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A BEAUTIFUL PLACE FOR BUMBLEBEES TO SPEND A COOL FALL NIGHT

       The Confederate rose brings spectacular beauty to yards across Georgia.  However, my wife, Donna, and I have found that its showy blossoms are also used as places for bumblebees to escape the cold on chilly autumn nights.

       This large multi-stemmed shrub or small tree was brought to North America in the 1600s.  Since then it has been widely planted throughout the Southeast.  It popularity stems from the fact that, from late summer until frost, it bears scores of white blossoms that measure up to six inches in diameter.  These flowers eventually turn light pink before finally becoming rose-colored.

       While my wife and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty the flowers bring to our yard, our discovery that these stunning blooms provide bumblebees with warm refuges on chilly fall nights has heightened our appreciation for the plant.

       For quite some time, I had not given any thought to this interesting behavior until late one afternoon this past week.  Late one afternoon I noticed that my wife, was looking deep into the one of the blossoms adorning a Confederate rose growing alongside our driveway.  I walked up to find out what had caught her attention.  When she said she was looking at a bumblebee that had settled in for the night deep inside a Confederate rose bloom, I peered down into the throat of the flower and spotted the insect.  As we stood nearby discussing her find, a couple of other bumblebees flew into other blossoms.

       When I returned to the flowers well after dark, sure enough, the bumblebees were still there awaiting morning when temperatures warmed to the point where they could utilize the muscles that control their wings and fly away.

       A number of animals seek cover on chilly nights.  Many birds and mammals retreat to natural cavities, nesting boxes, thick vegetation, and other places.  However, I doubt that many spend cold nights nestled in cover as beautiful a Confederate rose blossom.

       If you have a Confederate rose growing in your yard, before the blossoms nipped by a frost, as the sun is setting check them out.  If bumblebees are still flying about in your neck of the woods, chances are one or more might be using some of gorgeous blooms for nighttime cover also.

MORE NEST BOX INFORMATION

        In response to the recent blog regarding the placement on birdhouses in backyard settings, one of our fellow bloggers requested information concerning the minimum size of entrance holes recommended for the species mentioned.  Realizing many others might have the same question, below you will find this information.  In addition, I have included the recommended  minimum height a box should be placed above the ground for each of these eight species.

Species Minimum Hole Size Height Above Ground
Eastern Bluebird 1.5″ 5′
Carolina Chickadee 1 1/8″ 5′
Tree Swallow 1 3/8″ 5′
Tufted Titmouse 1 1/8″ 5′
Carolina Wren 1.5″ 5′
House Wren 1 1/8″ 5′
Great Crested Flycatcher 1.5″ 6′
Brown-headed Nuthatch 1 5′

BIRDHOUSES ARE OFTEN PLACED TOO CLOSE TOGETHER

     Nesting birds are often very territorial.  As such, when one pair spots another pair of the same species trying to nest too close to their nesting site, conflicts emerge.  With that in mind, one of the reasons why birds do not use birdhouse in some yards is boxes are placed too close together.  When nesting boxes are packed in too closely, some birds of the same species will fight with one another and sometimes end up not nesting at all.

      NESTING PAIR OF BLUEBIRDS

       With this in mind, here is a list of some of the birds that commonly nest in Georgia backyards and the recommended spacing between boxes designed avoid territorial battles.

Eastern Bluebird – Minimum of 100 yards.

Carolina Chickadee – 30 feet

Tree Swallow – 35 feet

Tufted Titmouse – 580 feet

Carolina Wren – 330 feet

House Wren – 100 feet

Great Crested Flycatcher – 1 box per 6 acres

Brown-headed Nuthatch – 1 box per 6 acres

       Keep in mind that some species tolerate birds of another species nesting close to their nest.  For example, eastern bluebirds will allow Carolina chickadees to nest well within 100 yards of their nests.  In this case, if a Carolina chickadee nest box  is equipped with an entrance hole measuring 1 1/6th of an inch in diameter, bluebirds would never try to nest in a birdhouse with an entrance hole that small. 

TUFTED TITMICE NEED PLACES TO NEST TOO

       Like all cavity nesting birds, rarely are their enough places for tufted titmice to nest in most neighborhoods.  With that in mind, if your property is predominantly wooded, why not erect a nest box for one of our favorite backyard feeder birds?

       If you think you would like to take on this project, here are a few tips that will help enhances the chances your efforts will be successful.

       I would recommend that you start putting up a single box.  If a pair of titmice uses it, consider erecting another birdhouse.  However, since tufted titmice are territorial, it is best to space your boxes at least 580 feet apart.

       The diameter of the box’s entrance hole should be at least 1 3’8″.  As you might expect, the birds will nest in cavities with larger entrance holes such as the 1 1/2-inch hole recommended for bluebird boxes.  Whatever size you use, protect the entrance hole with a metal hole guard.  This simple device prevents other birds and mammals from increasing the size of the entrance hole.  If you don’t, more often than not, their handiwork will end up destroying the box.

       Titmice will nest in cavities as high as 87 feet above the ground.  However, I recommend that your box be placed about 5 feet high.  This allows you to safely check, clean, and maintain it.

       I hope you decide to erect a tufted titmouse nesting box this year, if you do, you will help alleviate a shortage in tufted titmice nesting sites.  In addition, you will benefit by being able see tufted titmice as well as hear their pleasant peter, peter, peter call more often from spring through winter.

A SIMPLE WAY TO WINTERIZE A BLUEBIRD BOX

        Although those of us that live in Georgia do not have to withstand the bitter cold that winter brings to the northern sections of the country, it still gets mighty cold in these parts.

       When temperatures plummet into the 20s and below, simply trying to stay alive on a frigid winter night can be a life-threatening event for many of our wildlife neighbors.  One way in which we can assist birds such as bluebirds that roost in nesting boxes survive extremely cold weather is by winterizing nesting boxes.

       If you have erected a well-built nesting box, it is equipped with several 3/8″ ventilation holes drilled under the eaves of the box’s roof.  These vent holes are designed to dramatically reduce the temperature inside the box in hot weather.  However, during the winter vent holes allow heat to escape. 

       With that in mind, it is a good idea to plug these holes before the onset of winter.  By so doing, you will increase the amount of heat retained in a box.

       Now that most of us are getting our first taste of cold weather, there is no better time to perform this simple task than right now.

       When the last threat of severely cold weather has passed next year, do not forget to unplug the vent holes.

 

BACKYARD SECRET—SOME BARN SWALLOWS WILL KILL THE NESTLINGS OF OTHERS

       The barn swallow nests throughout the entire state. More often than not their mud nests are attached to some manmade structure such as a bridge, barn, or even on the side of a house. Aside from the fact that some folks don’t like the mess nesting barmy swallows leave behind after they have nested on the underside of a front porch, they are considered welcomed neighbors. In fact, some consider it good luck to have a barn swallow nest on the side of their house or barn.

                                                   BARN SWALLOW NEST

       When you delve into the nesting behavior of this popular bird a dark secret emerges. It seems that, from time to time, unmated male barn swallows will actually kill the young of a nesting pair. Right about now you might be wondering why such an act occurs. The answer is biologists believe unmated males commit this deed in an effort to mate with the mother of the young whose lives he has taken.

       Who would have ever imagined such a thing might take place in their backyard?

CONSIDER PROVIDING A NEST SITE FOR CAROLINA CHICKADEES

      More often than not, when people erect a bird-nesting box in their Georgia backyard they do so in hopes it will be used by eastern bluebirds. The truth of the matter is bluebirds do not nest in every backyard. For example, they typically refrain from nesting in cities. They also avoid wooded areas. They much prefer nesting in more open sites often found at the fringes of urban areas, and the wide-open spaces of the rural countryside.

       However, if your yard is characterized by scattered trees or the presence of nearby woodland, erecting a box there might be just perfect for a pair of Carolina chickadees.

       If you decide to construct a Carolina chickadee nesting box, you can build it to the specifications of a typical bluebird box with one exception—drill the entrance hole 1 1/8-inches in diameter.

       If, on the other hand, you want to buy a Carolina chickadee nesting box, you will probably find it difficult to find one. This problem can be easily remedied by purchasing a standard bluebird box and installing an inexpensive 1 1/8’inch hole guard over the traditional 1 1/2-inch entrance hole cut in the box.

       This will do a couple of things. First, it will prevent larger cavity nesting birds from nesting in the box. It will also prevent squirrels from destroying the box by trying gain access to it by enlarging the entrance hole.

FASCINATING BLUEBIRD ROOSTING BEHAVIOR

       It is well known that during the winter eastern bluebirds sometimes roost together in the same cavity or nesting box.  Although much is yet to be learned about this behavior, observations of bluebirds roosting in a nest box in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather provide us with insight into the fascinating roosting habits of this popular bird.  The event I am describing here took place in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather.

       Throughout this spell of frigid weather, as many as 14 bluebirds used a single nesting box as their nighttime roost.  It is interesting to note that while a number of other apparently suitable boxes stood nearby, all of these birds used the same box night after night.

       The roosting birds did not simply pile atop one another after they entered the box.  To the contrary, they carefully arranged themselves in two to three layers.  The birds comprising each layer positioned themselves so they looked like spikes on a wagon wheel.  Once each bird settled in, it faced toward the outside of the box.

       Birds arranged in such a manner would have little chance of suffocating during the night.  By so doing, the warm air expelled by each bird would also help keep the interior of the nesting box warm.

BLUEBIRDS NEED WINTER ROOST SITES

        Since the weather has abruptly changed from being more like autumn than summer, my wife and I have been seeing eastern bluebirds inspecting some of our nesting boxes.  I am certain the birds are not checking out potential nesting sites–it is much too early for that.  The birds may be just curious, or perhaps the onset of cold nights has triggered a search for suitable roost sites.

       In addition to the bluebird, a number of familiar backyard birds also roost in cavities and nesting boxes including screech owls, woodpeckers, tufted titmice, brown-headed nuthatches, and Carolina chickadees.  In the case of the bluebird, they typically roost alone in warm weather.  However, when temperatures dip below freezing, a cavity or nesting box might harbor anywhere from a couple to more than 20 bluebirds. 

       The advantage of nesting together is the birds share their body heat.  During an extremely frigid night, the additional heat offered by a group of roosting birds may spell the difference between life and death.

       With that in mind, as we enter the harshest portion of the year, keep an eye on your nest boxes.  There is a good chance one more bluebirds or other cavity-nesting birds are roosting in a box erected to provide a place for them to nest.

       The best times to look for such activity is late in the afternoon when the birds are going to roost, or first thing in the morning when they are leaving for a day of foraging.

       You can also peek inside a box.  If you see some downy feathers scattered about the bottom of a box, chances are birds are roosting there.