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LOOK FOR CAROLINA CHICKADEES HIDING SEEDS

Now that temperatures are finally beginning to drop, activity around our bird feeders is on the rise.  When this happens, we have the opportunity to witness the fascinating feeding behaviors of our feathered guests.

       A behavior I particularly enjoy watching is caching.  One bird that routinely stores seeds in my backyard is the Carolina chickadee. 

       If you feed birds, you are undoubtedly familiar with this feathered sprite.  It is particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds.  Typically, a Carolina chickadee will fly in, pluck a single sunflower seed from a feeder, and fly off to a nearby branch.  Once there it firmly holds the seed, between its feet and quickly chisels the seed’s hull open, and swallows the exposed fat-rich seed.  The bird then returns to a feeder and repeats the process.  This behavior is replayed countless times throughout the day.

       However, if you are patient, and watch Carolina chickadees feeding in your backyard, you just might be lucky enough to see a chickadee store a seed. 

MONARCH VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades.  During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.

I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.

Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.

As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders.  I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit.  However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.

After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon.  One visit lasted over fifteen minutes.  During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.

Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time.  However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder. 

I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.

Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between.  With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.

A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder.  I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.

In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.

 

 

DOWNY WOODPECKER VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

If you feed hummingbirds sugar water, you know that hummingbird feeders attract a variety of other critters. 

       Right now my wife, Donna, and I are chagrined because house finches seem to be eating more than their share of the nectar contained in a feeder hanging in our backyard.  To add insult to injury, the voracious finches also chase away any hummingbirds that fly in for a quick meal.

       This past winter a Baltimore oriole fed daily at a feeder hanging in our backyard.  Although we tried to coax it to eat grape jelly, this finicky bird showed nothing but distain for this often-reliable oriole food.

       From time to time, we have see butterflies at our feeders.  Most often these infrequent visitors are red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs.

       Gray squirrels also raid our feeders from time to time.  As you might expect when they try to rob a feeder they end up with more sticky nectar on their bodies than in the mouth. 

       Once while we were a church,  a squirrel visited a backyard hummingbird feeder and chewed up a portion of the artificial flower surrounding the feeding portal.

       Folks that live in North Georgia sometimes have black bears try to drink from their hummingbird feeders.  When this happens, often the hungry behemoths leave behind a damaged feeder.

       The other day Ron Lee told me that for the past several days he and his wife had been enjoying watching a downy woodpecker regularly visit their hummingbird feeder.  When I told Ron that I had never seen a downy at a hummingbird feeder he promptly sent me a picture to document this apparently rare occurrence.

       If woodpeckers have ever visited your hummingbird feeders, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I will keep my eyes on my feeders.  Perhaps I will lucky enough to see a downy woodpecker fly in for a meal.  If one does show up, I hope it does not try to chase the hummingbirds away.

LOOK FOR A FLASH OF YELLOW AMONG YOUR PINE TREES

While we await the return of millions of warblers and other birds that have been wintering beyond our southern border, let’s turn our attention to a warbler that is a permanent resident throughout the state.  The bird I am referring to is the pine warbler.

Interestingly pine warblers are far more abundant throughout the state in winter than at any other time of the year.  This is because, in addition to our resident pine warblers, our backyards and woodlands  are currently hosting most of the continent’s pine warblers.  Indeed, your backyard is part of the winter home of this beautiful bird.a-male-pine-warbler-feeding-on__-suet

Throughout most of the year, the pine warbler generally does not venture far from pine trees.  As such, they can be seen looking for food on the ground, tree trunks, and pine boughs alike.

However, during the winter I sometimes encounter them feeding on the ground in harvested fields.  For some reason, at this time of the year, they often move about and feed with eastern bluebirds.

The pine warbler is roughly five and a half inches long.  The male has a bright yellow breast.  As such, right now, if you catch a flash of bright yellow in the tops of the pine trees growing in your yard, chances are you are looking a male pine warbler.  The male’s back is olive-green.  Females are duller versions of the males.  Both males and females sport yellow rings, often called spectacles around their eyes.  In addition, both sexes display two white wing bars.  With the help of a good pair of binoculars, you will be able to see pine warblers also have dark cheeks and faint streaks on their sides.

Pine warblers are sometimes tricky to identify because individual birds show varying amount of yellow.  Some birds will be extremely yellow, while others show little yellow.  With that in mind, don’t get hung up on the amount of yellow displayed by different birds. Instead, concentrate instead on those field marks that don’t vary such as wing bars and the spectacles around their eyes.

The bird’s song can be best described as a musical, slow trill.  Once you see a pine warbler singing, you will be able to associate it with its clear, loud song.  When you learn the song, I am sure you will hear the bird more often than you will see it.  Also, you will discover that the small songbird is probably more common in your neighbor than you ever realized.

       Pine warblers will visit backyard feeders.  They are particularly fond of sunflower seeds and suet.

This is a great time to learn to identify the pine warbler. The reason for this is once the spring migrants begin passing through your backyard the pine warbler will be only one of many warblers that display a yellow breast.

 

A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER FEEDER?

yellow-bellied-sapsucker__-feeder

Chances are you do not have a yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder in your yard.  In fact, you probably did not even realize there was such a thing.  It is also true, that more than likely you are probably surprised to learn sapsuckers even use feeders.

If you go to the store where you normally buy your seed and feeders and ask if they carry sapsucker feeders, don’t be surprised if you are told that they too have never heard of it.  That being the case, if you want one, you will have to make it yourself.

My wife, Donna, fashioned our first yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder out of a disposable plastic container that held individual packets of breakfast drink mix (see the photo accompanying this article).  One feature that you cannot see in the photo are one-quarter-inch drainage holes poked in the bottom of the feeder.

I attached the feeder to a the limb of a nearby redbud tree using stovepipe wire. Once the feeder was in place, I filled the feeder with grape jelly. As you can see from the photo, if there are any yellow-bellied sapsuckers in your neighborhood, there is a good chance it will dine at your homemade feeder.

       Although the yellow-bellied sapsucker is a common winter resident throughout the state, it rarely comes to backyard feeders.  On those rare occasions when sapsuckers make a foray into a bird feeding area, the birds seem to prefer dining on hummingbird nectar, doughnuts and suet.  However, nothing seems to attract them more often than a feeder containing grape jelly hung on the limb of a tree.

I hope you will give the yellow-bellied sapsucker feeder a try. If you are successful in attracting this unusual woodpecker to a feeder, you will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a bird that is usually only seen from afar.

BEAUTYBERRIES MAKE BIRDS AND HUMANS TAKE NOTICE

Cardinal partaking on the American Beautyberry plant

Cardinal partaking on the American Beautyberry plant

Throughout most of the year, the American beautyberry is a native shrub that goes unnoticed. However, from the moment its fruits begin to ripen in late summer, birds and humans find them impossible to ignore.

The American beautyberry’s gaudy, bright lavender-colored fruit seemingly advertise themselves to resident and migratory birds alike. When migrating songbirds stop and begin looking for food to fuel their fall migration, being able to find nutritious food quickly is extremely important. This enables the birds to expend a minimum amount of energy and time before resuming their southward trek.

Since beautyberries will remain on the shrub well into winter, they also provide food for birds when it is often scarce.

Beautyberries are eaten by a number of our backyard favorites such as American Robins, Baltimore Orioles, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Wood Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, Gray Catbirds, and Brown Thrashers.

In exchange for serving as a source of food for birds, the plants have their seeds scattered widely when the feathered diners expel them in their droppings.

In my yard, mockingbirds vigorously defend fruit-laden American beautyberry plants from other birds. Late one summer, two Baltimore Orioles landed on a hummingbird feeder hanging outside my office. Their sudden appearance provided me with a perfect opportunity to photograph these handsome birds. However, just as I was about to snap my first picture, a mockingbird, that had been defending a nearby beautyberry bush, swooped down on the orioles and scared them away.

In backyard settings, American beautyberries can be planted in a shrubby border or as an occasional shrub.

They can be grown in a wide range of soils, as well as in both partial shade and full sun. In addition, they require much less water than many ornamental plants. In my yard, they are growing in sunny locations with their roots anchored in dry, hard Georgia red clay.

Most beautyberry plantings are established using containerized plants or pass-along plants obtained from a friend. Beautyberry plants can, however, be propagated from both cuttings and seeds.

Beautyberries typically grow four-feet tall in shade and eight-feet tall in full sun. Although it is not necessary to prune the plant, if pruning carried out in late winter, berry yields will be increased since berries are produced on new wood.

The plant’s attractive dark-green foliage turns yellow to reddish-purple in autumn.

The beautyberry’s small flowers are pale, lilac-colored. However, its unusual, brightly colored berries and pleasing fall foliage make it an attractive landscape planting. As such, if you are looking for wildlife food plant that will also provide a touch of unusual fall color, the American beautyberry may just be the ticket.

 

 

 

 

 

ATTRACTING MIGRATING BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Baltimore-Oriole feeding from hummingbird feeder

Baltimore-Oriole feeding from hummingbird feeder

Each fall untold numbers of birds migrate through our backyards flying to their wintering grounds throughout Latin America. One such bird is the Baltimore oriole.

Recently Ron and Jennie Lee hosted a Baltimore oriole in their Henry County backyard. The bird stayed but a day drinking nectar from one of their hummingbird feeders.

If you would like to invite a migrating Baltimore oriole to your yard, there are a few things that you can do. First of all, like the Lees, you can maintain a hummingbird feeder stocked with fresh nectar. If you do so, make sure your feeder has perches. Orioles can’t hover like hummingbirds and would have a tough time trying to drink nectar from a feeder without perches.

Also, make sure that orioles have access to the sugar water. Some feeders are equipped with removable bee guards. While they do an excellent job keeping bees at bay, they also prevent orioles from feeding. If you remove at least one of the guards, your feeder should be oriole accessible.

 

Orioles can also be attracted with fruit. For some reason, orioles are drawn to oranges. Simply cut oranges in half and place them in a platform feeder or impale them on tree limbs. You can also purchase feeders designed to feed fruit to wild birds.

Baltimore orioles also relish other foods such as apple slices, raisins, grapes, pecan meats and bananas.

Another great oriole food is jelly. Time and again, folks that have hosted orioles have me that the birds prefer grape jelly above all others. The jelly can be fed in small plastic sauce containers placed in platform feeders.