BACKYARD SECRET – PEOPLE DID NOT ALWAYS BELIEVE HUMMINGBIRDS MIGRATED

Nowadays it is difficult to believe that folks did not always believe ruby-throated hummingbirds migrated.  However, unbelievably, it would be safe to say that during the 1600s it was indeed the prevailing belief among the early colonists.

       There is no better proof of this than the Pennsylvania Cylopedia published in 1651.  This reference book states the lives of hummingbirds ended when the flowers stopped blooming in the fall.  Faced with a lack of food, hummingbirds would then simply thrust the sharp bills into the trunks of trees.  Here they would remain motionless throughout the entire winter.  Once winter eased its frigid grip on the land and the rejuvenating rains of spring drenched the land, hummingbirds would miraculously spring back to life and fly away. 

 

       Whenever I read such a bizarre story, I cannot help but wonder how such a belief surfaced.  Obviously, no one has even seen a hummingbird overwintering with its bill stuck in a tree.

SMALL TREES THAT WILL BRING FALL COLORS TO BACKYARDS

We Georgians know the fall foliage show in north Georgia far and away surpasses anything seen elsewhere in the Peach State.  However, there are a number of small native trees that grow throughout the state that display breathtaking fall foliage.  With that in mind, when planted in yard settings they can provide you and your family with a taste of fall color without making the trek to the mountains. 
FLOWERING DOGWOOD FALL FOLIAGE & BERRIES
Here is a short list of some of the small to medium-sized trees that you might want to consider will produce bright splotches in your backyard.
        Flowering Dogwood – Although this tree is well known for its beautiful spring blossoms, its fall foliage is stunning.  In autumn, the tree’s elliptical leaves vary from red to maroon.  Its bright red berries add immeasurably to the flowering dogwood’s autumn portrait.
        Sourwood – The fall color of this tree is bright red, and accented with clusters of green.
        Redbud – The redbud is plant more often for its purplish pink early spring flowers that its foliage.  However, in autumn, the tree’s heart-shaped leaves turn greenish yellow.
        Sassafras – The leaves of this small tree father either one or two lobes.  The two-lobed leaves look much like mittens.  Regardless of their shape, their red, yellow, or orange color rivals anything we see in the state.
        Blackgum – In addition to bearing bright red foliage in fall, this tree is a great source of food for many species of wildlife.

COYOTES IN MY BACKYARD?

       If you hear or see one wild animal in a western movie, chances are it is going to be a coyote.  Indeed, the coyote is synonymous with the western United States, which occupies a wide variety of habitats ranging from scrublands to open grazing lands.

       For a variety  of reasons, during the past century coyotes were released throughout the eastern United States.  As a result, nowadays coyotes can be found in Georgia and every other state east of the Mississippi River.

       This western import has proven to be extremely adaptable to the habitat conditions in its new home.  While most of the coyotes live in forested and farmlands, others have staked out territories in urban and suburban areas.

       As a result, it is indeed possible that coyotes will be spotted  in your backyard.  When I tell people about this possibility, their reaction is typically, “Coyotes in my backyard?  How can I reduce the chances that will never occur?”

       Recently Maureen Murray, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia, recently published the results of a study regarding the movements of urban coyotes in Edmonton, Alberta in The Journal of Wildlife Management.  The researcher’s findings may help us understand why coyotes visit some yards and not others.

       The study suggests coyotes seem to prefer yards that offered plenty of cover such as thick shrubbery.  They also more often frequent yards that were unfenced than those that are fenced.  In addition, the animals seem to be drawn to yards where seed litters the ground beneath bird feeders, berries  collect beneath shrubs and trees, garbage cans are knocked over, and where an open compost pile is located.

       Another interesting finding was during the study the coyotes that were most likely to be seen in yards during the daytime suffered from sarcoptic mange.

       Who would have ever thought coyotes would one day inhabit backyards in the Peach State?

BACKYARD BIRDS HELPED PASS THE TIME IN MIDST OF IRMA

      T his is my first blog since Irma bullied her way across the Peach State.  Although this once major hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time she reached my hometown, she still brought plenty of rain and wind.

       Like many of you, my wife and I lost our power soon after she arrived.  We were more fortunate than most as our electricity was restored only 29 hours later.  As I write this blog, many folks across the state still do not have power some four days after the storm departed.

       This left us with plenty of time on our hands since would could not tackle many of the tasks that occupy much of our time during a normal day.  As such, we spent more time than usual watching the birds in our backyards. Fortunately, for us, the wind never exceeded 29 mph; consequently, throughout the day birds remained active around our feeders all of the time except when wind gusts were strongest.

       With the rain pelting down and the wind tossing our feeders back and forth, the birds that came to our backyard cafe included house finches, cardinals, a brown-headed nuthatch, an American goldfinch, and lots of hummingbirds.

       The cardinals and house finches stayed the longest at the sunflower feeder and looked more bedraggled than the other seedeaters.

       As usual, the nuthatch would fly in, pluck a seed from the feeder, and fly to a nearby limb to crack it open.

       I expected a beautiful male American goldfinch, resplendent in his jet black and bright yellow breeding plumage to stay at the feeder and expertly remove a sunflower seed kernel from its tough seed coat; such was not the case, however.  The bird would remove a seed from the feeder, fly to the limb of a nearby weeping cherry, and extricate the oil-rich kernel before returning for another.  I had never witnessed this feeding behavior before.

       Throughout the storm, a dozen or more ruby-throated hummingbirds swarmed around our hummingbird feeders.  They seemed oblivious of the wind; regardless of its velocity, they performed aerial fetes that we typically see on a calm day.

       All of the birds displayed voracious appetites.  This necessitated the feeders to be replenished before day’s end.

       Watching the birds proved to be a blessing as it helped keep our minds off Mother Nature’s wrath.  The experience also left us with a new level of appreciation for our feathered neighbors.  These birds demonstrated they are much tougher than they appear.  In addition, their will to survive anything Mother Nature throws at them it truly remarkable.  In spite of the fact they exposed themselves to the wind and rain for hours on end, by the end of the day, they seemed no worse off than we were huddled in our dry house.

 

CAN HUMMINGBIRDS FLY AGAINST STRONG WINDS?

For days, our attention has been focused on Hurricane Irma and its unbelievably strong winds.  During the last few days as we have been awaiting the arrival of this terrible storm, the wind has increased significantly.  This has made flying difficult for the hummingbirds gorging themselves at our feeders.  Although wind gusts have already exceeded 20 mph, they will dramatically increase as the storm races toward Georgia.  With that in mind, have you ever wondered how strong the wind has to be to ground these tiny aerialists?  The answer may surprise you. 

       Obviously, they cannot fly in hurricane-force winds.  The truth of the matter is when biologist placed hummingbirds in a wind tunnel; they found they could not sustain flight against headwinds that exceed 27 mph.  When the wind soars above this threshold, hummingbirds seek the cover provided by the thick foliage of a shrub or tree.

CORAL HONEYSUCKLE BERRIES PROVIDE FOOD FOR BACKYARD BIRDS

Most homeowners are familiar with the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).  This honeysuckle is often referred to as the “good” honeysuckle.  It is so named because folks want to make sure it is not confused with the highly invasive Japanese honeysuckle.

       Coral honeysuckle is a native evergreen vine that  bears long, bright red tubular-shaped flowers throughout much of the year.  These nectar-laden flowers are visited by ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies such as the cloudless sulphur.

       What is less known is the plant also produces red berries that are eaten by songbirds and other wildlife. 

While this hardy vine does not produce an abundance of berries, they sometimes provide much needed food  during times when berries are often scarce such as during late fall and winter.      

HOW LONG WILL RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS BE WITH US?

       Throughout most portions of the state, the numbers of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting backyard feeders peaked a couple of weeks ago.  Although most of us are still hosting lots of hummers, it is obvious that these beautiful birds will not be with us much longer.  That begs the question, “When will the last of the rubythroats abandon our feeders?”  Here is the answer.

       We will continue to see good numbers of rubythroats for the next few weeks. The vast majority of these birds will be adult females and immature males and females. 

       By the end of the month, many folks will have seen their last ruby-throated hummingbird of the year.  However, some will still be seen during the month of October. RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS AT FEEDER - Blog - 1 Sept 2017

       If you see a hummingbird from November through the end of February, chances are it will not be a rubythroat.

       A very small number of ruby-throated hummingbirds do winter in the Peach state each year, but they are very uncommon.  In fact, the most common hummingbird seen during the winter in Georgia is the rufous hummingbird.

       With that in mind, keep at least of your feeders stocked with food throughout the year.  Late migrants will benefit from a readily available source of food as they wing their way south ahead of winter.  In addition, your feeders might be used by a wintering rubythroat or even attract one of the western hummingbirds that visit our state in winter.