RUBYTHOATED HUMMINGBIRDS RETURN TO GEORGIA IN MARCH
March is the month ruby-throated hummingbirds return to Georgia.
Over the years, countless Georgia hummingbird enthusiasts have told me that they saw the first hummingbird of the year hovering in the spot where a hummingbird feeder hung outside their kitchen window a year earlier.
With that in mind, if you do not already have a hummingbird feeder hanging in your backyard, there is no better time to hang a feeder in your backyard than right now.
The first ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in South Georgia in late February and early March. On the average, from there, they make their way northward at a rate of about 23 miles per day. By March 20, the birds reach Middle Georgia. The first northbound birds arrive in North Georgia in late March and early April.
The first hummingbirds to arrive are males; the females make an appearance about 10 days later.
Let me know when the first male and female rubythroats arrive in your backyard.
DISCOURAGING COWBIRDS FROM VISITING FEEDERS
If you are being plagued with small flocks of brown-headed cowbirds visiting your feeders lately, you are probably wondering if there is any way to discourage these voracious birds from eating the lion’s share of the food you have been putting out for cardinals, chickadees, purple finches, dark-eyed juncos and the like.
Georgians do not usually have a problem with feeding brown-headed cowbirds. Throughout the winter, if they show up at all, only one or two birds will make an occasional appearance. However, all of this changes from late winter into spring. At that time of year, it is not unusual to look out into your yard and see flocks ranging from five or six upwards of 20 or more. When they arrive, they can gobble of the majority of the seeds available in your feeding area in no time at all. When you consider the average a seed eating bird often consumes ¼-½ of its weight in food each day, a flock of hungry cowbirds can consume at lot of food at your feeders.
Although there is no foolproof way to solve this problem, here are some suggestions that might help.
Sometimes, if you simply cease offering seeds for a week or so, cowbird flocks will move on. Oftentimes folks don’t want to take such drastic action because they want to continue feeding their backyard favorites.
If such is the case with you, eliminate providing the seeds that cowbirds like. This means stop offering foods such as millet, mixed seed, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn for a week or so.
It also helps if the cease spreading seeds on the ground, and using platform feeders, and feeding tables. You might also try switching to tube feeders. Cowbirds are not particularly fond of dining at tube feeders, especially those equipped with short perches. Another alternative is to use feeders protected by a wire cage that allow only small birds to feed.
Another approach is to put out foods that cowbirds tend to avoid. For example, if you have never fed safflower seeds, this might be a good time to do so. Although cowbirds shy away from them Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and finches eat them. In addition, they are not a gray squirrel favorite either.
Let me know if any of these remedies work. In addition, if you have discovered another solution to the cowbird dilemma, let me know.
BACKYARD SECRET—SAPSUCKERS SUPPLY FOOD TO MIGRATING RUBYTHROATED HUMMINGBIRDS
An amazing relationship exists between migrating yellow-bellied sapsucker and the ruby-throated hummingbird. It seems that yellow-bellied sapsuckers help fuel the ruby-hummingbird’s migration northward each spring.
Beginning in March each year yellow-bellied sapsuckers leave the Peach State and begin flying home to their breeding grounds in eastern Canada and our northeastern states. As the sapsuckers make their way northward, they often stop every so often and feed for a couple of weeks or so before moving on. As expected, at each stopover area the birds chisel out numerous sap wells in a variety of trees. This provides them with an energy-rich source of fuel that will enable them to complete their long journey.
Often ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to their northern breeding grounds some two to three after the sapsuckers leave. Since they are heading north at a time when nectar plants are typically in short supply, food is often at a premium.
While hummingbird fanciers that hang hummingbird feeders outside their homes in late winter and early spring help feed the migrants along the way, they alone cannot provide enough food for all of the migrating birds.
Here is where yellow-bellied sapsucker plays an important role in feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds that are also flying north. The tiny rubythroats dine on the sucrose and amino acid-laden tree sap they obtain from sapsucker wells. Sapsuckers drill lots of holes whenever they locate an excellent source of tree sap. Consequently, when they abandon these sap wells to resume their journey home they unwittingly leave behind a valuable source of food needed by tiny hummers that are following behind them.
Once again, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.
BACKYARD SECRET – REDWINGS DO THE DOUBLE-SCRATCH
This past week a couple of small flocks of red-winged blackbirds made an appearance at my bird feeding area for the first time this winter. The birds ignored my seed and suet feeders and fed on the ground. This provided me with an excellent opportunity to witness them perform the double-scratch.
This is not a dance step; far from it, it is instead a fascinating foraging behavior. Ornithologists tell us that redwings, sparrows and some other birds use this maneuver to uncover hidden food.
As I watched the birds from my office window, I saw several of the redwings rapidly hop forward and back…twice. Ornithologists say that birds exhibiting this behavior use their toes to latch onto plant litter and pull it aside to expose any hidden insects or seeds.
If you are lucky enough to see birds demonstrating the double-scratch in your backyard, you will know that they are not dancing but simply trying to locate food.
BACKYARD SECRET – HOW TO GET CLOSE TO A BROWN CREEPER
For most of us, seeing a brown creeper is big deal. In more cases than not, whenever one of these odd, curved-billed birds makes an appearance, we don’t have a camera or pair of binoculars handy and it is far enough away that we cannot tell much about it. Invariably, when this happens before you can get close enough to study it the bird flies away.
Here is strategy you might want to employ the next time see a brown creeper hunting for food on one of the trees growing in your backyard. I will not guarantee it will work every time. However, if it works even once, it will be worth it.
Once you have spotted the elusive bird, move slowly and position yourself directly behind it. Once you feel you are in the right position, slowly move toward the bird. As you make your approach, do not to make any sounds or rapid arm or let movements.is because the brown creeper’s eyes are located very close to one another. While this helps the bird locate food located in front of its head, it greatly reduces its peripheral vision. However, it reduces the bird’s ability to see anything approaching from behind.
Meanwhile, while you are waiting for the opportunity to try this technique, keep a feeder stocked with suet. Occasionally this insectivorous bird will dine on suet offered in feeders.
TENNESSEE WARBLER VISITS FEEDER
Some birds rarely, if ever, visit our bird feeders. Years can pass by between sightings of such a bird at a Georgia feeder. However, recently a prothonotary warbler began feeding at a Sumter County feeder. If that is not enough, a Tennessee warbler is now dining at a feeder in Middle Georgia.
The Tennessee warbler nests throughout Canada’s boreal forests. It then spends the winter from southern Mexico south through Central America to northern South America. Typically, we only see Tennessee warblers when they migrate south (August –November) and when they fly back to their breeding grounds (April-May). On a few occasions, the birds have been seen Georgia until the middle of February.
The habitats occupied by the birds in winter are open woodlands and coffee plantations. In fact, they are often the birds most commonly seen in coffee plantations. For this reason, some refer to the Tennessee warbler as the coffee warbler.
Tennessee warblers feed primarily on critters such as caterpillars, beetles, aphids, spiders and beetles. However, on migration and during the winter, the birds will eat nectar and fruit.
During the winter Tennessee warblers often visit platform feeders stocked with plantains and bananas. However, it is almost unheard of to hear of one visiting a feeder outside of their winter home.
If you have seen a Tennessee warbler in your backyard, you probably saw it foraging for insects or visiting a birdbath.
The Middle Georgia bird is regularly feasting on a peanut butter/oatmeal mixture. It will be interesting to see how long the bird continues to reside in its unusual winter home and whether it will vary its diet.
In the meantime, we all need to keep our eyes peeled for the appearance of a rare winter visitor making an appearance where it is least expected. If it does, it may be in your backyard.