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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.

HUMMINGBIRDS ARE SWARMING TO SCARLET SAGE

      Having studied hummingbirds for decades, I have learned the folks that usually attract the most birds to their yards are those that plant a wide variety of flowering plants that offer the birds plenty of food from spring through fall; supplemented with sugar water served in feeders.  There is no better time to witness this than August. 

       I say this because hummingbirds are more abundant in our yards right now than they have been at any time earlier this year.  As such, if you have planted a wide variety of nectar-laden plants, this is a great time to see which of these plants these tiny-feathered jewels favor during the heat of summer.  The abundance of hummingbirds gives you the opportunity to assess their food preferences in a very short period.

       For years, my wife and I have been planting a host of different plants for hummingbirds.  Right now, by far, the plant most often visited by hummingbirds is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).  This Georgia native produces an abundance of scarlet red one-inch long tubular-shaped flowers.

       We are growing scarlet sage in flowerbeds with companion plants such as black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, zinnia, blanket flower, and cosmos.  We also have it planted in containers on our deck.  Some containers contain nothing other than scarlet sage.  However, since it produces an abundance of seed, some of the seeds dropped last year somehow found their way into nearby pots where my wife is rooting buddleia and roses.  Additionally, scarlet sage has volunteered in containers where she scattered the seeds of zinnias, blanket flowers, and black-eyed Susans this spring.  Scarlet sage is growing well there too.

       From morning to dusk, hummingbirds repeatedly visit the scarlet sage blooms more often than those of lantana, zinnia, trumpet creeper, Turk’s cap, purple salvia, hosta, Mexican sunflower, and other hummingbird favorites.  This plant has literally become a hummingbird magnet.

       While I thoroughly enjoy watching rubythroats feeding at scarlet sage blooms planted about the yard, I especially enjoy those growing in containers on our deck.  Regardless of whether I am working on the deck or sitting nearby the plants enjoying a cup of coffee and having the birds feed a few feet away.

       If you do not have as much hummingbird activity around the flowering plants blooming in your yard right now, I suggest you begin planting hummingbird food plants.  By including them in your gardens, next year your yard will be more beautiful, hummingbirds will have more food choices and the numbers of hummers using your yard should increase.  Now that is called a win, win, win situation.

        

BACKYARD SECRET: BIRDS ARE FANS OF POKEBERRIES

        Pokeweed is one of the many plants homeowners often refer to as weeds.  These objects of our distain try to grow in alongside our precious cultivated plants, invade our lawns, and are generally viewed of as nuisances.  However, some of these plants may be more valuable than you think.  One such plant is pokeweed. 

       Other than the few folks that dine on the plants tender shoots in the spring, pokeweed is not a plant most people allow to grow in their backyards.  This is unfortunate because, if allow to grow in the right spot it produces a bounty of dark purple berries that are relished by more than 50 species of birds.  Among the backyard favorites the devour pokeberries are cardinals, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and bluebirds.  The berries also provide nourishment for fall migrants such as thrushes and vireos that pass through our backyards on their fall migration.

       Although pokeberries are often considered a fall food, they are just beginning to ripen in my backyard.  This event caught the attention of a mockingbird.  Although the vast majority of the pokeberries in my backyard are still green, as soon as one turns dark purple the mockingbird gobbles it up.

       I must admit I remove pokeberries from some of my flower gardens.  Meanwhile, I let me grow in idle spots and in the shrubby borders that define the north and south sides of my yard.

       If a pokeberry takes root in a similar spot in your yard, I urge you to let it grow.  It will provide your avian neighbors with an important source of food later in the year.

BACKYARD SECRET: HUMMINGBIRDS PREFER NECTAR WITH PLENTY OF SUGAR

   

    RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING

       Ruby-throated hummingbirds do not feed at flowers containing small amounts of nectar.  In fact, they refuse to feed at flowers harboring less than 12 percent sugar.

       Studies have found that they prefer to dine on nectar that contains anywhere from twenty to twenty-five percent sugar.

       With that in mind, is it any wonder the recommended ratio of sugar to water in the sugar water we most often feed hummingbirds dining at our backyard feeders is one part sugar to four parts water?

LYRELEAF SAGE PROVIDES NECTAR FOR HUMMERS AND OTHERS

        Those of us who try to stock our gardens with a variety hummingbird nectar plants are constantly on the lookout for something new.  Too often, this quest leads us to nonnative plants while overlooking native plants.  One of these  native plants, the lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), may actually be blooming in your yard.  In fact, I found a few lyreleaf sage plants blooming in my yard.

        The lyreleaf sage grows in a wide variety of locations. It can be found anywhere from open woods, roadsides, lawns, damp meadows to dry waste sites. In spite of the fact that the plant displays beautiful lavender blossoms on a slender stalk (1-2 feet tall) it is often overlooked. In fact, many homeowners consider it a weed and mow it down.

        Lyreleaf sage begins blooming as early in February in some parts of Georgia and will continue blooming into May.  One of the reasons I am so fond of this plant is it provides hummingbirds with a source of nectar early in the spring when nectar is often scarce.   The plant also attracts butterflies and bees to its nectar-laden showy blooms.  

        The plant readily reseeds often forming robust colonies.  However, as with many roadside  and pasture plants, mowing often hinders its ability to reproduce.

        If you are fond of salvias, you will love this native salvia. Although its blossoms are small, they are every bit as beautiful as the salvias the grace our gardens.

        Although you can purchase lyreleaf sage seeds, they are often pricey.  I have seen 20 seeds cost more than six dollars.  Before you go out and buy some lyreleaf salvia seeds, explore your yard, there is a chance it has been hiding there in plain sight.  If you  do not locate it, I honestly believe it would be worthwhile spending a little money to get it established.

BEE BALM IS A GREAT NATIVE HUMMINGBIRD NECTAR PLANT

    Soon hummingbirds will be en route to Georgia.  As such, there is no better time than now to begin planning what to plant for the feathered dynamos that bring us so much please.  With that in mind, I would like to suggest that you consider planting bee balm.

        Bee balm (Monarda didyma), also known as Oswego tea) is a native perennial.  This hummingbird favorite grows anywhere from one to five feet tall.  It grows best in moist to well drained soil types.  The plant blooms best when grown in sites that vary from partial shade to full sun.  Bee balm blooms from March to May.

WHY DO CROWS DIP THEIR FOOD IN WATER?

         If American crows frequent your backyard, chances are you have witnessed them dipping food into a birdbath.  Whenever we witness such behavior, we cannot help but wonder why a bird would go to the trouble of soaking a piece of food in water before gulping it down.

        The truth of the matter is we are not absolutely sure fully understand the reason behind this behavior or why they do not do it all of the time.  The most widely held theory is it is done to soften their food.  This theory explains why they might dunk a hard, dry chunk of dog food or stale bread in water.  However, for the life of me, I cannot see how this explanation explains why American crows also place dead animals such as birds and mice, animal bones, snails and even bits and pieces of roadkill in birdbaths. 

        Others suggest nesting crows dip bakery products and pet food in water prior to subsequently feeding them to their nestlings for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it makes the food more palatable for their young.  It is also is an easy way for adult birds to provide their youngsters with water.

        Regardless, it is always a good idea to clean a birdbath that has been used as a “dipping” station by crows.  Invariably, whenever crows are dipping their food in our birdbaths, it is very likely they are leaving behind bacteria and fungi that were clinging to the food.  These microorganisms could be harmful to the birds that will later use the water to bathe and drink.  

DISEASES OFTEN PLAGUE BIRD FEEDERS DURING WARM WINTERS

         Although the periods of warm weather we have experienced this winter have reduced our home heating bills and provided the opportunity for us to spend more time outside, it has increased the chances that the birds visiting our feeders can contract a life-threatening disease.  As such, reports of sick and dying birds are beginning to crop up.

        The two main culprits in these die-offs are typically salmonella and aspergillosis.  These diseases are extremely deadly and can decimate the birds feeding in our backyards unless steps are taken to stem their spread.

        Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus.  Aspergillosis spores are produced by a green mold found naturally throughout the state.  Quail, turkeys, cardinals, sparrows, finches and other birds are highly susceptible to the disease.  The organism kills by infecting its victim’s throat and lungs.  Animals contract the disease by eating food infected with the spores.

        Salmonella is bacterial disease that attacks birds, mammals as well as reptiles and amphibians.  Salmonella bacteria are spread by animals eating food that has been contaminate by the droppings of animals infected with the disease. 

        Since both diseases flourish during any season of the year, as long as the weather is warm and wet, our abnormally warm winter will continue to promote conditions that encourage the harmful bacteria and mold to thrive on bird feeders and the waste seed and hulls found on the ground beneath them.

        Fortunately, you can greatly reduce the chances of birds contracting the diseases by taking a few simple steps.

        Periodically clean feeders and birdbaths with a cleaning solution composed of two ounces of bleach mixed with a gallon of water.   Thoroughly scrub each feeder and birdbath and then rinse with clean water.  Allow feeders to dry in the sun before refilling them with seed.

        Over time, both seeds and seed hulls build up beneath feeders.  Consequently, during periods of wet, warm weather you should rake up the seeds and hulls and dispose of them in the trash.  Periodically changing the locations of your feeders also helps thwart the spread of the diseases.  After cleaning the area, I also treat the ground with a solution of bleach and water.

        Researches have discovered sunflower hulls contain a play growth inhibitor.  By removing the hulls, you are ensuring that the grass or ornamental plants growing beneath the feeders will not be affected by the growth inhibitors.

        Keep all seed dry.  Avoid using feeding trays with solid floors.  If you scatter seed on the ground, during warm, damp weather only put out enough food to feed the birds for a single day.  Hopper-type feeders, feeding trays covered by roofs or feeding trays with screen bottoms help prevent the development of mold and bacteria.

        Your quick action can save the lives of countless birds and guarantee you will be able to watch a parade of birds throughout the entire year.