Often folks stop feeding birds once spring arrives.  However, I am one of those bird-feeding enthusiasts that feeds birds throughout the year.  As such, quite some time ago, I learned there are unexpected benefits to feeding birds after winter has released its icy grip on the land. Here are a couple of the reasons why my feeders remain full of seeds well after many winter residents have departed.

       For the past weeks, every day my wife and I have been relishing the opportunity to watch male American goldfinches bedecked in rich black and bright yellow breeding plumage dining on sunflower seeds in our backyard.  They are indeed far more colorful than they are in winter when they wear muted drab olive- green plumage.  Every day we see at least a dozen or more of these birds.  When we open the door to our deck and cause the birds to fly toward a weeping cherry growing in the back of the yard, the sight is indescribable.  Then when they land, you have the impression you are leave you gazing at glowing yellow Christmas lights nestled in the tree’s green foliage to.

       Spring feeding also gives us a chance to see two species of birds we only visit our yard in spring.  The birds I am referring to are the blue grosbeak and indigo bunting. 

       The stunning blue plumages of the male blue grosbeak and the bright blue of the male indigo bunting are breathtaking.  Although both birds nest throughout our county, we would never seem them in our yard unless we stocked our feeders with seeds throughout the spring.  After a few days, they scatter across the county and settle in their respective breeding habitats.

       If you ceased feeding birds a few weeks ago, restock your feeders and see what happens.  Who knows? You just might see the three species I have just mentioned, or another migrant rarely seen in your yard. 

       As for me, I am waiting for the rare opportunity to take a photo the males of all three species feeding side by side.  Now that would be a picture!


        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. 





       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.


       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.


       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.


        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 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.



        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.




       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.



       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.


       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).