WHERE ARE ALL OF THE BUMBLEBEES?

        Have you ever wondered why you don’t see many bumblebees in early spring?  In fact, in my case, when I spot my first large bee of the year, I automatically call it a bumblebee.   However, more often than not, the bee turns out to be a carpenter bee.  Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees have shiny, hairless abdomens and frequently hover.

       The truth of the matter is very few bumblebees are flying about in early spring. It seems the only bumblebees we see at this time of the year are queens (fertilized females).  All of the other members of their colony died when the flowers disappeared the previous year.

       Queens are able to survive frigid temperatures is because a chemical called glycol flows through their bodies.  This substance prevents the bumblebees’ blood from freezing.

       Once spring arrives and temperatures rise, even a few degrees above freezing, the queens emerge.  When you do see them they are either trying of find flowers where they can consume much-needed food, or looking for burrows where they can lay their eggs and begin a new colony.  At times, they will even nest in above ground cavities such as bird nesting boxes.

 

 

FINDING SOURCES OF NATIVE PLANTS CAN BE DIFFICULT

       Interest in incorporating native plants into home landscapes has never been greater.  However, homeowners often tell me they want to plant natives in their yards; however, they simply cannot find them.

       Indeed, this is a problem in many areas in the state.  It seems most nurseries stock few, if any native plant.  However, there are nurseries that sell native when.  The problem is most people do not know who or where they are.

       In an effort to remedy this situation, I am creating a list of nurseries that sell plants native to Georgia.

       The first nursery on the list is Vincent Gardens (vincentgardens.com).  This nursery is located in Douglas, Georgia. 

       While plants can be bought at the nursery, they do a brisk mail order business.

       When you visit their colorful and informative website, you will find scores of plants; most of these plants are native to Georgia.  Each plant has some value to wildlife.

       Most plants are illustrated with a color photo.  Accompanying the photo is a details description of the plant’s foliage type, hardiness zone, light preference, mature height and growth type, soil preference, blooming time, wildlife use, and whether or not it is a larval host plant.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: MANY SPECIES DINE AT OUR FEEDERS

       More than 350 species of birds are known to visit backyard feeders in North America.  Some 170 species regularly dine at feeders.       

       These astounding numbers were derived from data collected by the thousands of citizen scientists that have participated in Project FeederWatch.

       This ongoing study is sponsored by The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, The National Audubon Society, and The Canadian Nature Federation.

       How many species of birds do you feed at your feeders?

CAROLINA CHICKADEES USE NEST BOXES TOO

       A few weeks ago, I found a small patch of yellow crocus blooming in my yard.  A few days later, a handful of daffodils displayed their floral finery.  This was followed up with the blooming of a few narcissuses.  Whenever the blossoms of these hardy plants appear for the first time, each year I know that winter is loosening its icy grip on the land and spring is anxiously awaiting its chance to take center stage.

       This is also the time I begin thinking about bird boxes.  If this is the case with you, instead of putting up another nest box for bluebirds this year, why not erect one for Carolina chickadees?  They face a housing shortage too.

       I know that you are familiar with the Carolina chickadee.  This is the bird that is so proud of its name it constantly repeats it.  If you spend anytime outside in Georgia, you have heard the bird’s chick-a-dee-dee call

       The Carolina chickadee is a feathered sprite measuring only 4 ¼” long.  Its distinctive black cap and bib, gray wings and white underside are recognized by Georgians that have only a passing interest in birds.  This bird can be viewed without the aid of a pair of binoculars since it often allows us to approach within a few feet before flying away.  This is especially true when it visits our feeders.

       The Carolina chickadee is a cavity nester like woodpeckers, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, great crested flycatchers, and wood ducks.  As is the case with all birds that nest in cavities, with each passing year, they are finding it more difficult to find a place to nest and raise their young.

       In the case of the Carolina chickadee, it prefers to nest in natural  tree cavities and the abandoned nest sites of woodpeckers.  However, if they don’t find a cavity that suits their needs, they will either enlarge an existing nest site or fashion a new one.

       Homeowners can help alleviate this housing shortage in a couple of ways.  We can retain dead trees where they don’t pose a threat to humans or property.  However, since this isn’t always possible we can erect artificial nesting boxes for them.

       Most nesting boxes erected in the Peach State were built with bluebirds in mind. In comparison, very few boxes are crafted specifically for Carolina chickadees. Although, chickadees use the larger bluebird boxes, most of them are never used as chickadee nesting sites.

       One of the main reasons for this is Carolina chickadees and bluebirds prefer to nest in different places. Bluebirds like to nest in open spots.  On the other hand, chickadees prefer open woodlands and along woodland edges.

       If you have a yard that features scattered trees or borders a wooded tract, and would like to try to become a chickadee landlord this spring, erect a nest box among the hardwoods and pines.  Here you can erect either a bluebird box or a specially designed Carolina chickadee nesting box.

       A Carolina chickadee nesting box should have the following dimensions:  the interior floor should measure 4 inches by 4 inches, and a 1 1/8-inch entrance hole should be drilled in the front of the box 6 to 8 inches above the floor.

       The small entrance hole will prevent larger birds from competing with the chickadees for the use of the nest site. 

       Also, if you erect a bluebird box with an 1 ½-inch entrance hole or a chickadee box, install a steel hole guard around the entrance hole.  This will prevent flying or gray squirrels from enlarging the hole and ruining the box.

       Boxes should be erected on a metal pole 5 – 10 feet above the ground.  Equip each pole with a predator guard.  This will help ensure a pair of chickadees’ nesting attempt will not be in vain.

       This spring, should you happen to check a box housing a parent incubating eggs, don’t be alarmed when you lift the lid and hear what sounds like the hissing of a copperhead.  More than likely, you are hearing an alarm call being uttered by an incubating chickadee.  It is thought that the birds make this sound to deter nest predators.

       However, if you hear a buzzing sound coming from inside the box, you had better beware.  Bumblebees that typically nest in the ground occasionally build their nests in abandoned chickadee nests.

       I hope that you will offer free housing to a pair of chickadees this year. This backyard neighbor is an important member of a complex community of plants and animals that make our backyards such special places and they are fun to watch!

 

AN EASY WAY TO LEARN BIRD SONGS AND CALLS

Over the past few weeks, birds have been serenading us with a chorus of songs.  More often than not, we never catch a glimpse of the songsters that are filling the air with their pleasing notes.  This can be frustrating if we cannot identify birds by their songs and calls.

       Learning to identify the vocalizations of birds can seem impossible when you consider Georgia is home to hundreds of species of birds.  For many, the easiest way to begin learning bird songs and calls is to translate these sounds into words.

       If you are interested in trying this technique, here is a short list of translations you might find helpful.

Northern Cardinal – cheer, cheer, cheer; purty, purty, purty or

what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer

Eastern Bluebird – cheer, cheerful, charmer

Eastern Towhee – drink-your-teeee  or tow-whee

Tufted Titmouse – peter, peter, peter

BACKYARD SECRET: BLUEBIRDS NESTING

        In Georgia, bluebirds will begin nesting as early as late February.  However, throughout most of the state, bluebirds typically do not initiate nesting until March.    

       Bluebird expert Ron Lee has recorded bluebirds nesting on his property located just south of Atlanta in Henry County as early as the second week in March.

       It is obvious; if you have been planning to put up a bluebird box or two, do not delay any longer.