BACKYARD SECRET – THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY’S SENSE OF TASTE IS EXTREMELY SENSITIVE
A human’s sense of taste pales in comparison to that of the monarch butterfly. Here is an example of how much more sensitive a monarch butterfly’s sense of taste is to that of humans.
Researchers have determined that monarch butterflies respond to solutions of only 0.0003 percent. That is 2,408 greater than that of humans.
SPRING AZURES ARE NOW FLYING
One of the first butterflies to emergence each year in my neck of the woods (Middle Georgia) is the spring azure (Celastrina ladon). For the past couple of weeks these tiny butterflies have been patrolling the yard between my house and office.
The small (1-inch) butterfly has only one brood a year. As its name implies, its flight takes place in the spring. However, some years I have seen one as early as February.
From above, the butterfly appears to be powdery blue. One the other hand, the underside is light gray and sprinkled with black dots.
This butterfly is most common in the Georgia Mountains. However, it is less abundant in the Piedmont and rarer still in the Coastal Plain.
During its brief life (measured in days), females must locate a suitable host plant and lay its tiny green eggs. Chickasaw plum, coral honeysuckle and flowering dogwood are all spring azure caterpillar host plants.
It is interesting to note that during the time leading up time the females laying their eggs some observers have reported seeing spring azures circling around a host plant for long periods.
One of the most fascinating things about the life history of this butterfly is its caterpillars are often protected by ants. Apparently, the caterpillars secrete a substance that is attractive to ants. After the ants have eaten this odd food, they make no attempt to harm the caterpillars. Meanwhile, predators that find ants are so distasteful to some predators they will stay clear of the ants and caterpillars.
Who would have thought that ants would serve as bodyguards for the helpless caterpillars? Better yet, who would imagine that it could take place in your yard?
One final note, recent research suggests it is not as easy as it used to be to separate a spring azure from the similar summer azure. However, I will leave that story for another day.
A FEW BENEFITS OF FEEDING BIRDS IN SPRING
Often folks stop feeding birds once spring arrives. However, I am one of those bird-feeding enthusiasts that feeds birds throughout the year. As such, quite some time ago, I learned there are unexpected benefits to feeding birds after winter has released its icy grip on the land. Here are a couple of the reasons why my feeders remain full of seeds well after many winter residents have departed.
For the past weeks, every day my wife and I have been relishing the opportunity to watch male American goldfinches bedecked in rich black and bright yellow breeding plumage dining on sunflower seeds in our backyard. They are indeed far more colorful than they are in winter when they wear muted drab olive- green plumage. Every day we see at least a dozen or more of these birds. When we open the door to our deck and cause the birds to fly toward a weeping cherry growing in the back of the yard, the sight is indescribable. Then when they land, you have the impression you are leave you gazing at glowing yellow Christmas lights nestled in the tree’s green foliage to.
Spring feeding also gives us a chance to see two species of birds we only visit our yard in spring. The birds I am referring to are the blue grosbeak and indigo bunting.
The stunning blue plumages of the male blue grosbeak and the bright blue of the male indigo bunting are breathtaking. Although both birds nest throughout our county, we would never seem them in our yard unless we stocked our feeders with seeds throughout the spring. After a few days, they scatter across the county and settle in their respective breeding habitats.
If you ceased feeding birds a few weeks ago, restock your feeders and see what happens. Who knows? You just might see the three species I have just mentioned, or another migrant rarely seen in your yard.
As for me, I am waiting for the rare opportunity to take a photo the males of all three species feeding side by side. Now that would be a picture!
THE FLOWER FANTASY AT PANEOLA FARMS – DREAM
There is no better time to attend a festival dedicated to flowers than spring. One of the most unique flower festivals staged in Georgia is The Flower Fantasy at Paneola – Dreams.
This annual event will take place at Paneola Farms situated close to Ft. Valley. The dates of 2023 edition of the festival are April 22-23.
The Magnolia Garden Club sponsors the event. Proceeds will benefit the Garden Club of Georgia Scholarship Fund.
The centerpiece of this special event is a circa 1865 home adorned with some of the most unique floral arrangements you will ever see. Each room has a different theme that boggles the mind.
If that is not enough, you must tour the gorgeous grounds surrounding the house. The highlights of your leisurely stroll are visits to a number of gardens, full of a wide variety of flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other wildlife.
Two of the presentations scheduled for this year’s event should be of interest to backyard wildlife enthusiasts. Mary Ann Johnson from Growing Old will talk about the benefits of pollinators, what to plant in your garden, and how to care for them. This presentation will take place Saturday at 2 pm.
I have the honor of speaking Sunday at 2pm. The name of the presentation is Attracting Hummingbirds—A Recipe for Success.
For more information about this special event, Google… The Flower Fantasy at Pineola Farms – Dream.
I hope to see you there.
SOME OF THE SONGBIRDS THAT NEST IN YOUR YARD RETURN TO NEST THERE AGAIN
For the next several weeks, chances are migratory songbirds will be returning from their wintering grounds to your neck of the woods to begin their nesting season. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how many of these birds have nested in or nearby yard the previous year?
As it turns out, the chances are good that they will indeed nest in the same area. As you might expect, it varies from species to species. However, here are the percentages for three of these species: American robin – 70%, purple martin – 50% and male wood thrush – 60%.
It is interesting to note that research suggests that anywhere for 20-60% of the migratory songbirds are likely to nest in the same area for at least two years in a row.
I should also mention that birds seem to be more likely to nest in an area from year to year, if they successfully nested there before.
ONE MORE REASON WHY BIRDS STOP ON MIGRATION
Spring is an exciting time for those of us that enjoy watching birds in our backyards. At this time of the year scores of songbirds, visit our backyards that we rarely see at any other time of the year. Ornithologists have long believed that migrating songbirds use stopover areas, like our backyards, to simply rest and refuel before resuming their arduous migration back their breeding grounds. However, the results of research conducted by Swedish and German biologists suggest there is another important reason why birds drop in and stay in a location before moving on.
Ornithologists have long realized that the rest stops used by migratory birds provide an opportunity to replenish fat needed to complete their journeys. At these stops, birds try to consume as much food as possible in a least amount of time. They also use this time to rejuvenate tired muscles and reduce their heart rates. Researchers have recently discovered that the birds use these rest stops to build up their immune systems as well.
This is the conclusion made by researchers with Sweden’s Lund University and the Institute of Avian Research in Germany.
This finding is based on blood samples taken from a number of different species during migration. When they compared the immune systems of birds soon after they arrived at a stopover site with those of birds that have rested and refueled for a as little as a few days, they found the birds were able to restore many parameters of their immune systems. This, in turn, helps the birds maintain good health.
Arne Hegemann, a biologist from Lund University put it this way, “It is fascinating just how much we are still to learn about avian migration and exciting things emerge regularly. This provides an important part of the puzzle of how migratory birds cope with the physiological challenges they are faced with on their long journeys.”
EARLY SPRING IS A GREAT TIME OF FIND BIRDS MIGRATING THROUGH YOUR BACKYARD
I think you would be amazed to know how many different species of birds actually pass through your backyard in a year. Most of these are migrants that only visit your yard during their spring and fall migrations. Some of these migrants have already begun making their way north. With that in mind, now is a great time to begin looking for them.
Most of us do not take the time search the trees and shrubs that may harbor the birds. However, in the case of those birds that occupy deciduous trees and shrubs, they are often easier to find early in spring. This is because the foliage of these plants has not fully developed. Consequently you and often catch a great look at a bird before it vanishes.
One of the best ways to recognize that the birds are present is to listen for them. Since most folks are not familiar with the calls of birds that they infrequently see in their yards, they rarely realize they came through.
However, Cornell University’s free bird identification app named Merlin solves this problem. It enables anyone armed with a smartphone to locate and identify the birds calling in their yard. Once you have downloaded the app, simply turn it on and wait. As your smart phone picks up the calls and songs of the birds, their names pop up. Beside each name, you will see a photo of the bird. You can even access a recorded call of the bird and determine if the device was correct in its identification.
One thing folks have told me they like about Merlin is that it alerts them to the presence of a bird. If they did not know it was there, they would have taken the time to look for it.
During the past few days, I heard both red-eyed and white-eyed vireos in my yard. If I were not familiar with the calls, just knowing the birds were there would be exciting.
I hope you will try it. If you do, let me know if the app added to your enjoyment of backyard birds and/or helped you identify migrants that might have passed through yard unnoticed.
Honestly, this app can help make this a spring you will long remember.
WHY DON’T A BIRD’S LOUD CALLS DAMAGE ITS EARS?
When I stepped outside this morning, I heard the loud calling of a Carolina wren. In spite of the fact, I was some distance from the bird; the sounds it made were extremely loud. I can only imagine how loud they sounded to the calling wren. There are several reasons why loud vocalizations do not damage a bird’s ear.
To begin with, a bird’s ear is different from the human ear. For example, we have an outer, middle and inner ear. Birds, on the other hand, lack an outer ear structure. However, small feathers called auriculars protect the opening into ear. These specialized feathers offer protection for the inner ear.
Most birds sing with their mouths open. As such, when like the Carolina wren opens its mouth to call, the canal leading to the middle ear automatically closes. When this happens the air pressure increases in the middle ear. This, in turn, diminishes sound vibrations. In addition, the movement of the jawbone eases the tension on the eardrum.
Since we do not possess these adaptations, the only way we can protect ourselves from loud sounds is to wear proper ear protection devices.
In addition, when we damage the hair cells in our ears, we cannot repair them. Such is not the case with birds; they simply grow new hair cells that restore their ability to hear.
This is just another amazing example of how birds so well adapted to their environment.
WEIGELA – AN ATTRACTIVE SHRUB FOR HUMMINGBIRD FANS
If you are searching for an attractive shrub that attracts hummingbirds, you should give serious thought to buying a weigela (Weigela x Florida); it produces a crop of long-lasting, red, trumpet-shaped blooms. The blossoms grow singly and in clusters.
The shrub’s blooming period extends from late spring into summer.
This shrub is capable of becoming 6 to 8 feet tall and 9 to 12 feet wide. However, none of the weigelas my wife and I have grown in our Middle Georgia yard has ever grown that large.
The only weigela we have planted also goes by the name Old Fashioned Weigela. This variety bears red flowers. A dozen or more different varieties of weigela are on the market. While they may attract hummingbirds, I personally cannot vouch for them.
Weigela produces the most flowers when planted in full sun, however, it also grows in partial shade. Once this shrub is established, it is quite drought-tolerant.
If you have a problem with deer pruning your plants, you will be pleased to know that weigela is not high on the white-tailed deer’s list of preferred browse plants.