A wildlife friendly backyard provides homeowners with the opportunity to study wildlife without having to leave home. For example, our yards give us the opportunity to watch predators trying to capture prey as well as the techniques prey animals employ to avoid becoming a meal for a predator. With that in mind, have you ever wondered which method works the best?
In an effort to answer the age-old question, Joao Vitor de Alcantara Viana and his colleagues at Brazil’s State University of Campinas reviewed all of the scientific studies published between 1900 and 2022 that dealt with at least one concealment technique.
After perusing all of reports, they found that predators spend almost 60 percent more time finding camouflaged prey than prey that is not camouflaged. The researchers went on the say prey that mimic leaves, sticks and the like are less likely to be eaten by predators than those critters that simply blend into the background.
I find the behavior known as hoarding fascinating. Hoarding simply refers to an animal storing food for future use. Fall is a great time to watch hoarding. Over the years, I have enjoyed seeing blue jays, chipmunks, gray squirrels and red-bellied woodpeckers store caches of food in my yard. However, I have never been lucky enough to see a red-headed woodpecker hoard food. One of the main reasons I would like observe this behavior is that it hoards insects.
Like the other hoarders that hoard feed throughout my yard, red-headed woodpeckers store a wide variety of nuts and other seeds. They are, however, especially fond of beechnuts and acorns. The birds stash these bits of food away in traditional places such as under the bark of trees, cracks in railroad ties, wooden fence posts, and dead trees. However, on occasion, they will even slip food beneath the shingles on barns and houses. One of their favorite places to hide food in the cracks found on the flat surfaces of tree stumps. Interestingly, it is our only woodpecker that covers stored seeds with bits of bark or wood.
However, what I find most interesting is the fact that they will store both live and dead insects. They are especially fond caching grasshoppers and crickets. Often live insects are crammed into holes and cracks so tight that it is impossible for them to escape. I find that truly remarkable.
Perhaps this will be the year that I will witness the seemingly unbelievable hoarding habits of this intriguing bird.
In the meantime, if you have been lucky to witness red-headed woodpeckers hoarding food in your backyard, I would like to hear about it.
Yellow jackets are common backyard residents. Throughout the warmer months of the year, they actively hunt for food throughout our yards. If we leave them alone, they rarely sting us. However, if we are going to have a bad encounter with them it will most likely be in the fall.
One reason that you are more likely to incur a painful yellow jacket sting in autumn is there are simply far more yellow jackets around at that time of the year. All summer long yellow jacket numbers increase to the point that by the time autumn rolls around a colony may number anywhere from 2,000-4,000+ individuals.
Another cause is during the fall yellow jackets change their diet. During the spring and summer, their diet consists, in large part, of spiders, caterpillars, flies, and other invertebrates. Remarkably, yellow jackets are capable of capturing more than 2 pounds of insects and other invertebrates from a 2,000 square-foot garden plot. The protein that they bring back to their nest benefits the young that continually hatch throughout the summer.
However, as they days get shorter, yellow jackets begin switching to a diet rich in carbohydrates. Yellow jackets locate these sweet foods in tree sap, nectar, and the juice of fruits and berries. Much to our chagrin, they are also attracted to foods and beverages served at picnics and other outside gatherings.
At this time of the year yellow jackets, become more aggressive toward one another as well as people and pets. Consequently, they are more prone to sting without provocation. Since this behavioral change coincides with a switching from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates, some researchers suggest this may be the main reason for their aggressive fall attitude.
With that in mind, don’t go near yellow jacket nests in the fall. In addition, if one does sting you, just remember that a painful sting might be a small price to pay for an insect that helps control insects pests that prey on the food an ornamental plant growing in your yard.
I tried do take my own advice recently when I was the victim of an unprovoked yellow jacket that zeroed in on my arm. I must admit immediately after I was stung, I was not harboring kind thoughts regarding yellow jackets. However, as is often the case with many things, over time I got over it.
I am sure you have recently been enjoying waking up to temperatures in the low 50s as much as I have. On these special early fall mornings, I love stepping out on the deck and take in the sights and sounds that surround me.
One thing that I have noticed is no butterflies are visiting the globe amaranth, zinnias, garden balsam, and scarlet sage growing in pots on the deck. However, each day I have spotted small bumblebees visiting scarlet sage blossoms.
Being able to begin feeding before butterflies and other pollinators arrive is a definite advantage to the hard-working bumblebees.
Remarkably, bumblebees can fly when it dips down as low as 40º F. As such, since the temperatures in my neck of woods should not drop below 40º F for a few weeks, I will be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching bumblebees are hard at work for some time to come.