Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

BACKYARD SECRET – REDWINGS DO THE DOUBLE-SCRATCH

       This past week a couple of small flocks of red-winged blackbirds made an appearance at my bird feeding area for the first time this winter.  The birds ignored my seed and suet feeders and fed on the ground.  This provided me with an excellent opportunity to witness them perform the double-scratch.

       This is not a dance step; far from it, it is instead a fascinating foraging behavior. Ornithologists tell us that redwings, sparrows and some other birds use this maneuver to uncover hidden food.

FEMALE RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD

  As I watched the birds from my office window, I saw several of the redwings rapidly hop forward and back…twice.  Ornithologists say that birds exhibiting this behavior use their toes to latch onto plant litter and pull it aside to expose any hidden insects or seeds. 

       If you are lucky enough to see birds demonstrating the double-scratch in your backyard, you will know that they are not dancing but simply trying to locate food.

BACKYARD SECRET – HOW TO GET CLOSE TO A BROWN CREEPER

        For most of us, seeing a brown creeper is big deal.  In more cases than not, whenever one of these odd, curved-billed birds makes an appearance, we don’t have a camera or pair of binoculars handy and it is far enough away that we cannot tell much about it. Invariably, when this happens before you can get close enough to study it the bird flies away. 

       Here is strategy you might want to employ the next time see a brown creeper hunting for food on one of the trees growing in your backyard.  I will not guarantee it will work every time. However, if it works even once, it will be worth it.

       Once you have spotted the elusive bird, move slowly and position yourself directly behind it.  Once you feel you are in the right position, slowly move toward the bird. As you make your approach, do not to make any sounds or rapid arm or let movements.is because the brown creeper’s eyes are located very close to one another.  While this helps the bird locate food located in front of its head, it greatly reduces its peripheral vision.  However, it reduces the bird’s ability to see anything approaching from behind.

       Meanwhile, while you are waiting for the opportunity to try this technique, keep a feeder stocked with suet.  Occasionally this insectivorous bird will dine on suet offered in feeders.

      

BACKYARD SECRET – YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS LOTS OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF SAP

       One of the most common trees found in Georgia backyards is the pecan.  We Georgians do indeed love our pecans.  If you have a pecan tree growing in your yard, it is likely that its bark is tattooed with rows of sapsucker holes. Consequently, it is easy to believe that yellow-bellied sapsuckers dig sap wells primarily in pecan trees.  However, that is not the case. 

       The truth of the matter is that yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sugary sap that collects in sap wells chiseled in more than 1,000 trees and woody vines.  This list includes the likes of hickories, birches, maples, fruit trees, conifers, and many, many others.

 

BACKYARD SECRET – THE BLACK WALNUT TREE IS VALUABLE TO WILDLIFE

       I suspect that most of the folks that have a black walnut tree growing in their yards enjoy the tasty nuts the trees bears, its yellow fall foliage, and attractive shape. However, whenever I tell folks that their black walnut tree is also valuable to wildlife, they are pleasantly surprised.

       The tree serves as a host the banded hairstreak butterfly and more than 100 moths including the luna, royal and imperial.

       A number of small mammals eat the nuts including the eastern chipmunk and both gray and fox squirrels.  In fact, black walnuts can comprise up to 10 percent of the fox squirrel’s diet.

       Whenever black walnuts are cracked open by mammals, or crushed by vehicles in driveways or highways, many birds eat the highly nutritious meat.  In fact, black walnut meat is ranked as a choice food for the eastern towhee, cardinal, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, blue jay, and woodpeckers (hairy, red-bellied and downy).

BACKYARD SECRET ––TUFTED TITMICE USE ALARM CALLS TO WARN A PREDATOR IS NEAR

      You might be surprised to learn that tufted titmice use alarm calls to warn others that predators are nearby.  Surprisingly vocalizations reveal to others both the size of the predator and the degree of threat it poses.

       In experiments using models of predators ranging in size from the eastern screech owl to the red-tailed hawk, biologists found that tufted titmice reacted differently to models of different sizes.  The alarm calls voiced when faced with the presence of models of eastern screech owls were longer and contained more notes, than those made when provoked with models of much larger predators such as the red-tailed hawk.  Titmice also mobbed the eastern screech owl models longer than the red-tailed hawk.  In addition, the birds also waited longer before resuming feeding activities than they did after dealing with models of larger predators such as red-tailed hawks.

       The researchers surmised this was because smaller eastern screech owls pose less of a threat to them than red-tailed hawks.

BACKYARD SECRET—SOME BUTTERFLIES OVERWINTER IN GEORGIA

     This past week many of us woke up to below freezing temperatures.  Obviously, this did not bode well for the smattering of butterflies that were still visiting our backyard nectar plants.  While it did spell the end of the year for the majority of these butterflies, I am sure not all of them succumbed to the frigid weather.

     This is great news for those of us that enjoying seeing these flying gems fluttering about the yard as long as possible.  This short list of this hardy butterflies includes the American snout, eastern comma, mourning cloak, sleepy orange, common buckeye, little sulphur, and American lady.

     Most of Georgia’s 170-plus species of butterflies survive the winter as eggs, caterpillars, or pupae.  The vast majority of the monarchs and most cloudless sulphurs escape cold weather by migrating to warmer climes.  The adult butterflies that we occasionally see during the winter spend most of their time hibernating in such places as hollow trees, log piles, beneath loose bark on trees, behinds the shutter of our houses or in abandoned buildings.

     The butterflies that my wife and I have seen since the onset of freezing weather have been nectaring at red salvia plants growing in large containers hugging the back wall of our home.

     Butterfly lovers like my wife and I hate to say goodbye to the insects that bring us so much enjoyment.

 

BACKYARD SECRET—BIRDS CAN SLEEP WITH ONLY ONE EYE CLOSED

       Sleep is just as important to birds as it is to us. However, a bird’s sleep is far different from that we experience.  One way that it differs is birds can actually sleep with one of their eyes open. 

       A bird is capable of performing this unbelievable fete because half of its brain is fully asleep while the other half is only partially asleep.  In other words, the side of the brain with the open eye is only partially asleep.  This enables a sleeping bird to detect the approach of a potential predator.

       I find that truly amazing!

IS THIS FINCH SLEEPING?

BACKYARD SECRET—WHEN IS IT TIME TO REMOVE DEAD ZINNIA PLANTS?

        By this time of the year the zinnias in my gardens have, in large part ceased blooming.  While there are scattered colorful blossoms here and there, most of my once beautiful flowers and plants have been nipped by an early frost. All that remains of the zinnias are brown stalks and the withered remains of the flowers they once displayed to hungry pollinators.

       When each of us is faced with this situation, we must decide if we should go ahead and cut or otherwise remove the drab remains of these garden favorites.  Many gardeners immediately remove the dead plants in an attempt to beautify their garden.  However, I am one of those backyard gardeners that leave the plants standing.

       This is done because I realize that a number of birds dine on zinnia seeds.  Here is a list of some of the birds that eat the seeds of dead zinnias:  American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, house finch, purple finch, cardinals and pine siskins.

       I keep an eye on this unorthodox food source and remove the dead plants only after the birds have extracted all of the seeds they harbor.  When this occurs varies from year to year.

DEAD ZINNIA SEED HEADS

   With that in mind, I hope you will refrain from rushing out and removing your zinnia plants as soon as they are killed by cold weather.  If you leave them, you just may catch a glimpse of a bird feeding on the seeds located in the withered remains of the past summer’s zinnia blossoms.  If you do, you might find the dead zinnias not as unattractive after all.

BACKYARD SECRET – DIET AFFECTS COLOR OF MALE HOUSE FINCHES

  I am sure you have noticed that the amount of red on adult male house finches is highly variable. Throughout most of the year, what a bird eats affects amount of red it displays.  Specifically, the birds that consume foods containing large amounts of carotenoid pigments (e.g. fruits and berries) have plumages that are redder than those birds that eat foods containing little, if any, carotenoid.

     In addition, when a male house finch is developing new feathers, the fresh feathers are brighter tha those they replace.