Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

BACKYARD SECRET — THE CHIMNEY SWIFT HAS A VARIED DIET

       The chimney swift eats a large variety of insects and other invertebrates. Its diet includes the likes of ants, caddisflies, bees, wasps, and beetles. Some of the more unusual critters regularly consumed by what some folks call “flying cigars” are fleas, airborne spiders, termites, and even fire ants.

       It has been estimated that a pair of chimney swifts feeding three nestlings captures the equivalent of 5000 to 6000 fly-sized invertebrates per day.

BACKYARD SECRET–PURPLE MARTINS HELP CONTROL FIRE ANTS

       Purple martins are known to eat at least 79 species of insects including dragonflies, flies, bees, moths, and butterflies. However, I would be willing to guess you did not know they also dine on fire ants.

       It seems purple martins target mating male and queen fire ants. One group of researchers studying the feeding habits of purple martins found fire ants were captured during 32 percent of the birds foraging trips. The ants accounted for 31 percent of the insects taken. In addition, fire ants comprised 27 percent of the biomass consumed by the birds and their young.

       Based on these data, the scientists estimated purple martins consume some 1.7 billion fire ants annually across the United States.

BACKYARD SECRET—SOME BARN SWALLOWS WILL KILL THE NESTLINGS OF OTHERS

       The barn swallow nests throughout the entire state. More often than not their mud nests are attached to some manmade structure such as a bridge, barn, or even on the side of a house. Aside from the fact that some folks don’t like the mess nesting barmy swallows leave behind after they have nested on the underside of a front porch, they are considered welcomed neighbors. In fact, some consider it good luck to have a barn swallow nest on the side of their house or barn.

                                                   BARN SWALLOW NEST

       When you delve into the nesting behavior of this popular bird a dark secret emerges. It seems that, from time to time, unmated male barn swallows will actually kill the young of a nesting pair. Right about now you might be wondering why such an act occurs. The answer is biologists believe unmated males commit this deed in an effort to mate with the mother of the young whose lives he has taken.

       Who would have ever imagined such a thing might take place in their backyard?

BACKYARD SECRET–WHIP-POOR-WILLS WILL FEED ON THE GROUND

     The whip-poor-will’s ability to snatch large flying insects such as moths and beetles from the air with its extremely large mouth is legendary. However, it is a lesser-known fact that this accomplished aerial predator will also dine on food captured on the ground. Among the delicacies eaten by the birds while standing on the ground are worms, ants and a variety of other invertebrates.

BACKYARD SECRET–THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD POPULATION IS DOING WELL THROUGHOUT THE USA

       Experts estimate the breeding population of the ruby-throated hummingbird is roughly 20 million birds. It is interesting to note that at least 16.8 million of these birds spend a portion of the year in the United States. The population of rubythroats that nest in the Southeast increased one percent per year from 1966-2005.  Currently the ruby-throated hummingbird population in Georgia is considered to be stable. This is great news for the millions of folks that enjoy watching these amazing birds.

BACKYARD SECRET—LAWNS DOMINATE OUR HOME LANDSCAPES

        I recently stumbled across a sobering statistic. It seems that, if we are a typical homeowner living in the eastern United States, 90 percent of the landscape around our home is lawn.

       Most wildlife enthusiasts would find this figure depressing. However, if you view this green carpet as a giant pallet, think of all of the ways you can transform this sea of grass into a wildlife haven, you cannot help but be excited about all of the possibilities it provides.

       There is no better time to begin the transformation than right now!

BACKYARD SECRET–A CHIPPING SPARROW CAN HUSK A MILLET SEED IN ABOUT ONE SECOND

        I enjoy watching chipping sparrows feeding on white millet seeds. I am amazed how a chipper can daintily pluck a single tiny round millet seed from a feeder with its bill. However, I find it even more even more fascinating that, while it takes the tiny brown up to three seconds to husk some seeds, it can remove the outer coat of a white millet seed in only about one second.

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.

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.

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.