WHEN DO BACKYARD BIRDS BATHE?
My wife and I maintain three birdbaths for the benefit our backyard bird neighbors. As you might expect, many factors such as season and weather influence when and how often birds use these manmade structures.
Although birds bathe in the winter, they often limit their bathing during frigid weather. On the other side of the coin, many species seem to increase their visits to birdbaths during hot weather.
A number of years ago, I happened across several wood thrushes bathing in a puddle that had formed in a country road during a sudden summer thunderstorm. To this day, I still wonder why these beautiful songsters chose to bathe immediately after the passing of the storm.
In addition, birds also seem to be influenced by the presence or absence of other birds. My personal observations suggest that some species seem to prefer to bathe alone, while others do not mind sharing a bath with other species. For example, when a mockingbird or blue jay flies in to take a bath, other species that are already bathing immediately scatter. It is obvious that they do not wish to bathe at the same as these larger, more intimidating birds. More often than not bathing chipping sparrows will leave when eastern bluebirds arrive. However, I have seen chipping sparrows bathe alongside house finches.
By the same token, birds of the same species often have no problem bathing with others. Northern cardinals often bathe together as do eastern bluebirds.
Birds can be seen bathing throughout the entire day. Some birds seemingly bathe immediately after leaving their nighttime roosts. By the same token, others appear to bathe just before flying up to roost for the night. In between, most birds are not hesitant to take a bath any time during day.
For some reason, I long harbored the notion birds bathed but once a day. I have no idea why I felt that way. However, studies involving color-marked birds have revealed that some species such as the tufted titmouse sometimes bathes as many as five times a day.
As you can see, we have much to learn about bird bathing. In an effort to quench my personal interest in this behavior, I have begun recording information regarding incidences of birds bathing in my yard. I guess that is the biologist coming out in me.
CAN HUMMINGBIRDS FLY AGAINST STRONG WINDS?
For days, our attention has been focused on Hurricane Irma and its unbelievably strong winds. During the last few days as we have been awaiting the arrival of this terrible storm, the wind has increased significantly. This has made flying difficult for the hummingbirds gorging themselves at our feeders. Although wind gusts have already exceeded 20 mph, they will dramatically increase as the storm races toward Georgia. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how strong the wind has to be to ground these tiny aerialists? The answer may surprise you.
Obviously, they cannot fly in hurricane-force winds. The truth of the matter is when biologist placed hummingbirds in a wind tunnel; they found they could not sustain flight against headwinds that exceed 27 mph. When the wind soars above this threshold, hummingbirds seek the cover provided by the thick foliage of a shrub or tree.
QUESTION: Do birds poisoned by Nandina Berries pose a risk to cats and dogs that eat them?
Answer: I have not been able to uncover a documented case of an animal being poisoned from eating a bird killed from eating nandina berries.
However, Bob Sargent, Program Manager of the Nongame unit of Georgia’s Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section has advised me that he talked to a veterinarian familiar with nandina poisoning cases. This researcher indicated that secondary poisoning is theoretically possible, especially if an animal consumes a bird that has just died (e.g. its carcass is still warm) or, if the dead bird’s crop is packed with nandina berries and the scavenger eats the crop. The reason for this is that the cyanide rapidly dissipates when it is consumed.
The veterinarian went on to say that, if a cedar waxwing eats just a few nandina berries along with other fruits and berries, it will probably survive the experience.
QUESTION: How can I capture a moth or butterfly in my home without injuring it?
Answer: Most of us have found a butterfly and moth in our homes. When this occurs, we are faced with the problem of trying to catch and release the insect without harming it.
Over the years I have tried a number of techniques. However, in far too many cases I ended up accidentally injuring or killing the animal I was trying to save. After much trial and error I have found two devices that consistently work the best for me.
Small, inexpensive butterfly nets can often be found in the toy department of our favorite store. Using such a net, you don’t have to risk injuring yourself or the insect even if it lands on the ceiling or high on a wall.
If the insect perches on a wall within arm’s reach, it can be caught in a clear glass. Simply approach the insect very slowly and place the open end of the glass over it. Then slightly raise the rim of the glass and gently slip a thick piece of paper under the rim. When the paper touches the legs of the insect it will usually take flight. When this happens continue sliding the paper all the way under the glass. Once you have captured the moth or butterfly, hold onto the glass with one hand and the paper with the other as you carry it outside for release.
Question: How Many Hummingbirds Am I Feeding?
During the summer months more hummingbirds visit our feeders than at any other time of the yard. As such, one of the most common questions that I get at this time of the year is, “How many hummingbirds am I feeding?
Surprisingly, it really isn’t that hard to come up with a good estimate of the number of birds visiting your feeders at this time of the year. All you have to do is to wait until you think you are looking at the maximum number of hummingbirds visiting your feeders at one time. Quickly tally the birds you see and multiply that number by 6. The result will be an estimate of how many different hummingbirds are visiting your feeders on that particular day.
For example, if you count 40 birds, you are actually feeding approximately 180 hungry hummers.
Remember this technique only works during the summer months when ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most plentiful.
This technique is based on studies that compared the number of banded to unbanded birds caught and marked in backyard settings at the peak of the hummingbird season.
QUESTION: DO THE BIRDS IN MY BACKYARD SWEAT?
No, unlike us, birds do not have sweat glands.
When we work outside on a sweltering hot, humid summer day, within minutes our skin and clothing are wet with sweat. Sweating helps keep us from overheating.
Since birds do not have sweat glands, they must rely on other means to keep their body temperature from reaching dangerous levels. One of the main ways they are able to accomplish this is by panting.
If you closely watch the birds moving about your backyard when temperatures soar, you are apt to see one or more pant. When a bird is panting it holds its bill open longer than it normally would and increases its breathing rate. This greatly increases the flow of air across the moist, warm surfaces of its respiratory tract. This helps dissipates the bird’s body heat.
As you might expect, you are most likely to see this behavior during the hottest parts of the day.
QUESTION: HOW DO I KEEP MY BUTTERFLY BUSHES BLOOMING THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER?
The butterfly bush earned its name honestly. This perennial shrub is a butterfly magnet. When a butterfly bush is in full bloom, it will often attract more butterflies than any other plant in Georgia backyards.
However, if you want a butterfly bush to continue producing a bounty of blooms that will feed colorful butterflies throughout the summer, regularly prune the shrub’s spent blooms before they produce seeds. This procedure is called deadheading.
The best way to deadhead a butterfly bush is to snip off all spent clusters of blooms down to just above the first set of leaves below flower. This can be best accomplished using a garden pruner or pair of scissors.
QUESTION: Is it possible to tell a male from a female monarch butterfly?
It sure is. All you have to do is to catch a glimpse of the top side of a monarch with its wings spread. Male monarchs will sport a dark spot on one vein running down the hind wing. Female monarchs do not this spot. The monarch shown is a male.
QUESTION – My yard is mostly shady and I am having a difficult time growing nectar plants for hummingbirds. Can you recommend a plant that I can grow in my yard that is both attractive and will provide nectar for ruby-throated hummingbirds?
Answer: You might be surprised to learn that the hosta might be the answer to your dilemma.
Hostas are grown by Georgia gardeners primarily for their attractive foliage. As such, there is a wide variety of hostas available to the home gardener. These plants vary widely in leaf color, size and shape.
Although some varieties will grow in the sun, most prefer partial to full shade.
What is often overlooked is that they also produce beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers that are laden with nectar. These blossoms range in color from white to lavender.
In addition, some varieties bloom earlier than others. With that in mind, if you are planning on planting hostas for hummingbirds, it is a good idea to select several varieties that bloom at different times. This will ensure that hummingbirds will be treated to a source of nectar throughout the sum