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A HUMMINGBIRD AND CHICKADEES BROUGHT BACKYARD SURPRISES

        I learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected whenever I venture into my backyard.   Recently two events that took place in my backyard in the same afternoon once again demonstrated you never know when you are going to witness something special.

        In this case, I walked outside to take a close look at an extremely large cluster of long, tubular-shaped orange, red, and yellow blossoms poised atop one of our red-hot poker plant’s long flower stems.  While standing within six feet of the large torch-like floral cluster, a ruby-throated hummingbird suddenly flew in and began feeding on the backside of the cluster of flowers.  I could tell the bird was there because the tips of its wings projected beyond the sides of the flowery torch.  I stood transfixed, savoring the opportunity to be standing so close to the feeding bird.  All the while the bird fed I was hoping its feeding activities would bring it around to my side of the torch.  I would like to report my vigil was rewarded; however, the bird eventually flew off without circling the blossoms.  As it flew away, I could see the bird was an adult male rubythroat.

        About an hour later, I went outside to see what else was going on outside my backdoor.  This time when I reached the top of the steps leading from the deck into the yard, an adult Carolina chickadee perched in a nearby dogwood caught my eye.  Since the bird seemed agitated I began looking about to see if the family cat was nearby.

        Although I did not spot the cat, I saw four young chickadees flying from plant to plant.  The birds had obviously just fledged from a nearby log nesting structure.  Not wanting to stress the young birds, I watched the birds from the deck.  It was obvious the youngsters were testing out their wings for the first time.  They flew very slowly, never attaining an altitude of more than six feet.  These flights were short and ended in clumsy landings.

        Fearing my presence would alert the cat to what was going on, coupled with my desire not to hinder their initial attempts to fly, I went back inside.  An hour or so later I went returned outside and was pleased the new squadron of chickadees had moved on.

        I could not believe how fortunate I was to enjoy two fantastic wildlife adventures in the same afternoon.  While I always find something of interest whenever I make a backyard trek, it is not often that I experience two very special encounters with my backyard neighbors within hours of each other.

        What a day!

PROVIDING NESTING MATERIAL FOR HUMMERS

       Have you ever given any thought of trying to provide nesting hummingbirds with a source of nesting material?  I must admit while I have placed pieces of cotton in a wire suet feeder in the spring hoping it might be used by nesting birds, I never considered the possibility the white fibers might be used by a ruby-throated hummingbird.  However, three events have caused me to change my mind.

        Several years ago, I presented a hummingbird program to a garden club in southwest Georgia that met in the home of one of its members.  While I was setting up my projector and screen, the host asked me if I ever heard of a hummingbird using cotton to build a nest.  I told her although I had not, I could see how hummingbirds might incorporate cotton in a nest. 

        She then went on the explain that she had seen a female hummer collect cotton in her backyard.  It seems she planted a cotton seed in a pot that sat near her house.  The seed germinated and grew into a healthy plant festooned with balls of cotton.  Since the plant looked attractive, she left it in pot throughout the winter.

        The following spring while she was standing in her living room, looking out across her patio a female hummingbird flew down, plucked some cotton fibers from a cotton ball, and flew up to a nearby tree.  The bird repeated this behavior several times.  Although she never actually saw the bird using the cotton to build a nest, she surmised that is what the little bird was doing.

        I was reminded of this homeowner’s experience last week when I received an email from a man relating that he had witnessed a female hummingbird collect a bit of cotton from a suet feeder filled with cotton batting.  This prompted him to search for a nest.  Remarkably, his efforts paid off and he discovered a hummingbird nest close by.

        Earlier this week I mentioned this event to a cousin.  He was so intrigued by the story he went out and bought a wire suet feeder, filled it with cotton, and hung it out near his home.  Unbelievably before the sun set he spotted a female hummer pulling strands of cotton from the  feeder.  Now he is looking for a nest.

        With this kind of success, perhaps this is something we should all try.  Even though a hummingbird might not avail itself of the cotton we offer, chances are other nesting birds will.  

HUMMINGBIRD HAVENS

       Georgians love hummingbirds.  Each year residents from Woodbine to West Point, Bainbridge to Helen and countless cities and towns in between Peach State hummingbird enthusiasts spend hours enjoying the beauty and aerial acrobatics of the bird John James Audubon called “glittering fragments of the rainbow.”  

       Remarkably, although these tiny dynamos enjoy immense popularity, Georgians are not doing all they can to provide habitat for these tiny dynamos.  Realizing this Garden Club of Georgia and the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section (formerly known as the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section) and The Environmental Resources Network (TERN) have launched an ambitious initiative named the Hummingbird Haven Certification Program.

       The goal of the effort is to encourage homeowners to combine hummingbird feeders with an abundance of nectar-bearing plants in yards.  Hummingbird experts agree that the folks that attract the most hummingbirds to their yards are those that combine offering both feeders and an abundance of nectar-bearing plants.

       The initiative is part of the more than two decades old award-winning Community Wildlife Project (CWP).  This program has successfully promoted the concept that wildlife is a very important part of the communities in which we live.  It has shown Georgians that, with a little planning and effort, we can provide our wildlife neighbors with the food, water and cover they need to prosper while at the same time beautify the communities in which we live.

       Over the years, thousands of certifications have been awarded for areas large and small. Habitats have ranged backyards, neighborhoods, assisted living facilities, cities, towns, and even a county.  These efforts have benefitted a wide variety of birds, mammals, butterflies and other wildlife species.

       As the name suggests, the Hummingbird Haven certification is designed to encourage and recognize those Georgians that are doing outstanding jobs providing hummingbirds and abundance of food and cover throughout the entire year.

       While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that nests in the Peach State, eleven other species have been reported here.  This list includes the rufous, Allen’s, Anna’s, broad-billed, broad-tailed, black-chinned, magnificent, calliope, green-breasted mango, buff-bellied and green violet-ear.  Most of these birds are only seen in Georgia during the winter, which has been called Georgia’s second hummingbird season.

       The focal point of the program is to provide hummingbirds with a dependable supply of nectar supplied by plants throughout as much of the year as possible.  The plants that provide this natural food include a long list of trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials, annuals and vines.

       However, not all flowering plants are good nectar plants. For example, although popular plants such as daffodils, forsythia and crepe myrtle, are beautiful they offer hummingbirds and other nectar-feeders little food.  As such, the initiative encourages homeowners to plant excellent hummingbird nectar plants alongside garden favorites that provide little or no nectar.

       Since hummingbirds are found in Georgia throughout the entire year, The Garden Club of Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section and TERN Nongame Wildlife Conservation are asking folks to plant a variety of plants that provide nectar throughout as much of the year as possible.  Believe it or not, there are actually nectar plants blooming in Georgia in the winter. 

       As for hummingbird feeders, homeowners are asked to maintain at least one feeder in their yards throughout the year. These feeders provide a dependable source of food when little is blooming nearby.  Feeders also allow hummingbirds that are preparing to migrate to consume a large amount of food in a short period of time with little effort.  They also provide migrating hummingbirds with food-rich rest stops along their migration pathway. Then when the migration is over, they offer wintering hummingbirds with much-needed food during the time of the year when natural nectar is scarcest.

       If you would like to see if your yard qualifies as a true Hummingbird Haven, there are three ways to do so. You can send a stamped, self-addressed size 10 envelope to Hummingbird Haven, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, and 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Georgia 31029.  You will be sent a Hummingbird Haven application for certification. You can call Melissa Hayes at 478-994-1438 and request an application. In addition, the application can also be obtained by emailing Melissa Hayes at Melissa.Hayes@dnr.gov. Once you complete your application and return it to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section, it will be carefully evaluated. If you qualify, you will receive a certificate that acknowledges all that you are doing for the tiny birds. In addition, you will be eligible to buy an attractive metal Community Wildlife Project sign from the Garden Club of Georgia.

       If your application is rejected, you will be advised what you need to do to earn certification.

TALK ABOUT FUEL EFFICIENCY!

         Nowadays whenever we purchase a new vehicle, we want to know its fuel efficiency.  While current models are amazingly more efficient than they were 20 to 30 years ago, they do not even come close to being as fuel- efficient as the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Those ruby-throated hummingbirds that are returning to the United States this spring have to fly anywhere from 500-600 miles across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Remarkably, these tiny birds can make this journey using but 3/40th of an ounce of fuel (fat). To put this in perspective, if a 170-pound man or woman could fly like a hummingbird, it would require storing 85 pounds of fat! Now that is fuel efficiency!

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.

HUMMERS ARE ARRIVING EARLY THIS YEAR

       In my last blog, I predicted that, in spite of our warm winter weather, ruby-throated hummingbirds would probably not arrive early this year.  Boy was I ever wrong.    Since the blog was posted, at least four hummers have been spotted in Monroe County.  The first bird arrived at a home near Juliette March 9.  Two birds were reported arriving three days later on March 12.  To top it all off, today (March 14) I spotted a male ruby-throated hummingbird visiting a feeder hanging in front of my office.  All four sightings are earlier than any I am personally aware of during the past 40+ years.  Personally, until today the earliest I have ever seen my first rubythroat of the year is March 18.

       Please let me know when you spot your first rubythroat.  I cannot believe folks in this Middle Georgia County are spotting   hummingbirds earlier than anybody else in the state.

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.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.

HOW TO CARE FOR STUNNED HUMMINGBIRDS

         Hummingbirds are taking center stage in backyards across the state.  More than likely you are seeing more hummingbirds swirling around your feeders right now than at any other time this year.  While this is impressive, we all know that the numbers of birds visiting our feeder will increase before they finally depart for their winter quarters.

       Whenever lots of hummingbirds are scuffling with one another to feed at your feeders, the chance of the birds striking a window dramatically increases.  Here are a few tips that will help you deal with a bird that flies into a window 

       If the hapless bird lands in a spot where it will not become covered with ants, is in the shade, or will not be grabbed by a cat or other predator, leave it alone.  If it is note severely injured it will eventually fly away.

       On the other hand, if you feel the bird needs to be moved to a safe location, gently pick it up, and place it in a paper bag or shoebox.  If you place it in a bag, loosely fold over the top of the bag.  This will permit air to circulate into the bag and keep the bird from prematurely flying out of the bag once it recovers.

       If you place the hummingbird in a shoebox, poke several air holes in box.

       Place the bag in a dark, quiet location and wait.  If the bird is only stunned, in about an hour or two, check on its condition.  Once it revives and seems alert, take it outside, place it on the palm of your hand, and let it fly away.  Do not be surprised if the bird does not immediately take to the air.  I have seen hummers wait a few minutes before finally taking flight.

       On the other hand, if the bird seems alert but has injured a wing or its bill, contact a wildlife rehabilitator.                                    

       When a hummingbird doesn’t show any signs of life, it is probably dead.