Category Archives: Bird Nesting

Here’s Looking Back

Owlet in the nest box – looking back at you

Last July our post Here’s Looking At You was about Barred Owls in Sandy Springs with two great photos taken by our friend Cindy Mayer.  She has a piece of wooded property with pines and thought it would make great habitat for the owls.  We offered to make an owl nestbox for her in return for more photos if it were used by the owls.

She and her husband paid a tree service to put the nest box way up in a pine.  And she was right about the location!  Today she sent us photos of a young owlet in the box.  It’s a great story, as told in her own words.

Owl box mounted on a tall pine

“After we moved into our house about 3 years ago, we spotted two adult barred owls in our backyard & neighbors indicated they’d unsuccessfully nested in a tree stump across the street the previous year.  That was enough to set me on a mission!  I researched owl nest boxes including where & when they should be placed with hopes of enticing the owls to raise a family in our yard.  We live in a forested neighborhood near the Chattahoochee river.

There’s a clean stream a couple of properties away & our property consists mostly of mature trees such as loblolly pines, tulip poplars, sweetgum trees & southern magnolias with a few maples, redbud, dogwood & oaks.”

“The nest box sits about 35 feet high in a tree in the central rear of our backyard, which abuts an elementary school.  There are more trees on the other side of the fence & a little-used gravel pathway for walkers.”

Owlet in the nest box

“I’ve been watching & listening for any evidence of an owlet for the past few weeks since I saw activity in the in the nest box.   This afternoon I saw what looked like an owl’s tail sticking out of the doorway of the nest box, so I ran downstairs to grab the camera & headed outside. And when I got there, I saw two big eyes & a ball of fluff sitting in the doorway, & talons, too — silently staring at me! How exciting!! ”

“I only saw one owlet, although there may be more inside the box. And he was much bigger than I expected!  So I guess the family was further along than I realized when I first saw the action in the nest a few weeks ago.  But I am thrilled there is at least one little one. And by the way, every “serious” birder I share the story with tells me that it is very unusual for owls to accept a nest box so soon after being installed.”

Thanks for the story and photos Cindy and for all the great things you do for wildlife. Such an inspiration–what we do in our own yards matters!

Monthly Journal – April, 2017

April was a busy month with much nesting activity all over the neighborhood.  Three of the four bird houses on the Nature Trail have occupants.  Two neighbors on Darlington Commons had nests in shrubbery right outside their front door, and we counted at least four nests in our yard, including  a Brown Thrasher pair who nested in the Carolina Jessamine vine on the side of the house.

Most trees have leafed out now.  American Basswood, Pignut Hickory, Georgia Hackberry and Southern Sugar Maple along with eight other species were identified on the Nature Trail and will be marked.  Hummers are here for sure, and flowering plants like Crossvine and Native Honeysuckle are in bloom for them.

And it looks like the Wild Turkey hen has moved on.  We hope she’s safe and well.

Four for Spring

Carolina Chickadee with moss for nesting material just before entering a bird house

Nesting is in Full Swing

There’s a lot of nesting going on already.  We count at least 4 active nests in our yard, including Carolina Chickadee, Brown Thrasher, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren and perhaps a Song Sparrow.  Cardinals are eyeing nesting locations and there will probably be more soon.

Watch for Hummingbirds

A friend, who has much better eyesight than either of us, swears he saw a hummingbird in our yard yesterday.  He probably did.  The Native Honeysuckle is starting to bloom and that’s always been our indication that hummers are here, or will be shortly.

Most likely it will be a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that you see.  While they are the only hummingbird that nests in Georgia, 10 other species are seen in this state.  Time to plant hummingbird-friendly flowers and hang your feeders.

Trees Atlanta Native Wildflower and Vine Sale

Trees Atlanta is having their 5th annual Native Wildflower and Plant Sale on Saturday, April 1st at the Freedom Farmer’s Market at the Carter Center.  They will be selling native perennials and vines that are tree-friendly (it is a Trees Atlanta sale after all).

This is a chance to support Trees Atlanta and get great plants that are grown by reputable growers.  Their plant list for the sale has many of the plants that we have on our list of Perennials for Your Yard.  All good things for trees and for wildlife.

Create a Home for Native Bees

We follow an excellent blog called Using Georgia Native Plants.  In their post of March 12, they wrote about a new book titled  Bees – An Identification and Native Plant Foraging Guide  by Heather Holm.  We couldn’t do without our own copy, and it is a beautiful book.

If you read the blog post you’ll see that the author calls attention to a section in the book describing the value of trimming stems from last-year’s plants (perennials) to a length of about 15 inches.  The new growth will soon overtake the stems to hide them, but in the meantime this creates a home for tiny native bees that are so important as pollinators.  They will nest this spring and summer, overwinter in this safe haven and then emerge the following spring.

You can see the before and after efforts of our trimming below.

 

Remember Wildlife in Cold Weather

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal in the snow

All of a sudden it’s about to be cold here in Atlanta.  Later this week the nighttime temperatures will be in the twenties.  So while you’re all warm and toasty in front of the fire, remember there are little guys outside trying to survive the cold.

You  might think it’s no big deal; wildlife has been living outside in the cold for millions of years.  But consider the fact that urban wildlife faces a little tougher challenge with a reduced supply of food, water and shelter and the added disturbances of humans.

January 23, 2016

Pine Warbler on Suet Feeder

Food – Keep bird feeders stocked and if snow or sleet covers the ground, toss a little extra on the ground. And remember to keep your bird feeders clean and free of mold.  Suet feeders are especially popular in cold weather.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - January, 2016

Song Sparrow eating native grass seed

Also, a great source of free food is seed heads from summer and fall perennials–leave some standing and enjoy watching the appreciative birds.  (see our blog out Brown is Beautiful for more)

River Oats

River Oats left for seed

Other wildlife will benefit from dried nuts, or fruit such as cranberries.  Roasted peanuts are good, but do not toss out uncooked peanuts. Peanuts are legumes not nuts, and raw peanuts consumed in quantity can be fatal to squirrels or chipmunks. [2]

Water – Make sure a couple of birds baths are always available and not frozen  (see our blog Surviving Cold Weather).  Both birds and other critters will thank you.

Screech-Owl Box

Screech-Owl Box can be shelter

Shelter –  “‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.” – Bob Dylan.  OK, sorry – drifted off for a minute.

There are many forms of shelter that help wildlife.  Birdhouses can provide protection from the wind and biting cold. One year we had a Downy Woodpecker roost each night in a bluebird house in the front yard.

Leaf piles, logs, rocks and ground cover help all manner of small critters and insects.  Native bees will nest in the stems of perennial plants, which is another reason to leave them in place until the spring.  Even the shrubbery next to your house can provide critical shelter on very cold nights.

Don’t disturb – especially after dark.  This paragraph from What The Robin Knows by Jon Young tells why:

What The Robin Knows“…conservation of energy is a major priority for all animals, but especially for birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers.  This bird may well die before dawn.)”

Try to avoid walking next to shrubbery where you think someone might be sheltered after dark.

Now, go enjoy your hot mulled cider.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Humane Society of the United States: Fall into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
[2]  Northwest Seed and Pet: Danger of Feeding Raw Peanuts to Squirrels
[3]  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Feeding
[4]  What the Robin Knows – Jon Young

Heading South

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder in Peachtree Park on September 21, 2016

Do the hummers that you are seeing now seem to be a bit more skittish than the ones that you’ve been seeing all summer?  Maybe it’s because the migrants are here, and they aren’t as familiar with their surroundings as the locals.  [1]

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

adult male Ruby-throat 9/21/16

Hummingbirds overwinter in Central and South America. [2]  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to most parts of Georgia in March (in Atlanta, around March 15 – April 1) [2] and usually stay with us until the first week in October. [10]  So it’s a great time to enjoy the last days of the locals before they head south, as well migrants passing through from points north.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Archilochus alexandri Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX - April 7, 2015

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird known to nest to Georgia. [4]  In fact, it is the only hummingbird known to breed east of the Mississippi River. [11]  Our female Ruby- throated hummers produce up to two broods per year.  Nests are typically built on a small branch, sometimes rebuilding the nest from the previous year. [4]

However, Ruby-throats are not the only hummingbirds in Georgia.  There are 10 others that spend time here in the summer: Black-chinned, Rufous, Calliope, Magnificent, Allen’s, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Green Violet-ear, Green-breasted Mango and Broad-tailed hummingbird. [4]

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ - March 2010

Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna
Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

Some hummingbirds do overwinter in Georgia [6] and there are periodic sightings in Atlanta. So, it’s a good idea to keep one feeder up in the winter.  Even better, make sure you have pollinator-friendly plants blooming year-round. Witch Hazel, Lenten Roses, and winter bulbs such as Crocus are some examples.

Despite what you may have heard, you cannot keep hummingbirds from migrating by leaving feeders up during the fall and winter seasons.  Hummingbirds migrate in response to a decline in day length, not food availability. [5]

We’ve included some links below with additional information on migration, feeding, and overwintering.  The first link from Lerner.org will direct you to a dynamic hummingbird migration map and the second link from the University of Georgia has good information on feeding.  Also, If you haven’t visited the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Hummingbird Trail, you should consider a drive over to Athens.

Hummmmm.  Zoom!  Zip!    We’re outta here.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Learner.org – Journey North: Hummingbird: Pushing Southward
[2]  UGA: Make Your Backyard a Favorite for Hummingbirds
[3]  GA Department of Agriculture: – Plant a Garden for Hummingbirds
[4]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Interesting Facts
[5]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Feeding Hummingbirds
[6]  Georgia DNR: Out My Backdoor – Creating Hummingbird Havens
[7]  UGA: Creating Native Plant Hummingbird Habitat in Georgia
[9]  Georgia DNR: Georgia’s Wintering Hummingbirds
[9]  UGA: Extension: Attracting Birds to Your Backyard
[10]  The State Botanical garden of Georgia: Hummingbird Trail
[11]  The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.

Cooper’s Hawk Triplets

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - June, 2016

Cooper’s Hawk with a food delivery

Our neighbors across the street sent us a message last night that they were watching three juvenile Cooper’s Hawks playing on a limb 90 feet above their house in a tall pine.  90 feet is so high it hurts your neck to look up.

Our ornithologist friend who lives next door to the nesting hawks said he has seen a lot of them lately in his back yard. He’s had a great time watching them in his trees and bird bath.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - June, 2016

1 of 3 juvenile Cooper’s Hawks

His observation is that the three juveniles have just fledged and are getting their sea legs.  They’ll stay close by for a while and may even rendezvous at the nest for a few days.  The parents will most likely supplement their food supply a bit longer.  Today they were all in the trees calling to each other back and forth.  We were unable to get a picture of the three together, but will keep a close eye out and post an update if we do.

Fifty years ago Cooper’s Hawks were in real trouble–their numbers were low and declining. But they have adapted to urban living and now seem to be doing very well.  We see them all the time in our neighborhood.

Pine 7

Cooper’s Hawk nest 90 feet up

This emphasizes the importance of pines.  Some people prefer hardwoods, but pines are also a critical part of our area’s  ecology and are a significant resource for nesters, including these Cooper’s Hawks, Barred Owls, and all sorts of wildlife.

The neighbors with the hawks planted a Longleaf Pine when they moved here several years ago.  It’s quite tall and stately now, and will be magnificent some day.  Consider planting one in your yard.

Monthly Journal – April, 2016

There’s been much nesting activity in April, as there should be.  Three of the four houses on the Peachtree Park Nature Trail have occupants and there is  a Red-bellied Woodpecker pair nesting in a snag on the trail: (see the recent post Nesters on the Nature Trail).   The bluebird house in the Darlington Road triangle is occupied, and Bluebirds are competing with Brown-headed Nuthatches for a box three houses down.  Birds are nesting in shrubbery in multiple locations in our yard and Carolina Wrens in the oven vent.  This is occurring all over the neighborhood, and most likely in your yard.

Also, Goldfinches descended in mass in the trees inback of us for several days and emptied the thistle feeders every day for a few days.  The morning chorus at sunrise continues to be quite loud; some singers go on almost all day, like the Brown Thrasher below.  It’s a great time of year.

Brown Thrasher singing in a dogwood tree