Archives

UPDATE ON THE AVIAN FLU IN GEORGIA

        Several weeks ago, I posted a blog regarding the presence of avian flu in Georgia and its possible impact on the birds that visit our feeders. At that time, I promised to provide you with any new information that becomes available.  A May 17 news release issued by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division updated the status of the disease in Georgia.

       According to the Division’s wildlife biologists, data regarding the incidence of avian flu suggests that the vast majority of Georgia’s songbirds are not at risk of catching the dreaded disease. The songbirds that are at the highest risk are those living near domestic poultry flocks that have become infected with the disease.  However, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division emphasizes that the only birds share an elevated risk of catching the disease are scavengers such as vultures and crow.

       Fortunately, to date, avian flu has not been detected in any domestic poultry flocks in Georgia.

       The short list of birds that have been infected by the disease in the Peach State is restricted to waterfowl and eagles.    

       For those of us that feed birds in our yards, the bottom line is we can continue to feed birds at our feeders without the fear that our efforts are helping spread the disease.

      However, Wildlife Biologist Todd Schneider emphasizes that feeders and feeding areas should be kept as clean as possible.  This will ensure our feathered friends will not suffer from house finch disease, or one of a host of other fatal or debilitating diseases spread by organisms that thrive on wet, and moldy seeds.

AVIAN FLUE AND BIRD FEEDING IN GEORGIA

       Recent reports that a new virulent strain of avian influenza (HPAI) has been found in wild birds in Georgia and more than 29 other states have raised concerns that feeding backyard birds might play a role in the spread of this deadly disease in the Peach State.

       To date, the only species affected by the disease in Georgia have been lesser scaup, gadwall, and bald eagle.  However, avian flu has been detected in at least 100 species of wild birds and other animals.

       Avian influenza also infects chickens, wild and domestic waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans), quail, pheasants, and other domestic birds,

       The disease is spread in the droppings and nasal secretions of infected birds.  It has also been reported healthy birds can also catch the disease when they walk across surfaces contaminated by infected birds.

       While it is possible for wild birds to contract the disease form domestic poultry, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that, in every case they have investigated this year, domestic flocks were infected by wild birds.

       Fortunately, as of March 30, no commercial or backyard flocks of poultry have been infected in Georgia.  However, such is not the case in 23 other states. Most of these outbreaks have occurred in the Midwest and East.   This has resulted in the slaughter of 27 million chickens.

       If you enjoy feeding birds in your yard, you are probably wondering if you should cease feeding bird in your backyard until the disease subsided.   So far, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section has not recommended that people stop birds in their yards.

      However, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section urges the public to report dead or sick eagles to their office in Forsyth (478-994-1438). (Three bald eagles were found killed by the disease along the Georgia Coast.)

      In comparison, the USDA suggests that homeowners can continue feeding birds unless they keep domestic birds.  On the other hand, extension specialists at Cornell University recommend that the public cease feeding “until the threat of the disease has passed.”

      I will let you know if the outbreak becomes more serious in Georgia and if Georgia officials issue any recommendations concerning feeding wild birds.  Those bloggers that live in other states should check with their state wildlife agencies to see if they recommend that feeding birds be discontinued in their states.

SHOULD I HELP BLUEBIRDS FEED THEIR YOUNG?

 

   

       I am sure you have wondered if eastern bluebirds have difficulty feeding their young in the spring when temperatures are low a rainy weather dominates the weather for days on end.  Actually, bluebird parents can sometimes find it hard to find enough insects and other invertebrates to feed their seemingly insatiable nestlings during times when these important food items are not moving about.

       If you suspect this is happening in your yard, you can offer the adult bluebirds a number of supplemental foods.  Here are some of the food items you might try:  mealworms, fruits and berries, sunflower hearts and suet.   Some bluebird enthusiasts even feed bluebirds scrambled eggs during these trying times.

     Experiment with different foods until you determine which delicacies are favored by your bluebirds and then focus on feeding the bluebirds only their preferred foods. 

     Your feeding efforts can actually save the lives of many young bluebirds. However, even if the parents don’t actually need additional food to meet the demands of their young, the extra food you provide will most likely be gobbled up by other birds.  In the meantime, you will sleep better knowing that you did all you could to ensure a new generation of bluebirds lived through a potential food shortage.

        

DOES RAIN DILUTE NECTAR IN HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS?

       Recently severe weather has been sweeping across the Peach State dropping heavy rain in our backyards.  The last front that passed over my home dropped almost three inches of rain in just a few hours.  When such an event occurs, you cannot help but wonder if heavy rain dilutes the sugar water in our hummingbird feeders.

      Although many hummingbird fanciers are convinced that heavy rainfall can dilute the concentration of sugar in a feeder, I do not know of any studies that corroborate this claim. However, enough people believe this to be the case that some manufacturers of hummingbird feeders offer feeders that are less susceptible to rain flowing into the food reservoirs on their feeders.  In an effort to hinder rain draining through feeding portals, some hummingbird fans place a plastic dome over their feeders.  Others simply shroud their feeders with plastic plates. Others address the problem by purchasing feeders featuring very small feeding portals.  If water pouring into a feeder is a problem, it makes sense to use feeders equipped with small feeding ports.

       If you find that hummingbird use of your feeder drops off significantly after heavy rain, this could be an indication that your hummer food is diluted.  It has been shown that when given a choice hummingbirds prefer flowers that produce nectar with the a high sugar content.  Since that is the case, it is understandable that they would also prefer hummingbird food with at least a 25 percent concentration of sugar.

       The best advice I can offer is until we know for sure if rainfall can dilute hummingbird food, if feel your food is diluted, go ahead and replace it.

IN SPRING, REDBUD TREES FEED MORE THAN POLLINATORS

       The redbud trees growing around my home are now in full bloom.   These native trees are pleasing to the eye and are currently feeding a surprising number of my backyard neighbors.

       One thing that is impossible to notice is that redbud blossoms attract an amazing number of bees and other pollinators.  In fact, on a warm late winter or early spring day my largest redbud seems to buzz.  The buzzing sound is made by the countless numbers of bees foraging among the dark pink blossoms that cover the tree’s branches.

       If the redbud blossoms do not fall before the year’s first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive, I will have a chance of spotting a hummer or two visiting the trees flowers.  Although redbud blooms are not the greatest source of nectar for the birds, when it is one of the few nectar plants that are blooming at this time of the year, they will make feeding forays to the tree.

       Birds such as northern cardinals and cedar waxwings sometimes visit redbud trees in full bloom.  They are not there seeking nectar or pollen.  To the contrary, they actually eat the redbud’s buds and flowers.  Although these birds might seem to eat more than their share of these tasty morsels, there are more than enough blossoms to feed the birds and pollinators.

       Since the redbud’s blooms appear before its leaves, while I am admiring the tree’s floral show, from time to time I sometimes spot tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and downy woodpeckers hunting for insects and their eggs hidden on the bark of the tree.  Once the leaves appear, it is far more difficult to see these birds foraging for food.

       My only regret is that the redbud’s floral show is way too short. When redbud blossoms litter the ground, I know I must wait 12 months to enjoy its next stunning floral show and the wide variety of animals drawn to it.

HOORAY! HUMMINGBIRDS ARE ON THE WAY

     Now that February is in our rearview mirror we need to be on the lookout for arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year.  In fact, I would not be surprised if a vanguard of rubythroats has already reached the Peach State.

       I live in Monroe County just north of Macon.  To my knowledge, the earliest that a ruby-throated hummingbird has been seen in the county is March 12.  However, friends living in southwest Georgia have told me that some years they see their first hummer during the first ten days of March.  On the other hand, folks living in north Georgia tell me they often do not see their first hummingbird of the spring until the end of March or in April.

       Now that you know rubythroats are on the way, go ahead and pour some fresh nectar into a feeder and hang it out in the same spot where it was hung last year.  If you don’t, you may well look out your window one morning and spot a rubythroat hovering where a feeder was hung a year ago.  If that does not make you feel like a heel, nothing else will.

       Please let me know when you experience the excitement of seeing your first rubythroat of the year!

BACKYARD SECRET—THE BLUE JAY’S DIET CONTAINS MORE CALCIUM THAN OTHER BIRDS

       Some time ago, I wrote a Backyard Secret regarding the blue jay’s unusual habit of eating paint chips.  At the time, I reported that the bird’s need for calcium might be the reason that blue jays will literally chip bits of paint off buildings and eat them.

       Research conducted by Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology found that blue jays consumed more than double the amount of calcium eaten by any of the other species studied.  Consequently, these findings offer credence to the theory the birds are obtaining needed calcium from the chips.

       It is interesting to note that folks living in the Northeast have reported this habit more often.  Here acid rain has had a deleterious impact on the region’s soils.  It seems acid rain has been depleting naturally occurring calcium in the soil.

       One way in which some people living in this part of the country cope with the problem is to offer feeder birds chicken eggshells.  In order to thwart the spread of disease, the shells either heated in an oven or boiled before offering them to the birds.

      

      

WHERE A COYOTE LIVES CAN AFFECT ITS HEALTH

       The coyote’s name is on the long list of animals that are not native to Georgia.  However, much to our dismay, they are living here and have spread across the state.  They are now living in rural and urban areas alike.  This scenario has also played out across other states.  With this in mind, biologists at the University of Alberta conducted a study to determine if coyotes living in and around humans in urban areas are just as healthy and their cousins that inhabit rural habitats.

       Here in Georgia urban coyotes are now feeding on foods tossed into garbage cans, tossed out of the windows of cars racing down the highway, seeds scattered beneath our bird feeders, as well as food left outside our homes for the family dog.  They are preying on domestic pets such as dogs, cats.  They are also attacking goats, sheep, and other livestock.

      As expected, the researchers found coyotes living in the city eat lots of processed foods such as fast food, dinners tossed in the garbage.  The researchers even found coyotes consume pieces of gloves, and the wrappers placed around burritos and the like.  These items are a far cry from the foods one would expect to find in the typical diets those coyotes living away from humanity.

       Their data collected in this study showed the coyotes feeding in backyards and other food-rich locales are less healthy.  These coyotes possess less kidney fat.  This is a clear indication they are not eating a nutritious diet.  The fact that their spleens are also larger is a sign that the human food they are gobbling up is having a deleterious impact on their immune systems.

       It would seem that coyotes that have adopted an urban lifestyle are paying the price for living away from the natural world.

       While we cannot eliminate the coyotes that are living close to us, we can stop unwittingly contributing to their dining choices.  For example, we all need to secure our garbage cans so coyotes cannot dine on our leftovers.  We can also make a point of not leaving pet food outside overnight.  If we adopt these and other simple measures, we will be helping ensure coyotes will not make our yards part of their feeding territories.

MYSTERIOUS WILD BIRD DISEASE SEEMS TO HAVE VANISHED

       Last May a mysterious illness that affected songbirds suddenly appeared in the eastern states.  By the time the illness finally abated, it had killed thousands of birds in the District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia.  This prompted state wildlife agencies and conservation groups, to urge the public to cease providing wild birds with water or food.  Then, for some unknown reason, the songbird illness suddenly disappeared this past July.

       The birds affected by the outbreak displayed the same symptoms: swollen, crusty eyes, paralysis, are tremors.  

       The birds that were most affected were young common grackles, blue jays and European starlings.  However, the roster of birds that showed symptoms of the disease included Carolina wrens and chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, American robins, house finches, northern cardinals, and house sparrows.

       The outbreak prompted the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab and the National Wildlife Health Lab, as well as wildlife disease labs across the country, to try to diagnose the cause of the illness.  Their efforts methodically ruled out all of the known wildlife illnesses.  This left them at a loss to explain what was causing the problem.

       However, the scientists found the sudden appearance and decline of the disease closely mirrored the Brood X cicada emergence. This leads many of the scientists to theorize that mysterious bird illness that plagued birds across a vast swath of the east this past summer is linked to the cicadas.  According to this theory birds may have been affected the cicadas in a number of ways.  For example, they could have eaten cicadas poisoned by homeowners trying to eliminate the insects from their yards.  Some birds may have also become sick from eating the cicadas themselves.  It is also possible that a toxin produced by a fungus commonly found on cicadas could have poisoned the birds.

       While this theory seems plausible, more research is needed before wildlife disease experts will definitively say this was indeed the cause of the problem.

       In the meantime, many states have lifted bird-feeding restrictions implemented during the outbreak.  However, they are urging that homeowners keep their bird feeding areas and feeders clean.  While we were fortunate that the mysterious songbird illness did not crop up in Georgia, we should all strive to keep our bird feeders and the ground around them clean.

MANAGING PLANTS FOR WILDLIFE IS LAGGING BEHIND

       Once every five years the United States Fish and Wildlife Service surveys the participation of American’s in hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related activities.  The latest report (2018) documents the findings from the 2016 survey.  Although the report revealed that, from 2011-2016, wildlife watching increased 20% (71.8-86.0 million individuals); Americans have not fully embraced the value of managing plants for wildlife in their yards. 

       The survey revealed that that around-the-home participants 16 years and older jumped to 81.1 million.  They accounted for 94% of all of the Americans that watched wildlife.  The most popular activity of these 59.1 million folks was feeding birds and other wildlife; they represented 73% of all around-the-home participants.  Thirty-eight percent said they photographed wildlife.  Those that fed other wildlife accounted for 18% of around-the-home participants.  However, only 10% maintained plants for wildlife in their yards.  In addition, just 9% maintained and managed natural areas for the benefit of their wildlife neighbors.

       It is exciting that interest in wildlife watching is on the rise.  However, it is concerning that we wildlife watchers are, largely focusing our attention on simply feeding the wildlife that we enjoy living just outside our backdoors.  Meanwhile, we are losing thousands of acres of wildlife habitat each year.  Unless we enhance the wildlife habitat that remains, the time may come when many of the wild animals that provide us with so much enjoyment will become rare or simply disappear.

       One way to ensure this does not happen is to restore and create wildlife habitats in our yards.  There are so many ways that we can provide backyard wildlife with suitable places to live, the task seems impossible.  One of the best ways to tackle this daunting task is to begin by selecting a species or species that you are most fond of and direct your efforts at addressing their needs.  Then begin by setting just a few goals to accomplish.  For example, if you are interested in butterflies, incorporate a few host plants into your landscape.  If you are fond of birds, plant one or more seed, fruit or berry-producing plants.   Only after you have made these changes, make the decision as to whether you are going to try to accomplish anything else this year.

       Whatever you do, make planting native plants a priority.  These plants are often best suited to survive in your neck of the woods and require less care.  In addition, the food they often produce more food and support far more insects than ornamentals.

       When you start looking for lists of these plants, as other habitat enhancement tips, begin by checking out the Archive section of this blog.  It contains a treasure trove of often hard to find information relating to backyard wildlife.

       We can all be better stewards of our yards.  With that in mind, can you imagine how much our backyard wildlife neighbors would benefit if each one of us made a conscientious effort to enhance our property for them this year?  With that in mind, I hope you will make a New Year’s resolution to enrich your home landscape for wildlife.  I know I plan to do just that.