Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

BACKYARD SECRET—THE HUMMINGBIRD DOESN’T CATCH FLYING INSECTS AT THE TIP OF ITS BILL

        We routinely see hummingbirds using their long slender bill to feed on the nectar stored in flowers and feeders.  However, most of us have never seen a hummingbird trying to catch flying insects.  Until recently those that have witnessed this fascinating behavior believed that the hummingbird uses its long slender bill to pluck insects out of the air at the tip of its bill.  Recent research has shown that this is not the case.

        Experiments conducted by Gregor M. Yanega and Margaret A. Rubega have discovered that the hummingbird actually catches small, elusive flying insects at the base of its bill. Two University of Connecticut researchers made this remarkable discovery by photographing hummingbirds feeding on flying fruit flies.  The revelation was revealed they used a video camera capable of recording images at a rate of 500 frames per second.

       The video revealed that as a hummingbird opens its beak to engulf its prey, its lower bill miraculously bends down from the tip to a point roughly halfway down this bill.  This enhances the chances the bird will capture a hapless fruit fly,

       Once again researchers equipped with modern research tools have demonstrated that when it comes to the natural world, often things are not what they appear to be.

BACKYARD SECRET—CPT. JOHN SMITH NAMED THE OPOSSUM

     Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum. 

     Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe.  When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.”  The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face.  However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted.  This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum.  Is this story true?  We may never know for sure.  What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD’S BRAIN IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

        I am truly amazed at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s memory.  For example, studies have revealed rubythroats can remember the locations of every feeder and flower they visit in our yards as well as how long it takes each flower to replenish its supply of nectar.  They can even remember the locations of the feeders and flower beds that provided them with food the previous year.

       Wow! It must take a truly large brain to accomplish such mental fetes.  In truth, the rubythroat’s brain is smaller than a pea.  While that is indeed physically very small, comparatively speaking it is larger than our brains or those of any other bird in the entire world.  Let me explain.

       The hummingbird brain makes up about 4.2 percent of its body weight.  This makes its brain is proportionally larger than the brains of all other birds.  In comparison, our brains comprise only about 2 percent of our body weight.

      

       

BACKYARD SECRET—ORCHARD ORIOLES OFTEN NEST CLOSE TO EASTERN KINGBIRD NESTS

     For reasons that are not fully understood, some orchard orioles will nest close to the nests of eastern kingbirds.  This might come as a surprise since eastern kingbirds have the reputation of aggressively defending their nests.  Well, many experts believe that this is the reason why orchard orioles will choose nest sites sometimes within mere yards from the nests of eastern kingbirds.

     It seems obvious that kingbirds do not feel threatened by North America’s smallest oriole.  However, when kingbirds fly out to confront a crow, common grackle or other potential avian nest predator flying close to their nests, they unwittingly also defend the nearby nests of orchard orioles.

 

    Some studies suggest that this behavior may translate into real benefits for the orchard orioles.  Studies have shown that, when the nesting success of orchard orioles that nest close to eastern kingbirds was compared with the success of those that do not, they discovered the nesting success of orioles that nest some distance away from eastern kingbird nests was lower.  In fact, there also seems to be a correlation between kingbird populations and orchard oriole populations.  When eastern kingbird numbers are high orchard orioles are more abundant too.

     

BACKYARD SECRET—GEORGIA IS HOME TO THE SMALLEST ORIOLE IN NORTH AMERICA

       The orchard oriole is the smallest oriole in North America. Since the bird nests throughout the entire state, we get to enjoy it in our backyards from spring into the summer.

       Orchard orioles are early migrants.  My first orchard oriole of the year arrived in my yard just a couple of days ago. Unfortunately for those of us that enjoy watching the colorful birds, many begin migrating southward as early as late July.

       Due to its small size, orchard orioles are sometimes mistaken for large warblers. Orchard orioles measure 7.25-7.5 in length.  A photograph of an adult female accompanies this blog.  The adult male has a totally different plumage.  Its plumage features a black back, hood and chest and chestnut-colored underparts.

       One thing I really like about the orchard oriole is that it sings a lot.  I cannot adequately describe the song. However, the Father of Bird Watching, Roger Tory Peterson, described the song as, “… a fast-moving outburst interspersed with piping whistles and guttural notes.”  Once you see and hear an orchard oriole singing it is easy to identify from then on.

       Although the bird’s primary foods are nectar, berries, fruit, and seeds, it will also consume white bread, cut fruit, and suet.  It also often drinks nectar from trumpet creeper flowers.  In addition, it also feeds at hummingbird feeders.

       I have been fortunate to have orchard orioles nest in my yard a number of times. Whenever this happens I get see them on a daily basis.  I hope a pair decides to nest in your yard so that you can become better acquainted with this fascinating bird.

BACKYARD SECRET–- THE BLUE JAY MAY NOT LIVE UP TO ITS REPUTATION AS A NEST PREDATOR

       Whenever we discover birds are nesting on our property, we always keep our fingers crossed that nest predators such as other birds, snakes, mammals and even ants might destroy eggs, hatchlings or even adults.  When we think about potential nest predators, the blue jay invariably comes to mind.  It has long had the reputation being a major nest predator.

       However, the results of at least one research project suggest that blue jays may not deserve their bad reputation.  This conclusion is based on the fact that blue jays devoured the eggs and young of only one percent of the nests destroyed by nest predators during the study.

BACKYARD SECRET—EASTERN BLUEBIRDS ARE BIG EATERS

      The eastern bluebird consumes an average of 0.14 ounces (4 grams) of food each day. This amounts to roughly 12 percent of its body weight.

       That may not sound like a lot when you consider a ruby-throated hummingbird can consume up to 50% of its weight daily. However, a two-hundred pound human would have to chow down 24 pounds of food every day to eat the equivalent amount of food as an eastern bluebird.

BACKYARD SECRET—RUBYTHROATS MIGRATE CLOSE TO THE GROUND OR SEA

      There is much we do not know about the ruby-throated hummingbird.  For example, most of what we know about how high rubythroats fly when they are migrating is based on anecdotal evidence.  With that in mind, it appears that ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate much closer to the earth than many other feathered migrants.

       What sketchy information available suggests ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate close to the land.  In fact, many appear to migrate very close to the tops of trees.  It is believed that this enables the tiny migrants to spot places where they can refuel before resuming their journey.

       This is not to say that some hummingbirds don’t fly much higher.  Hot air balloonists have reported seeing rubythroats cruising along upwards of 500 feet above the ground.

       Once rubythroats reach the Gulf of Mexico, they appear to wing their way along just above the tops of the waves.  This conclusion is based on sightings made by men and women working on oil and gas platforms far from shore in the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen seeing these tiny, feathered dynamos zipping along close to the waters of the Gulf.  These sightings appear to indicate ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate closer to the earth than many other migrants.

       Most small birds migrate at altitudes ranging from 500 to 1,000 feet. Raptors migrate anywhere from 700-4000 feet up whereas waterfowl migrate to and from their breeding grounds at altitudes of 200-1450 feet high.

       However, a mallard was once struck by an airplane flying 21,000 feet above the earth.