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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.

      

      

BACKYARD SECRET – YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS LOTS OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF SAP

       One of the most common trees found in Georgia backyards is the pecan.  We Georgians do indeed love our pecans.  If you have a pecan tree growing in your yard, it is likely that its bark is tattooed with rows of sapsucker holes. Consequently, it is easy to believe that yellow-bellied sapsuckers dig sap wells primarily in pecan trees.  However, that is not the case. 

       The truth of the matter is that yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sugary sap that collects in sap wells chiseled in more than 1,000 trees and woody vines.  This list includes the likes of hickories, birches, maples, fruit trees, conifers, and many, many others.

 

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER AT A FEEDER

       I know that you have heard the old adage, expect the Unexpected.  I long time ago I realized that this is especially true when it comes to birds.  Recently a birder residing in Americus (Sumter County) also learned this statement is true.  One morning this winter when he looked out his window, he was amazed to see a prothonotary warbler feeding at one of his feeders.  I am sure he could not believe his eyes!

       The prothonotary warbler breeds throughout the state, with the exception of northeast Georgia, however, most nest in the Coastal Plain.  Within this breeding range, it prefers to live close to water.  As such, it nests in swamps, and along the shorelines of rivers and lakes.

       It is Georgia’s only warbler that nests in cavities.  Incidentally, it sometimes builds its nest in nesting boxes erected in backyards located near water. 

       Typically, prothonotary warblers arrive in March and April and leave the Peach State in late summer to winter in the mangrove swamps of found from Central America southward on northern Brazil.

       During the nesting season, prothonotary warblers dine mainly on insects, spiders and the like.  We know comparatively little about the bird’s winter diet.  However, some biologists suggest that this fantastically beautiful warbler possibly supplements its diet with nectar, seeds, and fruit.

       The bird that miraculously appeared at a Sumter County feeder eats safflower seeds offered in a platform feeder.  The bird’s host believes that the fact that his yard is located close to a swamp may have something to do with it selecting to feed in his yard.

       This is an extremely rare occurrence.  I have searched the many volumes in my library that deal with birds, as well as the Internet and found no mention of a prothonotary warbler dining on seeds at a feeder during the winter.  However, I am certain it must have occurred before.

       One of the takeaways from this experience is, because this rare sighting was reported, we now know a little more about this amazing migrant.  Please keep that in mind when you see a rare bird, or observe a bird’s behavior you have never witnessed, report it.  There is always a possibility that you too will add to our understanding of the wild creatures with whom we share the world.  If you do not, as far as the scientific world is concerned, it never happened.

BACKYARD SECRET – THE BLACK WALNUT TREE IS VALUABLE TO WILDLIFE

       I suspect that most of the folks that have a black walnut tree growing in their yards enjoy the tasty nuts the trees bears, its yellow fall foliage, and attractive shape. However, whenever I tell folks that their black walnut tree is also valuable to wildlife, they are pleasantly surprised.

       The tree serves as a host the banded hairstreak butterfly and more than 100 moths including the luna, royal and imperial.

       A number of small mammals eat the nuts including the eastern chipmunk and both gray and fox squirrels.  In fact, black walnuts can comprise up to 10 percent of the fox squirrel’s diet.

       Whenever black walnuts are cracked open by mammals, or crushed by vehicles in driveways or highways, many birds eat the highly nutritious meat.  In fact, black walnut meat is ranked as a choice food for the eastern towhee, cardinal, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, blue jay, and woodpeckers (hairy, red-bellied and downy).

RESPONSES TO SAPSUCKERS EATING SEEDS BLOG

        Bloggers have responded to the blog regarding a yellow-bellied sapsucker eating sunflower seeds.  It seems some folks are enjoying success attracting yellow-bellied sapsuckers to their feeders.  With that in mind, I thought that you would like to know what they have to say.

       Nudicale says, “They regularly see yellow bellies feed on manufactured suet. We also have seen them feed on scrub oak logs in which they feed on a peanut butter and oatmeal mixture placed in holes drilled into the logs.”

       Pat Kinser wrote to say that she and her husband watched a male yellow-bellied sapsucker dine on a Brome Nut Feeder eating Clinger’s Charms, a great no waste nut mixture.

       Igrid Sanders responded to the blog by saying, “A yellow-bellied sapsucker has been visiting one of our feeders for the past few days.  This is the first time I’ve seen a sapsucker visiting.  It comes often, stays for several minutes at a time, and appears to be eating black sunflower seeds, though I have seen it well enough to be sure.  It feeds on a woodpecker block of mixed seeds that are largely black sunflower seeds, but there are others and maybe fruits.”

       An unnamed blogger added the only thing that he/she has seen eat around their home is grape jelly.

       I hope you will benefit from these reports; I know that I have.

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER EATS SUNFLOWER SEEDS

       Those of us that regularly feed birds during the winter know that it is big news when a yellow-bellied sapsucker visits our feeders.  When one does appear, it invariably dines on sugar water housed in a hummingbird feeder poised to entertain a rare wintering hummingbird, grape jelly, or a bird pudding.  You can imagine how surprised retired wildlife biologist, John Jensen was when a male yellow-bellied sapsucker began dining every day on whole black oil sunflower seeds.

       We know that, on rare occasions, yellow-bellied sapsuckers will eat small bits of sunflower seeds, but never whole sunflower seeds.  It makes you stop and wonder why this particular bird has adopted this feeding behavior.

       John told me that he feels that it is possible that the sapsucker chose this feeder because it is fashioned from a log.  This indeed may be the case since yellow-bellied sapsuckers routinely feed while perched on the trunks and limbs of trees. 

       We really do not know much about the winter-feeding habits of this odd woodpecker.  We know that they drill holes in trees and eat cambium (inner bark) and the sap that wells up in these tiny reservoirs. However, the birds are also known cache seeds and nuts during the winter.  Why would they do this unless they eat them too?

       If you have a theory as to why this woodpecker is feeding on sunflower seeds, drop me a line.  In addition, I would like to know what yellow-bellied sapsuckers are dining on at your feeders this winter.

YELLOW-BELLIED-SAPSUCKER

 

PROTECTING HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS FROM FREEZING

       For days, the United States Weather Bureau has been warning us that severe cold weather in about to blanket Georgia.  If these prognostications prove to be correct, this weekend temperatures will plummeted into the teens.  For those Georgians that are currently hosting, or hope to host, a hummingbird in their backyard this winter, this is disturbing news.  Obviously, hummingbirds cannot feed on frozen nectar. In addition, if the nectar in feeders freezes the feeders often break.    A hummingbird feeding solution of four parts water to one part sugar typically does not freeze until the temperature dips below 25ºF. If the temperature drops lower, feeders can be taken in at night and replaced the next morning. Another option is to use a light to keep hummingbird food from freezing.  Many folks use a 150-watt bulb mounted in a light fixture attached to an alligator clip placed near a feeder to provide the heat needed to keep nectar from freezing on a cold winter night.

       If the temperature remains freezing for a few days, you might find that you have to change out feeders during the day.  In this way, hummingbirds will have access to an uninterrupted supply of sugar water.

 

SUPPLEMENT YOUR FEEDER BIRDS’ DIET WITH EGGSHELLS

        A surprising number of the folks that feed wild birds in their yards include eggshells in their offerings.  As a matter of fact, Cornell University reported, in their publication entitled Birds At Your Feeder, six percent of the folks that participated in their annual Project FeederWatch fed birds this unusual offering.  Why would folks feed wild birds eggshells?

       The reason is quite simple—eggshells are a great source of calcium.  All birds require calcium in their diets; however, the need for this mineral is greatest during the breeding season and migration.

       There are a number of ways that you can feed eggshells to birds.  They can be ground or broken up and incorporated in suet mixtures.  You can add eggshell to mixed seed mixtures too.  Some people even simply spread them across the ground near the area where they feed birds on the ground.

       Whichever way you decide to use them, if you want to be sure they will not infect your bird clientele with a disease such as salmonella, bake them in an over for 10 minutes or so at a temperature of 480ºF. 

       It is well known that purple martins and blue jays dine on eggshells.  If you have seen other species of birds eat them in your yard, please let me know.

GOOD NEWS FOR FOLKS THAT FEED BIRDS

        It is always satisfying to know that our efforts to extend a helping hand to our wildlife neighbors are actually benefitting them.  With that in mind, I thought you might like to hear what the prestigious British Trust for Ornithology has to say about the benefits of feeding birds.

       Their studies indicate that feeding birds throughout the year, improves their survival.  In addition, it also enhances their breeding success.  The reason for this is when birds have food readily available during all seasons of the year, they are able to stay in top physical condition.

       Now that is what I call good news!