Whenever male rose-breasted grosbeaks magically appear at our feeders in the spring, it is difficult to mistake them for any other bird. No other birds are cloaked in striking black-and-white plumage and also display bright crimson red chevrons on their breasts. However, when they pass through Georgia in the fall, identifying them can be a challenge.
The reason for this is the adults are in their nonbreeding plumage when they arrive at our feeders. In addition, they are accompanied by adult and immature females, as well as immature males. Whereas immature females are difficult to separate from adult females, the still look pretty much alike.
Things are a bit trickier when it comes to distinguishing immature males from adult males. However, the best way to describe an adult male is that it appears to be a washed out version of an adult male in breeding plumage. In addition, there are subtle differences between adult and immature males that are often difficult to separate in the field. Immature males will look much like the females, however they will sport varying amount of a rose wash on their breasts that is buffier than the breasts of the females.
Most years I only see rose-breasted grosbeaks in the spring. However, others, like Ron Lee, entertain the birds during both seasons. Such has been the case again this year. Whereas Ron has been seeing these stunning migrants for quite some time this autumn, they have avoided my feeders.
Ron has been kind enough to share with us the accompanying photo of a male rose-breasted grosbeak. Ron took the picture taken October 10, 2020.
With time running out on their fall migration schedule I suspect Ron’s photo is the only rose-breasted grosbeak I am likely to see this autumn.
One of the most bizarre insects that inhabits our backyards is a critter known by a number of unnerving names such as the devil’s riding horse, devil’s darning needle, witch’s horse, and musk mare.
The names referring to horses relate to the fact that the much smaller male of the species is often seen attached to the back of a female. If you closely look at the picture accompanying this blog, you will notice a male clinging to the back of a much larger female.
The name musk mare refers to the insect’s ability to spray would-be predators with a foul-smelling fluid. It is believed this defensive spray helps thwart the attacks of ants, beetles, and even mice.
With that in mind, if you stumble across a devil’s darning needle, do not get your face too close to the insect. Should one happen to spray you; the chemical might cause temporarily blindness as well as irritation to your mucous membranes.
This insect is fairly large. Males may be only 1.5 inches long, whereas females can attain a length of 5 inches.
Even though this invertebrate may have been living in your backyard for years, you may never have seen one. However, your chances of seeing one are greater in the fall than at any other time of the year.
The places where you are most apt discover one of this fascinating insects are hidden in grass, secluded beneath the loose bark of a trees, as well as under logs, and other objects littering the ground.
Interestingly, in spite of the insect’s frightening names, it is not a ferocious, flesh-eating predator. It prefers instead to graze on the leaves of a variety of trees and shrubs including oaks, roses, rosemary, privet, and crepe myrtle.
I am surprised that, although I have spent a large portion of my life outdoors, I have never seen a witch’s horse. However, a couple of weeks ago my daughter found the two illustrated here. I guess that goes to show you can spend a lifetime watching wildlife and never see everything that is living just outside your backdoor.
Some 5,100 black bears live in the state of Georgia. While they are not what you would call backyard wildlife, during the warm months of the year, they are known to make forays into backyards in search of food. When this happens, it does not bode well for the bears or us.
Although black bears are seen throughout the state, biologists have discovered Georgia is home to three distinct bear populations. One population calls the north Georgia mountains its home. A second population lives in central Georgia in the Ocmulgee River drainage. Another population roams in and around the vast Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast corner of the state.
Naturally, those Georgians that live in or nearby any one of these populations has the greatest chance of having a bear show up in their yards. However, they can be seen in some unexpected locales such as urban areas like Atlanta and Macon. With that in mind, it is a good idea to know what you should do to discourage bears from visiting your yard.
Most black bears appear in backyards looking for food. Being an omnivore a black bear can eat just about anything. Since the animal cam possess an excellent sense of smell, thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. Also, refrain from storing household garbage outside. Bears are drawn to the intoxicating scents of cooked meat and garbage.
Bears are fond of pet food too. Consequently, if you feed your pets outside, don’t leave any uneaten food in the yard overnight.
Bears also love birdseed and suet. It is understandable why they are drawn to these delicacies. Both foods contain lots of protein and fat. In areas where folks are regularly plagued with visits from hungry bears, it is recommended that feeders be taken in at night. If you face such a problem, it is a good idea to clean up all uneaten food that collects below the feeders. Some people even go to the trouble of spraying the ground beneath feeders with ammonia in hopes it will help eliminate the scent of the seeds.
Once a bear locates a backyard that features bird feeders, it has found a bonanza. Where else can a bear gorge itself on a bounty of easily accessible food with little effort? Consequently, the bear will return as long as the food is available. The only way you can counter these feeding forays is to remove all potential food from your backyard. Even then, it may take some time before a bear moves on in its relentless search food. In its wake, it will likely leave you with damaged or missing feeders and bent poles that simply could not withstand the onslaught of a hungry bear.
If you do happen to see a bear in your backyard, do not try to approach it. Bears are much stronger and faster than you are. On top of that, why in the world would you want to approach a wild animal that can weigh as much as 300 to 500 pounds anyway? If a bear feels threatened, you stand a chance of being hurt. Fortunately, there have only been two verified cases of bears attacking humans in the Southeast, and to my knowledge, they did not take place in a backyard.
While the chances of a bear showing up in your yard are slim, many backyard bear encounters take place every year. If one does show up, make every effort to ensure this wild experience safe for you and the bear.
For more information concerning bears, email the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division at http://www.georgiawildlife.com or BearWise at http://www.bearwise.org. BearWise is an educational program designed by bear biologists from all of the 15 state wildlife agencies in the Southeast.
The click beetle is one of literally thousands of insects that inhabit backyards throughout the state. However, most of these animals live in anonymity. Today Kim Walton, the web master for this blog, spotted her first click beetle in her backyard. This unusual insect was seen on a deck post.
The large eye-like markings displayed by some species of click beetles give the insect an ominous look. However, the click beetle is not prone to bite or sting. In fact, if Kim had touched it, the beetle probably would have immediately fallen to the ground and played dead.
This insect is also known by a number of other names such as the snapping beetle, and skipjack. This is because, if place a click beetle on its back, it will flip itself into the air and land on its feet. This strange athletic fete is associated with a loud clicking noise.
At times while adult beetles are burrowing into rotting logs, and butt their heads against hard wood, their head butting creates a tapping sound. Legend has it this is a sign of death.
Adult click beetles feed on a variety of foods that include flowers and their nectar, as well as soft-bodied insects such as aphids.
The click beetles larvae are known as wireworms. The larvae are true predators that hunt the larvae of other beetles, and a wide variety of tiny invertebrates. They will also consume both roots and seeds.
Although click beetles are not as fearsome as they may appear to be, they are definitely a member large, diverse community of plants and animals that inhabit our backyards.
One of the things I most enjoy about writing a blog is receiving feedback from my fellow bloggers. These comments have definitely enhanced my knowledge of wildlife.
With that in mind, I want to share with you a message I received from a blogger that lives in southern Mexico. The communication was prompted by a recent blog dealing with gray rat snakes feeding on hummingbirds at a backyard bird feeder. The response to this posting provided me with a better understanding of the predators that feed on hummingbirds outside the boundaries of the United States. As you will learn, hummingbirds that live in this part of the world as well as hummers that winter south of the United States have to contend with predators, the likes of which few Georgians have ever imagined.
Blogger Pelicanbreath wrote, “I live in southern Mexico and saw a juvenile Mexican spiny-tailed iguana eating a hummingbird on the windowsill next to a feeder. I of course chased it away and then had to chase it away from two other feeders within the next two days (it’s missing part of its tail so it’s easy to spot). Since then, I’ve seen the lizard around but never near a feeder.
I’ve also had a problem with Ferruginous Pigmy-Owl predation. I’d seen them in the tree next to my house almost daily for years and I only recall one attempt to hawk a bird from a feeder. That is, until a pair of them fledged in the same tree – and grew up surrounded by hummingbirds. Since then, I’ve seen the owls take over ten hummingbirds.”
How would like to look out your window and spot a snake wrapped around your hummingbird feeder? This is just what recently happened to Upson County blogger Wanda Granitz.
Needless to say, the rat snake dangling from her feeder was not visiting to partake in a sip of nectar. It was attempting to grab a hummingbird or two.
Like most predators, snakes are very opportunistic. Whenever they locate a concentration of prey, they will try to take advantage of the situation whether they find an abundance of frogs, insects, mice, or hummingbirds.
There are many other critters that capture hummingbirds. These predators include bullfrogs, hawks, shrikes, cats, praying mantises, spiders, and others. However, aside from cats we rarely see hummingbirds capture one of these flying jewels.
Fortunately, for hummingbirds and their devoted fans, the unnerving sight of a snake curled around a feeder is not common. If you are like me, you have never witnessed anything like this in your yard. In fact, in all the years I worked as a wildlife biologist, I received only a handful of reports of snakes trying to feed on hummingbirds visiting a feeder.
However, if you do happen to spot a rat snake on your hummingbird feeder, one of the best things you can do to protect the hummers is capture the snake and move it some distance from your home. Do not simply release it elsewhere in your yard. If you do, chances are it will return to dine on these flying delicacies at a later time.
If American crows frequent your backyard, chances are you have witnessed them dipping food into a birdbath. Whenever we witness such behavior, we cannot help but wonder why a bird would go to the trouble of soaking a piece of food in water before gulping it down.
The truth of the matter is we are not absolutely sure fully understand the reason behind this behavior or why they do not do it all of the time. The most widely held theory is it is done to soften their food. This theory explains why they might dunk a hard, dry chunk of dog food or stale bread in water. However, for the life of me, I cannot see how this explanation explains why American crows also place dead animals such as birds and mice, animal bones, snails and even bits and pieces of roadkill in birdbaths.
Others suggest nesting crows dip bakery products and pet food in water prior to subsequently feeding them to their nestlings for a couple of reasons. First of all, it makes the food more palatable for their young. It is also is an easy way for adult birds to provide their youngsters with water.
Regardless, it is always a good idea to clean a birdbath that has been used as a “dipping” station by crows. Invariably, whenever crows are dipping their food in our birdbaths, it is very likely they are leaving behind bacteria and fungi that were clinging to the food. These microorganisms could be harmful to the birds that will later use the water to bathe and drink.
After Ron Lee sent me a series of pictures of a hermit thrush, I immediately knew what I wanted for Christmas — a hermit thrush showing up at my backyard feeders.
Although this thrush winters throughout Georgia, it is not a bird that frequents our feeders. The exception to this rule is Ron and Jennie Lee’s backyard. The Lees have hosted a hermit thrush in their backyard for several winters.
These winter visitors are drawn out of the thick shrubs surrounding his year by cornbread that is scattered on the ground.
The bird that has made the Lee’s backyard its home this winter has become exceptionally tame. When Ron goes out into the yard to replenish the cornbread the thrush will suddenly appear and begin feeding.
Ron says that a ruby-crowned kinglet has also developed a taste for cornbread.
My wife and I have been feeding cornbread to the birds for many years. Although this delicacy is regularly eaten by mockingbirds and other backyard diners, we have never attracted a hermit thrush.
Hermit thrushes are known to feed on the ground and in elevated feeders such as bird tables and trays.
Aside from cornbread, they are also known to eat sliced apples, doughnuts, cracked corn, pieces of pecans, suet, and peanut butter. White bread is also listed among the foods consumed by hermit thrushes. However, Ron reports that when he has tried to offer his hermit thrush small pieces of white bread, the bird tosses them aside and seeks out the cornbread.
Over the years, I have tried all of these feeder offerings without success. I guess I need to see if Ron and Jennie will share their cornbread recipe with me. In the meantime, I hope Santa will bring me a Christmas hermit thrush.
The Augusta Council of Garden Clubs, in association with the National Garden Clubs, The Garden Club of Georgia and the Azalea District of the Garden Club of Georgia is presenting Course I of the Gardening Study School. The school will be held at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park September 23-24, 2016.
This intensive course will focus on a number of topics relating to the world in which we live including environmental issues, networking and outreach, plant biodiversity, backyard wildlife habitat, historical actions and leaders, ecology, environmental science and sustainability.
I will be will be teaching the session on backyard wildlife habitats. My talk will deal with all facets relating to creating and maintaining diverse populations of birds, wild pollinators and plants in backyard settings.
Although the study school is designed for members of the Garden Club of Georgia wanting to attain recognition as an Accredited Environmental Consultant, the courses are open to the general public. http://augustacouncilgc.com/index.html For more information as to how you can attend the section dealing with backyard wildlife habitats, or the entire course, contact: Judith Kirkland at email@example.com.