Tag Archive | Backyard Secrets

THREE BILLION BIRDS HAVE DISAPPEARED IN THE PAST 50 YEARS

     There are roughly three billion fewer birds flying about North America today than there were 50 years ago. This amounts to a staggering 29 percent decline in the continent’s diverse bird populations.

       This is sobering conclusion of a study entitled Decline of North American Avifauna recently published in the journal Science.

       This assessment was reached after a group of scientists studied data regarding populations of 529 species of birds. According to the paper’s lead author, Dr. Ken Rosenberg, a senior scientist with the Cornell laboratory of Ornithology, and the American Bird Conservancy, “This major loss was pervasive across all bird groups.”

BACKYARD SECRET-FEEDERS DON’T EXPOSE BIRDS TO MORE DANGER THAN THEY FACE ELSEWHERE

      We often hear it said feeding birds in our yards exposes wild birds to more danger than they face elsewhere. Have you ever wondered if this is true? According to Project FeederWatch, data collected by thousands of volunteers, such is not the case.

       Since 1987, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society, and the Canadian Nature Federation have joined hands to conduct a continent-wide survey to bird feeding. Each year more than 10,000 volunteers collect and submit data on the bird feeding activities in their yards.

       One of the many things the study has revealed is the birds that feed in our backyards are not facing any greater risks than they are exposed to at other locations. Project FeederWatch data have revealed that throughout the course of a winter, on the average, only one bird death per every two feeders takes place, for any reason (predation, disease, and accidents). This is considerably lower than the researchers’ prediction that at least four or five birds would die per feeder over the course of a winter. Actually, the mortality rate turned out to be a tenth of what was predicted.

       It is interesting to note, roughly 35-40% of all songbirds die annually.

       I sure you agree it is good to know our backyard feeders are far from death traps for the valued backyard neighbors.

BACKYARD SECRET: BROWN THRASHERS CAN BE ATTRACTED TO FEEDING SITES

       The brown thrasher is a bird that rarely visits feeders. When it does appear in a feeding area, it prefers to feed on the ground.

       If a brown thrasher takes up residence in your backyard this winter, here is a tip that just might allow you to see the bird more often. Although, this technique does not always work, it has proven successful for others.

       Scatter a small amount of scratch feed on the ground close the shrubby cover near your wild bird feeding area. Although thrashers will sometimes venture away from such cover to feed, they definitely do most of their feeding in or nearby shrubby spots.

BACKYARD SECRET—BLUEBIRDS ARE MORE COMMON IN GEORGIA IN WINTER THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR

         Here in the Peach State, the eastern bluebird is often associated with spring and summer. This is the breeding season for the gorgeous blue-colored bird–a bird that nests in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. Although thousands of bluebirds nest throughout the state, the total size of the bluebird population flying about during these months pales in comparison to the numbers of birds that winter here.

        This is because Georgia is a favorite winter home to thousands of bluebirds that migrate here from their breeding grounds far to the north. Here they intermingle with our resident bluebirds. When this happens, our bluebird population swells significantly. How much does it increase? A study conducted just south of Georgia offers some insight into this matter. Researchers in the Tallahassee area found that during the winter the local bluebird population in their study area increased 100 percent.

BACKYARD SECRET: THE RED-HEADED WOOPECKER EMPLOYS A UNIQUE METHOD TO STORE FOOD

            The red-headed woodpecker is the only North American woodpecker known to store food by concealing it with either wood or bark.

            If you are lucky, you might see a red-headed woodpecker hiding food in this unique manner in your own backyard.

BACKYARD SECRET: CLUES TO BIRD MIGRATION ARE BEING UNLOCKED

        We have certainly come a long way in our understanding of bird migration.  For example, it is hard to believe that during the early days of the founding of the United States it was popularly believed with the onset of winter, hummingbirds “migrated” only as far as a nearby tree and impaled its bill in the plant’s trunk.  Here it remained immobile until the land thawed the following spring.

       Nowadays, through the hard work of many ornithologists, we have a far better understanding of how birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter homes and back with unbelievable accuracy.  This research has reveal birds employ a number of environmental clues such as polarized light, the stars, the sun and even magnetic fields to steer the their course on their epic migratory journeys.

       Have we answered all of the mysteries of bird migration?  Many of us believe we have much more to learn.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what future research will reveal.

BACKYARD SECRET – CAROLINA WRENS ARE CHAMPION SONGSTERS

        If you live in Georgia, it is next to impossible not to hear the cheery vocalizations of the Carolina wren.  I hear them throughout the year.  In fact, the song of a Carolina wren is often the first sound I hear when I step outside in the morning.  This has made me wonder how often a wren calls in day.

       Recently while conducting research on backyard wildlife I found an answer to this perplexing question.  It seems that it has been documented that a captive male Carolina wren actually sang 3,000 times in a single day!

       I must admit, I had no idea a Carolina wren could accomplish such an impressive fete.

BACKYARD SECRET: BLUEBIRDS EAT MONARCH CATERPILLARS

       Most of us have been taught that birds do not eat monarchs.  In fact, if a bird just happens to try to make a meal out of a monarch, it gets sick from ingesting the poisonous compounds that course through the monarch’s body.  After living through such an experience most birds do not try to dine on a monarch again. 

       Eastern bluebirds are an exception to the rule.  These gorgeous backyard favorites eat monarch caterpillars laden with poisonous chemicals obtained when they chomp on milkweed plants without showing any ill effects.  

       The bluebird can devour this toxic food because it uses a technique to prepare a caterpillar before it tries to consume it.  Once a bluebird grabs a monarch caterpillar it flies to a branch and squeezes the large, juicy caterpillar time and time again.  This process forces much of the juicy innards of the caterpillar out both ends of its body.  Once the caterpillar has been flattened, the hungry bluebird then proceeds to eat the hapless insect.

 

 

BACKYARD SECRET: FEW NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS HAVE BLUE FEATHERS

       Blue jays and eastern bluebirds are undoubtedly the two most common blue birds seen in Georgia backyards.  In addition, from time to time we also spot indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, and other birds that display varying amounts of blue feathers just outside our backdoors. 

      Since we regularly see birds that display the color blue you might be surprised to learn only two percent of all of the species of birds found in North America have blue feathers.

BACKYARD SECRET: RED-BANDED HAIRSTREAKS NECTAR ON BRONZE FENNEL

        For quite some time I have been documenting butterflies nectaring on a wide range of cultivated and native plants.  This effort has helped me gain a better appreciation of which species of butterflies use which plants.  Every so often, I encounter a butterfly nectaring on a plant I never realized they visited. 

       For example, a few days ago my wife and I checked our bronze fennel for black swallowtail eggs and/or eggs.  Much to our chagrin, we did not find either.  However, my wife did make a fascinating discovery. When she called me over to look at what she had found, I was surprised to see six red-banded hairstreaks nectaring on a bronze fennel’s pale yellow blossoms.

       Although we have been growing bronze fennel in our garden for a number of years, we never considered the well-known black swallowtail host plant a source of nectar for butterflies.  Oh sure, we routinely see the blossoms routinely visited by sweat bees and other native pollinators, but never a red-banded hairstreak other butterfly.  Yet, here were half a dozen beautiful red-banded hairstreaks so engrossed in sipping nectar they never attempted to fly away in spite of the fact we were standing only a few feet away from them.

       A quick check of the literature and Internet failed to uncover any mention of red-banded hairstreaks using the plant as a source of nectar.  In fact, most authors simply mentioned it was visited by a number of pollinators; however, none said it was source of nectar for butterflies.

       While my wife’s sighting may not be an

important scientific find, it was important to us.  It

advanced our understanding of the unbelievably

complex relationships that exist between the plants

and animals that live just outside our backdoor.