BACKYARD SECRET–AMERICAN ROBINS WERE ONCE SHOT FOR FOOD

       In this day and time, it does not seem possible that the American robin was once shot for food however, it is true. It seems that up until the adoption of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on March 4, 1913, each year thousands of robins were legally harvested for food.  

       This practice was more common in the South than anywhere else was in the country. The reason for this is large flocks of robins spend the winter throughout the Southeastern United States. Some of these flocks are tremendous in size. One year on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Christmas Bird Count, observers recorded an estimated 2 million birds flying southward along the Ocmulgee River.

       While I have never personally eaten one of these large songbirds, I once worked with a colleague that grew up in rural Arkansas. He said that each year his mother canned American robins shot by members of his family. According to him, the birds were quite tasty.

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER IS NOT A FEEDER BIRD

       Spotting a black-and-white warbler is always a treat. Seeing one in your backyard is something extra special, especially in the winter. In my case, most years I can count the number of times I see this bird on the fingers of one hand.

       I have never heard of anybody saying they attracted a black and white warbler to a feeder. However, since the bird eats insects, I suspect, if one did show up, it would come to a suet feeder.

       Black-and-white warblers nest each summer above the Fall Line. However, even then most of the folks that live in the upper portion of the state often do not see the bird. However, in the winter, those Georgians that live south of the Fall Line have a better chance of seeing the bird than those living elsewhere. It is amazing to me that any of them choose to winter in the Peach State as the vast majority of their kin winter in the warmer climes of Central America, the West Indies, and Cuba.

       The male black-and-white warbler’s back, head, and flanks are adorned with bold black and white stripes. The female appears to be a pale version of the male.

       Since black-and-white warblers are definitely not feeder birds, if you want to enhance your chances of seeing the bird in your backyard this winter, you need to know something about its feeding habits. First keep in mind the black-and-white warbler is a loner. Also, do not look for this warbler feeding on the ground or on the small tree branches. This reason for this is the primary feeding grounds for this hardy bird are the trunks and large branches of trees. In fact, it is our only warbler that regularly feeds in such locations.

       If you regularly look for this bird in the right places, you just might spot one this winter. If you do, please let me know. As for me, I have been vainly looking for the bird all winter.

WARNING: CONDITIONS ARE PERFECT FOR THE SPREAD OF DISEASE AROUND BIRD FEEDERS

      For days, Georgia has experienced exceptionally warm and wet weather. This weather has caused a host of problems for backyard gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts. Who would have ever thought that during mid-January, regardless of where we live in the Peach State, we would be dealing with temperatures soaring into the 70s and a continuous dose of rain ranging from a heavy mist to severe thunderstorms?

       As a result, in my yard, daffodils are blooming far too early. Blanket flowers and sweet alyssum are also blooming and garden plants are sprouting in my flowerbeds. These developments do not bode well for many of these plants, as next week they will suffer when temperatures plummet into the 20s.

       We should also be concerned about the health of the birds visiting our feeders. It has been so warm and wet seeds in hopper, tube, and platform feeders are sprouting before the birds have a chance to eat them. In addition, any birds dining on our seed offerings in or below our feeders can be exposed to deadly bacterial and fungal diseases. The reason for this is warm, moist weather creates a perfect environment for the spread of salmonella and aspergillosis and other diseases; they thrive on wet seeds and discarded seed hulls.

       With that in mind, we all need to assess feeding conditions at our seed feeders. If we think we might have a problem, we need to act promptly to remedy the situation before we begin to see sick and dead birds in our yards.

       For more information on how you can deal with this problem, go to the Search bubble on the right side of the blog. Type in Feeders and hit return key; immediately all of the blogs I have written concerning addressing problems at bird feeders will pop up.

      

BATHING IN WINTER HELPS BIRDS KEEP WARM

       Remarkable as it may sound birds bathe in the winter to keep warm. In fact, bathing during this our coldest season of the year is actually more important to birds than it is in summer. This may seem hard to fathom at first. However, when you stop and think about it, bathing at this time of the year makes a lot of sense.

       A bird’s feathers help insulate it from the cold. These feathers provide the most insulation when they are clean and properly groomed. If you were to look at the feather of a bird through a microscope, you would find that each feather is equipped with a myriad of tiny barbs or hooks. The barbs on adjacent feathers interlock with one another forming barrier that helps to hold body heat in and cold air out.

       As a bird goes about feeding and flying, these barbs become “unzipped.” When this occurs, the feathers’ ability to insulate a bird from frigid weather diminishes.

       After a bird takes a bird in your birdbath, it will spend considerable time preening its feathers. During this process, the bird uses its bill interlock the feathers once more. Once this task is accomplished, the bird is better able to deal with winter’s blustery weather.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–THE MOST COMMONLY SEEN BIRDS IN AMERICAN CITIES ARE NOT NATIVE TO NORTH AMERICA

      Would you believe the three birds most commonly seen in American cities are not native to North America? Each one of these birds were brought to the United States by our ancestors. It is true. The short list of birds that have found ways to thrive in these manmade habitats are the European starling, house sparrow, and rock pigeon.

HELP NEEDED WITH CLIMATE WATCH

       Over the years, volunteers have played important roles in a number of bird surveys such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch, The Hummingbird Helper Survey, Breeding Bird Survey, and The Great Backyard Bird Count. Now The National Audubon Society has put out the call for help with a new project called Climate Watch.

       The survey seeks to determine how certain birds are possibly being affected by climate change. The National Audubon Society has developed a climate model. Specifically Climate Watch is designed to learn whether certain birds are moving in accordance to the projections made by their model.

       Six of the species that are targeted in the survey are found in Georgia. These birds are the eastern bluebird, white-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed nuthatch, American goldfinch, painted bunting, and eastern towhee.

       The Audubon Society emphasizes that you do not have to be an expert birder to take part in the study. You simply have to be able to identify these species by sight and sound.

       The survey will be conducted during two separate times. These segments are January 15-February 15 and May 15-June 15.

       For information regarding the survey, simply Google Climate Watch. If you think you might like to take part in this effort, don’t procrastinate as the start of the survey is just days away.

THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD LOTTERY

       Most folks are under the impression that Georgia’s Hummingbird Season runs from March through October. While you are most apt to see a ruby-throated hummingbird within this time frame, more species of hummingbirds are actually spotted in the Peach State during our second Hummingbird Season. This special time of the year extends from November through February. The hummingbird most commonly seen at this time of the year is the rufous.

       This hummingbird is roughly the size of the rubythroat. From a distance, the male rufous hummingbird looks like it has been dipped in cinnamon. This is because, in most cases, its head, nape, back, and chest are rufous. The bird’s tail is also mostly rufous; however, the tips of its tail feathers are black. The adult male’s gorget is red. Females and immature males have predominately-green heads and backs. Both have white breasts, however, females display varying amounts of a rufous wash. The base of the tails of both birds is rufous too. Like the adult male, the tips of the tail feathers are black. The throat of the adult female is white and features a central spot of coppery orange feathers. The throat of the immature male is streaked and displays varying amounts of red gorget feathers.

       The rufous hummingbird nests from the northwestern contiguous United States northward to southern Alaska. Most rufous hummingbirds winter in Mexico. However, some also annually winter in the Southeast.

       Wintering rufous hummingbirds have been seen throughout the entire state. These are not birds that were blown off course on their way south. Some of these birds return year-after-year to this area of the country.

       The best way to see one of these birds is to keep a partially filled feeder stocked with fresh sugar water throughout the winter. Most people that maintain a feeder in hopes of attracting one of the uncommon western migrants are not rewarded for their efforts. However, when one does magically appear, you feel like you have won the Georgia Lottery.

       Let me know if you are lucky enough to host a rufous hummingbird this winter.

FASCINATING BLUEBIRD ROOSTING BEHAVIOR

       It is well known that during the winter eastern bluebirds sometimes roost together in the same cavity or nesting box.  Although much is yet to be learned about this behavior, observations of bluebirds roosting in a nest box in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather provide us with insight into the fascinating roosting habits of this popular bird.  The event I am describing here took place in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather.

       Throughout this spell of frigid weather, as many as 14 bluebirds used a single nesting box as their nighttime roost.  It is interesting to note that while a number of other apparently suitable boxes stood nearby, all of these birds used the same box night after night.

       The roosting birds did not simply pile atop one another after they entered the box.  To the contrary, they carefully arranged themselves in two to three layers.  The birds comprising each layer positioned themselves so they looked like spikes on a wagon wheel.  Once each bird settled in, it faced toward the outside of the box.

       Birds arranged in such a manner would have little chance of suffocating during the night.  By so doing, the warm air expelled by each bird would also help keep the interior of the nesting box warm.

THE ROBIN IS THE SUBJECT OF A CHRISTMAS LEGEND

       Over the centuries, a number of wildlife-related legends regarding the birth of Christmas have surfaced. Perhaps you have heard the one that explains why the robin has a red breast.

       Supposedly, Mary was concerned that the small fire that was burning in the stable where she gave birth to Christ was not providing the newborn baby with enough warmth. Consequently, when a robin flew into the stable to escape the winter’s chill, Mary asked the bird if it could fan the fire. In response to her plea, the robin flew down, stood beside the fire, and began rapidly flapping its wings. As the bird continued to beat its wings, the fire grew brighter. Soon the flames leaped upward filling the stable with both light and much-needed heat. Since the robin was standing so close to the now raging fire, the bird’s breast turned dark red.

                                                  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BACKYARD SECRET – STARLINGS FREQUENT RED-BELLIED WOOPECKER CAVITIES

       Woodpeckers excavate cavities for nesting and roosting. These tree hollows are also essential to birds that cannot chisel out their wood-lined nesting sites. Among the birds that nest in abandoned woodpecker holes are backyard favorites such as tufted titmice and eastern bluebirds. Unfortunately, these cavities are highly prized by non-native birds such as the European starling.

       The truth of the matter is in most parts of state, demand for natural cavities far exceeds the availability of such natural nesting sites. When an aggressive alien bird such as the starling competes with these a native bird for the same cavity, the starling invariably wins out, often leaving the native bird without a place to nest.

       It is a sobering fact that starlings usurp half of all cavities created by red-bellied woodpeckers.