Archives

FASCINATING BLUEBIRD ROOSTING BEHAVIOR

       It is well known that during the winter eastern bluebirds sometimes roost together in the same cavity or nesting box.  Although much is yet to be learned about this behavior, observations of bluebirds roosting in a nest box in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather provide us with insight into the fascinating roosting habits of this popular bird.  The event I am describing here took place in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather.

       Throughout this spell of frigid weather, as many as 14 bluebirds used a single nesting box as their nighttime roost.  It is interesting to note that while a number of other apparently suitable boxes stood nearby, all of these birds used the same box night after night.

       The roosting birds did not simply pile atop one another after they entered the box.  To the contrary, they carefully arranged themselves in two to three layers.  The birds comprising each layer positioned themselves so they looked like spikes on a wagon wheel.  Once each bird settled in, it faced toward the outside of the box.

       Birds arranged in such a manner would have little chance of suffocating during the night.  By so doing, the warm air expelled by each bird would also help keep the interior of the nesting box warm.

ON RARE OCCASIONS BROWN CREEPERS WILL VISIT FEEDERS

       One of the birds rarely seen feeding at Georgia bird feeders is the brown creeper.  This odd 5.25-inch brown bird spends most of its time wintering in Georgia gleaning insects and their eggs from the bark of trees.  However, from time to time they are seen feeding elsewhere.

        When a creeper does seek food at a feeder, the brown creeper invariably feeds on the smallest tidbits of food.  In fact, these small morsels of food are best described as crumbs.

        Perhaps the most unusual food item the bird will sometimes dine on is boiled potatoes.  They will also eat pieces of baked goods, seeds (such as sunflower seeds), and suet.

        Some of the folks that have been lucky enough to attract brown creepers report they feel the key to their success has been smearing suet or peanut butter into crevices in the bark of a tree, or placing food in a suet feeder mounted directly on a tree trunk.

BACKYARD SECRET-FEEDERS DON’T EXPOSE BIRDS TO MORE DANGER THAN THEY FACE ELSEWHERE

      We often hear it said feeding birds in our yards exposes wild birds to more danger than they face elsewhere. Have you ever wondered if this is true? According to Project FeederWatch, data collected by thousands of volunteers, such is not the case.

       Since 1987, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society, and the Canadian Nature Federation have joined hands to conduct a continent-wide survey to bird feeding. Each year more than 10,000 volunteers collect and submit data on the bird feeding activities in their yards.

       One of the many things the study has revealed is the birds that feed in our backyards are not facing any greater risks than they are exposed to at other locations. Project FeederWatch data have revealed that throughout the course of a winter, on the average, only one bird death per every two feeders takes place, for any reason (predation, disease, and accidents). This is considerably lower than the researchers’ prediction that at least four or five birds would die per feeder over the course of a winter. Actually, the mortality rate turned out to be a tenth of what was predicted.

       It is interesting to note, roughly 35-40% of all songbirds die annually.

       I sure you agree it is good to know our backyard feeders are far from death traps for the valued backyard neighbors.

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.

ATTRACTING FLICKERS TO FEEDERS IS A CHALLENGE

       Attracting the northern flicker to a backyard feeder is a challenge.  However, you have the best chance of doing so during the winter months.

       Roughly, 75% of the northern flicker’s diet is composed of a variety of insects.  As anybody that has watched a northern flicker forage for food on their lawn realizes, the bird is particularly fond of ants.

       The remainder of the bird’s diet consists of a number of native fruits, berries and seeds produced by plants such as the sumac, dogwood, hackberry, pine, oak, black gum, and Virginia creeper (the bird is particularly fond of the berries produced by this vine).

       It has been reported northern flickers can sometimes be attracted to feeders stocked with shelled peanuts and hulled sunflower seeds.  Since animal matter makes up the majority of this large woodpecker’s diet, it should come as no surprise to learn flickers will often also dine on suet.  Some folks feel hungry flickers prefer suet laced with insects, however, the truth of the matter is the birds also eat regular suet cakes.

       I must confess I have never been able to attract a northern flicker to my backyard feeding area.  However, from time to time, one will drink from a birdbath.

       If you are looking for a challenge this winter, consider trying to attract a northern flicker to your feeders.  By winter’s end, if you are successful, I suspect you will be one of an elite group of homeowners that successfully met this daunting challenge.

BLOGGERS SHARE EXPERIENCES WITH BIRDS EATING DOG AND CAT FOOD

       Some months ago, I posted a blog regarding backyard birds eating dry dog food (the blog can be found by using the blog’s Search feature).  Since that time four backyard wildlife enthusiasts have shared their experiences concerning birds eating both dog and cat food. 

       One woman reported that, on a couple of occasions, she has seen sparrows venturing into her carport to dine on cat food.

       Another blogger said he successfully raised a young crow feeding the bird a mash consisting of water and Purina Puppy Chow.  The bird eventually fledged and remained flying about his neighborhood where it was remained throughout the summer before finally disappearing.

       Another backyard birder wrote that she pours regular dog kibble into a sunflower feeder.  This unusual offering has attracted dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice.

      Yet another fan of backyard wildlife shared his experience with an American robin.  It seems several years ago he was surprised to see an American robin feeding on dry dog food served in a shallow pan sitting on his deck.  For three consecutive days, the robin flew in, nestled in the dog food, and leisurely feed on the chunks of food while his Eskimo Spitz calmly watched nearby.

       If you would like to share your experiences regarding birds eating pet food, please send them to me.  I am sure other folks would like to read about them.

WHAT NATIVE PLANT SEEDS ARE IN THE TUFTED TITMOUSE’S WINTER DIET?

       Throughout the winter one of the most frequent visitors to our backyard feeders is the tufted titmouse.   Invariable these birds fly in snatch a single sunflower seed and then fly off to either cache it away for another day or chisel it open with their sharp black beak. As such, it is easy to believe sunflower seeds are the only seeds consumed by this feisty songbird. The truth of the matter is these permanent residents eat a surprising variety of wild seeds.

       Studies have shown that plant material (mainly seeds) comprise anywhere from 70 to 75 percent of the tufted titmouse’s winter diet. In addition to the sunflower seeds we enthusiatically provide them they also gobble up the seeds of American beech, locust, loblolly and longleaf pine, hickory and oak (such as water, live, post, turkey willow).

       It should be noted they also dine on the seeds of the pecan (not native to Georgia).

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.

ALERT: FALL MIGRANTS ARE STILL PASSING THROUGH OUR BACKYARDS

        When October arrives, many of the songbirds such as the orchard orioles that entertained us with their beauty and songs during much of the spring and summer have long since passed on south.  Fortunately, permanent residents such as mockingbirds, cardinals, towhees, Carolina wrens and others still offer us great backyard wildlife viewing opportunities.  However, over the past week or so a couple of our fellow bloggers have taken the time to report their sightings of migrating songbirds that at still passing through the Peach State.

       Ron Lee has been hosting rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder during the past several days.  

       At the same time, Walter Brown was lucky enough to see a female American redstart and several yellow-throated vireos.

       If you would like to increase your chances of spotting a southbound migrant or two just outside your backdoor, there are a couple of things you can do.  For example, keep your feeders stocked with seed (rose-breasted grosbeaks are particularly fond on sunflower seeds). 

       However, more different species of birds can be drawn to your backyard with water than seeds.  With that in mind, keep birdbaths full of clean water.  Better yet, install a mister or dripper over your birdbath.  Moving water acts like a bird magnet.

       If you are successful in attracting migrants to your personal wildlife haven during the next few weeks, please let me know.  I am sure many other bloggers will also love to hear of your success.

SCARLET SAGE IS PRETTY SPECIAL

        If you are a wildlife gardener, you realize there is no such thing as a perfect plant.  That being said, I have found plants that exceed my expectations.  One such plant is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

       My wife and I have grown scarlet sage in our home gardens and containers sitting on our deck for a number of years.  As expected, it has done well in our gardens.  However, its performance in containers has been truly remarkable.

       During the spring of 2018, my wife scattered scarlet sage seeds in several large containers.  In some instances, she planted it alone; in others, she mixed the seeds with black-eyed-Susans and zinnias. 

       As hoped, the plants did well and soon the bright red color of the plants’ blossoms could be seen from afar.  In addition, we were pleased to find that with regular watering, the plants flourished throughout a dry, hot summer.  Eventually after they finished blooming, they produced an abundance of seedpods, which soon dropped countless seeds onto the deck and into the containers where they were raised as well in nearby pots.  Many of these seeds, in turn, sprouted and produced a crop of new plants that displayed blossoms from late summer into fall.  In fact, the second blooming did not end until frost claimed them.

       This spring as my wife was preparing to replant our container gardens she noticed that, in each pot that contained scarlet sage in 2018 sage plants were sprouting.  In addition, young sage plants were appearing in pots adjacent to those dedicated solely to scarlet sage.  It was obvious, that enough young seedlings were taking root to eliminate the need to replant them.

       These third generation plants eventually bloomed profusely throughout what turned out to be one of the hottest on record.  The plants’ blossoms were pleasing to the eye and were a source of nectar for wild pollinators such as butterflies (particularly cloudless sulphurs), bumblebees, and carpenter bees as well as a host of other wild pollinators.  As was the case in 2018, the seeds daily attracted hungry beautiful American goldfinches.

       As was the case last year, the majority of the seeds fell into the containers in which they were grown.  Some weeks ago, they sprouted and are now producing blossoms.  This bloom could not come at a better time as from now into fall nectar is more difficult for butterflies and others to find.  Both migratory cloudless sulphurs and ruby-throated hummingbirds heavily feed on scarlet sage nectar at this time of year.  In addition, I am sure that the monarchs that will be passing through my yard in a few weeks will seek out scarlet sage nectar as they did last year.

       Oh, I should also mention more scarlet sage seedlings have emerged in each of our containers–this plant does not stop giving.

       I will never know how many nectar feeders these plants have already fed this year, or the number of American goldfinches that dined on the scarlet sage’s tiny dark seeds.  However, I am certain wildlife watching in our backyard would have paled without their presence.

       Is the scarlet sage a perfect wildlife plant?  No, but this hardy native has become a valued member of our backyard wild community.