seem, they can do just that.  Here is how it works.

       The amount of nectar produced by each nectar plant varies considerably throughout the day.  A number of variables such as soil moisture and weather conditions affect it.  When hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, wasps, and other nectar feeders consume nectar, it takes time for it to be replenished.  This time varies considerably.  For example, some flowers do so only once a day, others every half-hour, others varying amounts of time in between.

      Ruby-throated hummingbirds have the ability to learn how long it takes a flower to rejuvenate its supply of energy-rich nectar.  Consequently, when a rubythroat visits the zinnias, salvias, lantanas, bee balms, trumpet creepers, and the like growing in our hummingbird gardens they rapidly learn how long it takes each plant to produce a new crop of nectar.  Only then will they revisit a plant it fed at earlier in the day.  This eliminates the need to revisit the plant until correct amount of time has elapsed.

       This astounding ability has been demonstrated by researchers such as a team of University of Edinburg biologists.  Their experiments involved providing hummingbirds with two groups of artificial flowers laden with nectar.  One group of flowers was refilled with nectar every ten minutes.  The second group was replenished every 20 minutes.  In short order, the hummers learned when each group of flowers provided them with a source of food.

       Keep this in mind as you watch the hummingbirds visiting various flowers about your yard.  It will help you better understand why they feed at certain nectar plants when they do.  If you are like me, you will come away being even more impressed with a bird so small, ten could be mailed for the price of a first-class letter.

MOCKINGBIRDS DON’T LIKE TO SHARE

     Northern mockingbirds are common backyard residents throughout Georgia.  Unlike some of the birds, we see in our backyards, it is a permanent resident.  If you regularly see or hear a mockingbirds in your yard, it is safe to say your property is located within a mockingbird’s territory.  This means a mockingbird will try to keep other birds from its favorite food sources such as feeders.  Currently a mockingbird is defending my suet feeder.

       Consequently, the only time hairy and downy woodpeckers, cardinals, house finches, Carolina chickadees, brown headed nuthatches, tufted titmice and others an able to feed on the suet offered in a wire suet feeder is when the mockingbird is somewhere out of sight of the feeder.

       The only bird that doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the mockingbird is the brown thrasher.  I have never witnessed a mockingbird try to scare a brown thrasher away from a suet feeder; perhaps this because mockingbirds find thrashers too large and intimidating.

       Since I enjoy watching a variety of birds feeding in my feeding area, I have tried a couple of things remedy the situation. 

              MOCKINGBIRD AT SUET FEEDER

       For example, I purchased a suet feeder that was surrounded by hardware cloth cage. The suet feeder was positioned well away from the side of the cage.  While it allowed smaller birds such as brown-headed nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, and sparrows to slip through the opening in the hardware cloth and feed, it kept larger birds such as mockingbirds, cardinals, and woodpeckers away.

       My latest approach is to offer my backyard avian neighbors two suet feeders.  The theory is that it is impossible for one bird to defend more than one feeder.

       I began my experiment by placing another suet feeder within ten feet of the original feeder.  It didn’t take long for me to realize there the second feeder was positioned too close to the original feeder.  As such, the mockingbird kept other birds away from both feeders.

       I have since moved the second feeder some 30 feet away.  This seems to work fine, however, I now find it more difficult to watch and photograph birds visiting the second feeder.  That being the case, I need to begin moving the second feeder ever closer to the first feeder.  I am sure; at some point, the mockingbird will be able to defend both feeders.  Then I can move it back to a location just beyond that distance.

       Perhaps I do should go ahead a let the mockingbird defend a single suet feeder.  Since the bird cannot be near the feeder all of the time, I can enjoy seeing other birds dine to the suet during those times the mockingbird is elsewhere.  That may be best after all.   

       If you have come up with a great way to deal with an aggressive mockingbird trying to defend suet, mealworms, or fruit, I sure would like to know about it.

IS THE RED-TAILED HAWK A THREAT TO FEEDER BIRDS?

      Recently while I was standing in the yard of my home, I spotted a red-tailed hawk gliding across my front yard. A northern mockingbird trailed the hunter. As I stood motionless, the hawk slowly descended before finally flaring its rusty-colored tail and landing out of sight just beyond the trunk of a water oak tree. Apparently, the red-tail missed its target as it immediately rose up without anything dangling from its talons and flew toward the back of my yard. As I stood spellbound watching the wild drama play out, the aerial hunter disappeared from sight, with the mockingbird still trailing close behind.

       Whenever a hawk appears in our yards, we often assume it is a threat to the birds using our feeders. If such is the case, is this assumption correct?

       While I did not see what the red-tail I was trying to catch, the evidence suggests, in this case, it was a mammal and not a bird. I never did see a bird fly away. However, eastern chipmunks and gray squirrels are regularly seen around the tree. If the hawk was pursuing a chipmunk, the small mammal could have escaped into a burrow. Whereas, a gray squirrel could have sought refuge climbing up the trunk of the tree.

       Studies of the red-tailed hawk’s food habits suggest that I could be right. When biologists evaluated the results of 27 food habit studies conducted on red-tailed hawks in North America, they found mammals made up the bulk (65.3%) of the 500 prey species that showed up in the diets of the birds examined. Birds were the second most important food item. A little more than 20% of the predator’s diet consisted of birds.  

       Rodents and rabbits proved to be the mammals most often eaten. Rabbits and hares proved to be the most important mammals in the diet. However, gray and fox squirrels, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and rodents such as voles, mice were eaten too.

       The list of other animals consumed included reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, and fish.

       Although some 200 species of birds were recorded in the 27 surveys, the species most often taken by red-tails were pigeons, doves, European starlings, and woodpeckers. The woodpecker most frequently captured by this hawk was the flicker.

       Based on these findings the argument could be made that the red-tailed hawk is not a significant threat to the birds that commonly dine at our backyard bird cafes.

ATTRACTING THE PINE WARBLER TO YOUR BACKYARD

      The pine warbler is a permanent resident in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. As such, chances are it is a bird that can be seen in practically any backyard in the state. This is especially true if pines are growing either in or nearby your yard. Pines are used by the bird for both nesting and feeding. However, since many of these activities take place high above the ground in the trees’ dense canopy, the bird is often a stranger to some backyard wildlife enthusiasts.

       I hear the pine warbler more often than I see it. The song is easy to remember since it is a musical one-pitch trill. To me the bird’s song reminds me of a louder, more musical rendition of the song of the chipping sparrow.

       The male pine warbler begins singing in earnest in late winter. Here it is May and it is still singing. In fact, I heard one loudly singing this morning.

       The pine warbler’s diet consists mostly of invertebrates, such as ants, cockroach eggs, small flying insects, bees, beetles, and even spiders.

       However, the pine warbler holds the distinction of being our only warbler that regularly dines on seeds. For this reason, it visits our backyard seed feeders more than any other warbler.

       As you might expect the pine warbler dines on pine seeds, it also eats the seeds of a variety of other plants.

       The pine warbler is also fond of fruits and berries. That being the case, if you are interested in providing the pine warblers living in your neck of the woods with fruits and berries, here are a few native plants that fit the bill: persimmon, Virginia creeper, muscadine, wax myrtle, sumac and flowering dogwood.

       Most pine warblers are seen visiting feeders. Such is the case in my backyard. The bird will dine on a variety of seeds such as the crushed meats of pecans and other nuts, millet, scratch feed, and peanuts. However, by far, the pine warblers that visit my yard prefer sunflower seeds far and above all other seeds.

       Pine warblers also dine on suet and peanut butter. Although most folks offer suet only during the colder months of the year, pine warblers will eat suet at any time of the year.

       Don’t forget to maintain a clean birdbath throughout the year. The pine warbler will both bathe and drink at a birdbath.

       Well, I hope this brief piece will help you attract a pine warbler to your yard. The beauty of these suggestions is that, if you incorporate these tips into your backyard wildlife plan and, for some reason, never see a pine warbler, all is not lost. This is because many other birds will benefit from your efforts.

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.

SPOTTING A RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET AT A FEEDER IS ALWAYS A TREAT

       I find it is always a treat to spot a ruby-crowned kinglet in my backyard. Although a handful of these petite birds winter in my backyard each winter, they only occasionally visit my feeders.  

       Most of the time, I spot ruby-crowned kinglets looking for tiny insects, spiders, and their eggs among on twigs and on the undersides of the leaves of the shrubs and trees that are scattered across my yard.

       When they do decide to visit my bird feeding area, they always dine on suet laced with peanut butter offered in a rectangular metal cage. I never see more than one ruby-crowned kinglet dining at a time. When I do spot one feeding at a feeder I cannot help but wonder whether I am hosting one or several kinglets.

       Among the other foods ruby-crowned kinglets have been known to consume at feeders are cornbread, peanut hearts, peanut butter, hulled sunflower seeds, tiny chips of nuts such as pecans and even cake doughnuts.

       Chances are ruby-crowned kinglets are hiding in plain sight in your backyard this winter. They are easy to overlook since they are just a bit larger than a ruby-throated hummingbird, olive-green in color, and sport two white wing bars. This male also flashes a bright ruby crowned when it is agitated.

       If you are fortunate enough to coax one away from its leafy winter home with one of their favored foods, I am certain you will agree seeing one at a feeder is truly a treat.

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.

      

BACKYARD SECRET: BROWN THRASHERS CAN BE ATTRACTED TO FEEDING SITES

       The brown thrasher is a bird that rarely visits feeders. When it does appear in a feeding area, it prefers to feed on the ground.

       If a brown thrasher takes up residence in your backyard this winter, here is a tip that just might allow you to see the bird more often. Although, this technique does not always work, it has proven successful for others.

       Scatter a small amount of scratch feed on the ground close the shrubby cover near your wild bird feeding area. Although thrashers will sometimes venture away from such cover to feed, they definitely do most of their feeding in or nearby shrubby spots.

BUTTERFLY FEEDERS

       Not too long ago, one of our blog followers wrote that she had recently purchased a butterfly feeder and was requesting tips that might help her attract butterflies to her new feeder. 

       I must admit that over the years I have tried several different models of butterfly feeders in my yard.  Each one was designed to offer the insects a sugar water solution.  In spite of the fact I placed the feeders in a variety of locations, I was not able to attract a single butterfly to any of them.

       That being said, butterfly feeders do work for lots of folks.  With that in mind, I am convinced I have yet to find the right feeder, location, and/or food that appeals to these beautiful insects in my neck of the woods.  Consequently, here is a brief list of some the techniques others have employed to attract butterflies to their backyards:

       ● Have realistic expectations; the butterflies that most often visit feeders are those that prefer eating dining on such things as animal droppings, tree sap, and rotting fruit.  Therefore, you are more apt to attract a pearly-eye, red admiral, or question mark to your feeder than an Eastern tiger swallowtail or one of the sulphur butterflies.

      ● Carefully follow the directions provided with your feeder.  For example, some of the feeders I have tried recommended sugar solutions stronger than the formula commonly used to feed hummingbirds.

     ● It is always a good idea to change the solution in your feeder after a rain.  Rainfall can seep into the feeder and dilute the fluid’s sugar content.

    ● Protect your feeder from an ant invasion.  As such, use the same technique you employ to thwart ants from reaching your hummingbird feeders.

   ● Keep your feeder clean.  As is the case with hummingbird feeders, fungi and bacteria can spoil butterfly nectar.

  ● Finally, if you are unable to attract butterflies to your feeder, move it to another location.

       If you have been successful in attracting butterflies to a butterfly feeder in your backyard, please let us know what works for you.  I am sure that many folks would love to know the secret to your success.