May’s journal focuses on activity in and around backyard feeders one afternoon on the north end of the neighborhood. We were invited over to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks who had been showing up to recharge on good food in a wonderful wooded setting before continuing on their migration. For one hour we sat quietly with our friends and watched. This is some of what we saw.
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.
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.
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)
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. 
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.
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:
“…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
 Humane Society of the United States: Fall into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
 Northwest Seed and Pet: Danger of Feeding Raw Peanuts to Squirrels
 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Feeding
 What the Robin Knows – Jon Young
It’s been a warm, dry fall so far. With the drought, birds and critters have appreciated the water in birdbaths and the pond. But the drought was broken as reported in our previous post, and we have started hearing toads again at night.
A flock of several hundred grackles passed through a few days ago and we have started seeing Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Surely colder weather is not far off.
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. 
Hummingbirds overwinter in Central and South America.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to most parts of Georgia in March (in Atlanta, around March 15 – April 1)  and usually stay with us until the first week in October.  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.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird known to nest to Georgia.  In fact, it is the only hummingbird known to breed east of the Mississippi River.  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. 
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. 
Some hummingbirds do overwinter in Georgia  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. 
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
 Learner.org – Journey North: Hummingbird: Pushing Southward
 UGA: Make Your Backyard a Favorite for Hummingbirds
 GA Department of Agriculture: – Plant a Garden for Hummingbirds
 Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Interesting Facts
 Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Feeding Hummingbirds
 Georgia DNR: Out My Backdoor – Creating Hummingbird Havens
 UGA: Creating Native Plant Hummingbird Habitat in Georgia
 Georgia DNR: Georgia’s Wintering Hummingbirds
 UGA: Extension: Attracting Birds to Your Backyard
 The State Botanical garden of Georgia: Hummingbird Trail
 The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.
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
Dozens of American Goldfinches descended into the trees, feeders and streams this afternoon in our yard and the yards close by. They are beautiful and fun to watch.
Put up a thistle feeder, keep an eye on last year’s seed heads, and enjoy the show! They are Late Nesters as reported in our blog from last July.
You thought nesting season was over for this year. And, except for goldfinches, you’re right. The American goldfinch begins its breeding season later in the year than any other finch and later than any other native North American bird except, occasionally, the sedge wren. Their breeding season is tied to the peak of their food supply, beginning in late July, which is relatively late.
The pictures of the two Goldfinches eating Agastache seed on our back deck were taken on July 17, 2015. The male is the brighter colored of the two. Notice that the beak of the female is pinkish, indicating that she’s breeding. You can see a short video we took in July 2013 of two Goldfinches eating from the same Agastache plants.
The American Goldfinch is a granivore and adapted for the consumption of seedheads. Its diet consists of the seeds from a wide variety of plants, including weeds, grasses and trees, such as thistle, dandelion, ragweed, goatsbeard, sunflower, and alder. It also consumes tree buds, maple sap, and berries. Goldfinches will eat at bird feeders, particularly in the winter months, preferring Nyjger seed (nyjer is different from thistle: it comes from Africa and will not sprout). In our yard, they especially love the bird feeders as well as the dried seedheads of Agastache, Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans.
Their nest is built in late summer by the female in the branches of a deciduous shrub or tree at a height of up to 30 feet. The inside diameter of the finished nest is about 2 1/2 inches. The rim is reinforced with bark bound by spiderwebs and caterpillar silk, and the cup is lined with plant down from milkweed, thistle, or cattail. The nest is so tightly woven that it can hold water, and it’s possible for nestlings to drown following a rainstorm if the parents don’t cover the nest.
The chicks hatch 12–14 days after incubation begins. The hatchlings develop quickly, opening their eyes after three days, and completing the growth of olive-brown juvenile plumage after 11–15 days, at which time they begin to practice short flights close to the nest. Then, they join their parents at bird feeders, which is why you’ll notice a spike in the number of Goldfinches in August.