Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

BACKYARD SECRET — BLUE JAYS HOARD CHIPS OF PAINT

       It is a well-known fact that many birds, including blue jays, hoard food.  However, some blue jays take hoarding to a new level.  It seems that at times blue jays will actually hoard chips of paint plucked from the sides of houses and other buildings.

       Nobody knows for sure why these large, handsome birds would ever want to hoard paint chips.  However, some suggest they are use the chips as a source of calcium.  Who knows?

BACKYARD SECRET — WHERE DOES THE DOWNY WOODPECKER GET ITS NAME?

        There are at least two different explanations as to why our smallest woodpecker is named the downy woodpecker. 

       Some say the bird’s name refers to the downy white feathers that run down its back.  These feathers contrast with the thicker, dark feathers that cover the rest of the bird’s back.

       Others suggest that the bird is named for the downy nasal feathers seen around the base of the bird’s bill.

BACKYARD SECRET — THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD IS A MIGRATION CHAMPION

      Each winter a smattering of rufous hummingbirds spend the winter in backyards throughout Georgia.  In fact, the rufous has the distinction of being our most common hummingbird during this time of the year. That being the case, I thought you would like to know that this tiny bird also holds title of being the North American bird migration champion.

       Each year the rufous hummingbird’s annual migration takes it from its breeding range along the Pacific Coast of North America as far north as southeastern Alaska, to its winter home in Mexico and back again.  Scientists have estimated that, in order to accomplish this phenomenal athletic fete, the rufous hummingbird flies approximately 49 million times its body length (3.75″).  When this figure is compared to the distances flown by other North American birds relative to their body lengths, it turns out that the rufous hummingbird makes the longest migration of any North American bird.

BACKYARD SECRET – MOST RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS THAT WINTER IN GEORGIA ARE LIKELY MALES

      Remarkably, close to three-fourths of the ruby-crowned kinglets captured during banding operations conducted in Florida throughout the years have been females.  This has lead ornithologists to suggest that more than likely male ruby-crowned kinglets winter farther north than do females.

       Consequently, there is a good chance most of the ruby-crowned kinglets we see in our backyards here in Georgia during the winter months are males.  Unfortunately, the only safe way for us to tell which is which is to see the scarlet red crest found only on the males.  The problem is the male only displays his flashy, colorful crown when he is agitated. This apparently does not happen very often since many birders have told me they have never seen the male’s crown.  It defies the laws or probability that they are only looking at females.

       Until banding studies reveal the sex ratio of the ruby-crowned kinglets wintering in Georgia, the majority of the times we see this sprite of a bird we are going to have to be content in not knowing whether we are looking at a male or female.  That will not bother me, as I am always pleased to just being fortunate enough to host this winter guest in my backyard.

BACKYARD SECRET — BLUE JAYS ARE NOISIER IN THE FALL AND WINTER

      Have you ever taken a walk through the woods on a crisp fall or winter day and found that you were constantly assailed by the loud, raucous calls of blue jays?  If you have, chances are you wondered if it was your imagination that these large, handsome birds seem to call more frequently at this time of the year than in spring and summer.  The truth of the matter is blue jays do indeed call more often during autumn and winter.

       I have long been aware of this fact.  I first became aware of this when I found a blue jay nest near my home.  Throughout their entire nesting period, I never heard a sound made by the nesting birds.  However, during the fall, long after the blue jays had fledged their young, the jays living in that neck of the woods frequently called. 

       The reason for this is, if the jays regularly called near their nest, predators might be alerted to the fact that the birds are nesting somewhere close.  This might prompt an avian or mammalian predator that might hunt for food elsewhere to focus its attention on the area where it frequently hears blue jays calling.

       However, during the fall and winter when blue jays are spending most of their time roaming the woodlands looking for food, they routinely communicate with one another and other animals via their loud calls.  In addition, during these feeding forays, should they encounter a hawk or other predator, they are quick to sound the alarm to any critter living nearby.  

BACKYARD SECRET – BLUE JAYS COMMUNICATE WITH THEIR CRESTS

       We all recognize that blue jays communicate with one another using a wide variety of calls; however, it is less widely known that these noisy birds also communicate with their cohorts using their crests.  In fact, you can learn much about a blue jay’s state of mind by looking at how high a jay’s crest is held above its head.

       Blue jays use their crests to demonstrate its level of calmness and aggression.  For example, the next time you see one or more blue jays placidly feeding in your yard, undoubtedly, their crests will be held close to their heads.  However, if a family cat comes into their view; their crests will instantaneously become erect.  On the other hand, should the cat turn around and walk in the other direction realizing the feline no longer poses a threat; the birds’ crests will drop.  Similarly, if a blue jay is startled by the arrival of a bird the blue jay perceives as a competitor for the food it is dining on, such as an American crow, the jay will erect its crest.  By the same, if a cardinal alights near a feeding jay, the blue jay might not raise its crest at all. 

       How high a jay erects its crest is indicative of its perceived level of threat or agitation.  For example, if a blue jay notices a hawk circling in the sky some distance away, it may not fully raise its crest.  However, once the hawk flies close enough to where the jay senses it poses an imminent threat, its crest will then become fully erect.

 

BACKYARD SECRET – MALE BLUEBIRDS APPEAR TO SING WITH THEIR BILLS CLOSED

     If you have ever watched eastern meadowlarks or grasshopper sparrows singing from atop a fencepost, their bills will be wide open.  However, if you take the time to watch a male eastern bluebird singing from a branch in your backyard, its beak will seem to be completely closed.  The truth the matter is, if you are able to view the bird through a pair of binoculars or spotting scope you will learn that its bill is actually barely open.  I think that is truly an amazing feat!

      

BACKYARD SECRET — WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS & DARK-EYED JUNCOS HYBRIDIZE

       Some ten percent of all species of birds hybridize.  Two of the birds that hybridize with one another are the white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco.

       Among the places where white-throated sparrow/dark-eyed juncos hybrids are known to occur are Canada, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arkansas, and Georgia.

       Since both species are routinely seen throughout most Georgia during the winter, it is possible that one or more of these rare birds has visited your yard.

       As you might expect, hybrids will display traits of both species.  Although, the plumage of these birds is highly variable, many have pink bills, brown wings, and gray coloration on their breasts and heads.  Their songs are known to exhibit bits and pieces of the songs sung by each species.

       Antidotal evidence suggests these unlikely hybrids are more often seen in the company of sparrows than juncos.

       If you pay close attention to the sparrows visiting your feeders this year, you just might spot one of these unusual birds.  If you do observe a sparrow that you feel might be a hybrid, take a picture of it, and let me know.  Who knows?  There may be more of these odd birds flying about than we realize.

BACKYARD SECRET-AMERICAN BEAUTYBERRY IS EASY TO PROPAGATE

       Recently I wrote about the how birds are attracted to American beautyberry.  In response to this blog, one of our fellow bloggers, Elizabeth Neace, was kind enough let us know this beautiful native shrub can easily be rooted using cuttings.  This is great news for anyone wanting to incorporate this native into his or her landscape.

HOUSE FINCH EATING AMERICAN BEAUTYBERRY

       I want to thank Elizabeth for sharing her backyard secret with us.  I am sure many folks will benefit from this valuable tip.

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS CAN GET DRUNK EATING POKEBERRIES

       Pokeberries are widely recognized as being a super food plant for birds.  Scores of birds including the likes of bluebirds, cardinals, tanagers, brown thrashers, hermit thrushes, quail, catbirds, and scores of others consume the plant’s large, juicy, purplish-black berries.  However, it is not common knowledge that birds can become intoxicated from eating the berries.

       This situation is most common late in the year when they eat pokeberries that have become fermented.  While fermented pokeberry juice will not kill them, it can definitely leave them addled enough to become susceptible to predators such as hawks and the family cat. 

       I must admit that, although each year the pokeberries growing in my yards are laden with berries, I have never seen a bird get drunk eating them.  Perhaps the reason for this is my wildlife neighbors gobble them up long before they have a chance to become fermented.