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BACKYARD SECRET–NOT ALL EASTERN TOWHEES HAVE RED EYES

       When we are watching the birds living in our backyards, are we REALLY looking at them?  For example, the eastern towhee is a common backyard resident throughout the state of Georgia.  In spite of the fact that we are likely to see the bird scores of times over the course of a year, more than likely most of us do not know the color of an eastern towhee’s eyes.  This is because we rarely take the time to look at a common bird long enough to note any of its subtle features.

       The truth of the matter is throughout most of Georgia eastern towhees have red eyes.  In comparison, those towhees that reside in extreme south Georgia have white eyes (sometimes referred to as yellow eyes).  In fact, white-eyed eastern towhees also abound in Florida and south Alabama.  Towhees displaying both red and white eyes inhabit the vast area between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina.

EASTERN TOWHEE with red eyes

       Ornithologists believe that the first white-eyed towhees originated in Florida during the Pleistocene era. At that time, Florida was a large island.  When the seas began to retreat Florida was no longer an island.  This allowed populations of towhees with white eyes to move northward.

       If you live in extreme south Georgia, or in that portion of Georgia located between south Alabama and southeastern North Carolina, take a closer look at the towhees feeding on the ground beneath your feeders.  Who knows, towhees with white eyes may have been dining on your food offerings for quite some time and you did not even know it.  If you live elsewhere in the state, there is always a chance to you might see a towhee with white eyes too.

       As for me, I live in an area where I have a reasonable chance for seeing a towhee with white eyes.  Although I have been looking such a bird for decades, I have only seen towhees with red eyes.  Perhaps 2022 with be the year I will spot both. I hope so.

WHY DO BLUE JAYS MIMIC HAWKS?

       One of the first things beginning birders learn is when they hear what they are sure is a red-shouldered hawk, they cannot be certain the call is that of a red-shouldered hawk.  The reason for this is blue jays often mimic the call of this well-known predator.

       Recent research has revealed much about the mimicry practiced by the blue Jay.  For example, we now know blue jays do not just mimic red-shouldered hawks.  The truth of the matter is they also mimic other predators such as the osprey and Cooper’s hawk.

       It is apparent that blue jays mimic the call of the red-shouldered hawk in an effort to warn other jays living nearby that a predator is in the neighborhood.  However, some ornithologists believe that blue jays may also mimic the call of a hawk in an effort to scare other birds such as grackles enough that they drop their food as they make a hasty flight to cover.  Once the bird leaves, the blue jay can fly down and consume the acorns or other food left behind by the startled birds.

       If you have a theory that helps explain why blue jays mimic hawk calls, I would love to hear it.

WILL ANY NEW BIRDS VISIT YOUR YARD FEEDERS THIS WINTER?

       We backyard wildlife watchers have good idea what birds we will likely see at our feeders each winter.  For example, the lineup of resident birds that I expect to see at my feeders includes year round residents such as chipping sparrows, downy woodpeckers, house finches, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, eastern towhees, northern cardinals, and mockingbirds.  In addition, the winter residents that typically make an appearance at my feeders are ruby-crowned kinglets, as well as both song and white-throated sparrows.  Most years I never see a pine siskin or purple finches.  During those times when large numbers of pine siskin’s and purple finches invade the south, I might see them every day. 

       However, if you are like me, you are always on the lookout for a visitor that you have never seen in your backyard.  I know my chance of spotting one of these rare birds is slim.  However, according to an analysis of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count data, if this trend continues, our chances of seeing a rare winter warbler in the southeastern states might be increasing.

       For example, during last year’s Christmas Bird Count, a number of warblers that typically spend the winter outside our borders never left the United States.  This list of warblers these unusual winter residents includes the prothonotary, chestnut-sided, blue-winged, American redstart, yellow and Tennessee.

       This report has bolstered my hopes that one of these neotropical migrants will decide to spend some time in my yard.  However, even if one does not show up, I know I am going to have a great time watching the regular diners at my backyard bird smorgasbord.

GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS TO BE HELD AUGUST 20-21, 2021

       If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.  This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.

       This will mark the third year the census has been conducted.  Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey.  Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.

       The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part.  There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time.  Most counts are held in yards.  However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds. 

       The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.  Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (beckgri@uga.edu).

       The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.

       For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org).  When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.

      

WHERE CAN I FIND AN OFFICIAL LIST OF THE BIRDS THAT HAVE BEEN SEEN IN GEORGIA?

       Once people begin watching birds, there is a natural tendency for them to try to find out as much as they can about the fascinating feathered creatures that bring them so much joy.  If you find yourself in this category, it is only natural that you would like to know how many different species of birds have been seen in Georgia.  However, if you begin looking for this information you might find surprisingly difficult to locate.  However, this blog will lead you directly to the right place.

       One might think that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is the logical place to begin your search.  Such is not the case.  The organization that is responsible for maintaining the official list of birds seen in Georgia is the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS).

                            This bird is on the official list of birds found in Georgia

       This private nonprofit organization was established in 1936.  It is dedicated to the conservation of birds in the Peach State through preservation of habitat, promoting scientific research, printing bird-related publications, and education.  One of their goals is to maintain the official list of Georgia birds.

       Before a species is added to the list all available information regarding a sighting of a new species is carefully scrutinized by a select group of experienced birders.  Currently, 361 species of birds are on the list.  You can download the list by visiting the GOS website at https://www.gos.org Once there select Birding.

       When you visit the site, take the time to check out all of the great things that the GOS is accomplishing.  After you have done this, I would not be surprised if you decide to join this great organization.

A TIGER SWALLOWTAIL NECTARING ON ROCK FLOWERS?

      Today when I stepped out of my garage, I flushed a male eastern tiger swallowtail from my gravel driveway.  Later when I returned to the house, I found the handsome male tiger swallowtail had returned and appeared to be actively feeding on what might be described as rock flowers. 

       The answer to this question is obviously no.  Although we often see butterflies seemingly feeding on moist sand, soil, pavement, and rocks, they are definitely unable to extract calorie-rich food from these lifeless surfaces.

       The butterfly illustrated in the accompanying photo was actually using his long, coiled proboscis to sip much-needed sodium and other minerals found on the gravel. Often these minerals originate from the materials themselves.  In other cases, they originate from the unseen residues left behind by dead plants or animals.  Family pets or wildlife that urinate or defecate on the hard surfaces can also deposit the minerals.   

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.

A WEALTH OF INFORMATION CAN BE ACCESSED USING THE BLOG’S SEARCH ENGINE

       Did you know you can quickly access a wealth of information regarding backyard wildlife and plants without having to leave this blog?

       For example, if you would like information about bluebirds, coral honeysuckle or other backyard plant or animal, go to the bubble labeled SEARCH located in the right hand column.  All you have to do is type in the subject and hit return.  Instantly every blog that has been posted on the backyardwildlifeconnection dealing with that topic will appear.

       If you check it out, I think you will be surprised how much information is currently available to you. Also, this gives me insight and inspiration to write on various topics.

       If you have a backyard wildlife question or inquisitive about a certain subject, don’t forget to use the SEARCH!

Thank you to all who have been following my posts! Terry

CLOUDLESS SULPHURS SWARMING TURK’S CAP

        The cloudless sulphur is a common resident in my backyard.  However, from late summer into fall, it is one of the most abundant butterflies my wife and I see nectaring at the flowers growing in our flowerbeds.  However, the numbers of cloudless sulphurs we spot throughout most of the spring and summer pale in comparison to what we are seeing right now.

        A couple of days ago, as soon as I stepped out onto my deck, my eyes were immediately drawn to all of the cloudless sulphurs feeding or hovering above our Turk’s cap.  When I approached the plant it seemed cloudless sulphurs were everywhere.  This prompted me to try to count the multitude of butterflies that had congregated on this single, sprawling shrub.  This proved to be quite a chore, as I could not see the entire plant at one time.  However, after several attempts the best that I could do was count at least 28 of the large, bright yellow butterflies.

        The cloudless sulphurs had descended on this perennial shrub to feed on the nectar harbored in its brilliant red, swirled flowers.  

        Until recently, the clear yellow butterflies had to share this bounty of nectar with a swarm of ruby-throated hummingbirds.  In fact, before most of these amazing little birds moved on south toward their winter homes, rubythroats far outnumbered cloudless sulphurs dining at this drought-resistant shrub.

        This sight of so many clear yellow butterflies feeding at the stunning red flowers against a backdrop of dark green leaves is truly breathtaking.  However, as much as I wish this spectacle would not end, I know, from experience, I had better enjoy it while I can. Soon many of these butterflies will continue towards their winter home.

        If you want to set the stage for this colorful event in your backyard, make a point of adding Turk’s cap to your home landscape.  If you do plant Turk’s cap in your yard, have a little patience.  There is no way you are going to attract large numbers of cloudless sulphurs right away.  In my case, as the shrub grew larger from year to year, it produced more blossoms, which, in turn, caught the attention of more cloudless sulphurs.

        If you are eventually as successful in attracting as many cloudless sulphurs as I have been, I am certain you will feel your patience was handsomely rewarded.

BACKYARD NECTAR ROBBERS

A little more than a week ago while I was admiring the showy pink blossoms blanketing the large George Tabor azalea bushes encircling a chestnut tree in my yard, I noticed scores of large carpenter bees visiting flower after flower.  When I moved closer to floral show I realized that after the carpenter bees landed on the blooms, they immediately made the way down the outside of the blossoms to the junction of the petals and green sepals.  As it turned out, the hefty bees were robbing nectar from the large trumpet-shaped flowers.

       It seems carpenter bees are too large to fit through the throats of the bright pink blooms to reach the nectar located at the base of the blossoms.  Faced with this problem, most other nectar feeders would abandon their quest for the nectar. 

       Such is not the case with these carpenter bees.  These bees have the uncanny ability to obtain the nectar from the outside of a blossom.  What I was observing was the bees chewing longitudinal holes at the base of each bloom and then dipping their tongues into the flowers’ sugary nectar.

       Since I first noticed what was taking place I have closely examined a number of azalea blossoms and found any number of feeding portals created by the carpenter bees.  In addition, my wife saw a wasp using a feeding hole after the carpenter bee that created it left.

       Insects such as the carpenter bee are called nectar robbers simply because they feed on nectar without pollinating the flowers.

       If you would like to witness this odd behavior, on a warm, sunny day, look for carpenter bees flying about your azaleas.  When you spot them, watch where they go.  After they leave, look for the feeding holes created by the bees.

        I think you will agree you do not have to leave the confines of your yard to witness fascinating animal behavior.