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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.