Category Archives: Bird

Being Green in the Wildlife Garden

Dateline: May 17, 2013*

As I do every morning, I was walking around the property enjoying nature at its best.  I took my normal route past the Rusty Lyonia, Pawpaws and Dwarf Oaks, among others and headed down the bank of the pond into the section that dries up during Florida dry season.  I checked two small temporary pools created from recent rains and watched the tadpoles dance with the diving beetles.

Poised to catch a meal

As I turned my attention to the main section of pond, I was surprised to see a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) standing on the side, poised to grab a meal.  He seemed unfazed with my presence, unlike his compatriots the blue or white herons, which fly off the moment I open the door to the house some 150 feet way.  Not the first time I have met up with a green heron in my pond, but it is an unusual and welcome occurrence.

They stand very still

I watched and photographed as birdy moved stealthily around the perimeter, snagging mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) along the way.  As I walked, we seemed to move in unison, always at exact opposite positions along the pond edge.  He was diligent and obviously very hungry as we spent about 45 minutes doing our opposing dance.  I climbed up the bank at one point and wandered to another part of the yard.

Quick to grab their prey

When I returned, I noticed that the green heron had climbed aboard the tussock (island) at one end of my pond.  When the tussock first appeared, I had visions of wildlife making it a home and my new bird friend made the picture painted in my mind a reality.

Green Heron on the Tussock, my dream vision

Green Herons, small by most heron standards, are “one of the few birds that uses bait to attract fish, it drops such things as bread crusts, insects, and twigs onto the water.”   Fish is the primary diet along with frogs, insects and other invertebrates. They are vocal when they fly in or fly off.

Short and stocky

I gave him some words of warning, advising that I would be VERY annoyed if he ate my new turtle friends and he seemed to stick with the fare of the day, fish.  I hoped that he would snag one of the bluegills or large mouth bass that reside in the depths of the water so I could have that Kodak moment of a wading bird with a fish in his mouth.  It was not to be.  Without warning, my green heron friend flew off leaving me with a good feeling that I am not viewed as a threat to the wildlife friends who come to visit my native plant gardening paradise.

Green Heron is truly a beautiful bird

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on  May 17, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

When Birds Recycle

Dateline: February 3, 2012*

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) found and used this nest in a Live Oak tree

I was out and about on Sunday, cleaning up after the dogs and looking for wildlife of interest. January is not always the best time of year to find things, but Florida has experienced a relatively warm winter and spring is in the air so we have our fair share of resident wildlife meandering around. I spotted a Saltmarsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) and a Pinewoods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis). I passed by the young live oak and was leaning down under some branches when I heard the sharp whistle of a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) taking flight. The sound created by their flapping wings during takeoff is unmistakable. I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so startled. Heck, I was close enough to feel a breeze in my ear.

I stopped and leaned under this live oak tree

I often see the Mourning Doves, which are native to all of North America, high up in the trees, hanging out on power lines and down pecking around the bottom of the pond in a section that is exposed during the current dry season. They are fond of the areas alongside the driveway which has a lot of Cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) growing, a plant native to most of North America. Cranesbill provides an excellent source of natural, non-toxic bird seed, if you avoid use of chemicals in your yard. Be wary if you use a weed and feed, as this plant is on many chemical company hit lists to be killed for some unknown reason.

Doves like a view from power wires

I’d never really seen the Mourning Doves low in the trees before, so I glanced at where the bird may have been perched and noticed two bright white eggs, sitting up in a nest. I laughed because now I understood why the bird was at my ear height.

Two perfect eggs

I’m not sure whom the doves’ real estate agent was, but I’m hoping they got a good buy on this nest. It is a “resale” home that was constructed by Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) last year. The Mockingbirds didn’t have much luck with this location. I have a picture of four eggs one day, and none a day or two later. Victims of some raccoon, hawk or snake’s breakfast, I suppose…or perhaps all three met for elevenses.

Pop (?) keeping those eggs warm!

I looked up the Mourning Dove nesting behavior and found that they lay 2 white eggs in a loosely made nest of sticks and twigs placed in low bushes and tall trees, more rarely on the ground. As you can see in the photo, there are two eggs, soooooo…MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Now, was this a lazy dove? Since Mockingbirds also make nests of loose sticks and twigs I’m attributing the reuse by the dove as being smart and eco-friendly, you know…wanting to recycle…no unnecessary development.

I’ve often been conflicted about whether to remove a bird nest after the miracle of birth has taken place and they leave. I know as I monitor my bluebirds, I need to remove the nest a day after they fledge as it is extremely dirty and can harbor parasites. Bluebird parents will come back a week or two later and quickly build a new nest for a second or third brood if there is enough time left in the season. I’m more inclined to leave the nest of Mockingbirds. I have witnessed them reuse the same nest on more than one occasion. On the other side of the coin, I’ve also had wasps take over a previously used nest, in a less than convenient location. Decisions, decisions.

Cranesbill, also called Wild Geranium are great natives to attract doves.

Mourning Doves are the most hunted migratory game bird (think squab) in North America although they are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since they are granivorous , they eat agricultural crops such as corn, millet, wheat and even peanuts. For a native plant diet, they exist on a variety of grasses, spurges (Croton spp.), goosefoots, lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), saltbushes (Atriplex spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Pricklypoppy (Argemone spp.), Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp), Smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), hemp (Cannabis sativa) (my kinda bird), Purslanes (Brassica spp.), Pines (Pinus spp.) and my favorite, Wild Geranium (G. carolinianum), as stated above. Get those meadows planted but if you include Cannabis make sure you have bail money.

Grit is essential component of diet, but why they eat it is unknown. But eat it they do, since they routinely spend some time on my crushed rock driveway. They also like some animal matter, primarily snails. The need for surface water is imperative, so to attract these guys, start planning those ponds.

Snails, such as these native Southern Flatcoils (Polygyra spp.) are a part of a Dove’s diet.

These birds appear to eat fast. They save the food they forage in their crop (that dangly thing at their neck) and digest it later when they settle in to roost. The young are raised on “crop milk,” a unique secretion of the cells of the crop wall provided by both mom and pop.

Mom (?) sees that incubation is continuous

Mourning Doves incubate continuously for 14-15 days, with the male often taking the day shift and the female taking the night shift. They will build where humans frequent and if they feel threatened, parents will use the “nest distraction” technique (fly out of the nest in the hopes you don’t see it) or “broken wing feign” strategy (flapping around on the ground, as if injured). Right now, I need to keep away from that area. I got one photo of the eggs since the opportunity presented itself (glad I keep my point and shoot camera with me). I also got the photo of pop? sitting on the eggs from a distance. Ahhh…the beauty of a zoom camera. Now, “grandmama” will patiently await little heads to appear, but I will do so from across the yard watching through field glasses.

As far as the nest? I’m just curious if the Mockingbirds were savvy enough to downplay the reason they decided to move.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 3, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Mockingbird: Melodious but Mean

Dateline: February 8, 2013*

They are cute when fluffed up

The war of spring has started.  It’s the Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) vs. the cardinals, bluebirds and ME!  While no other bird can match their beautiful song repertoire, the ugly squawk and dive at my precious bluebirds is really rubbing me the wrong way.  Oh, and the other day when they took a shot at my head.  The bullies of the bird world.
Classic pose…very sleek looking

The mockingbird has an “amazing ability to mimic other bird songs and sounds, its scientific name polyglottos – “many tongued” – is very apt.”  You might even think there are several species of birds visiting only to discover just one bird with a language ability that would make him tops at the Birdy United Nations. They sing all day and sometimes at night.  As they age their vocabulary can increase.  During the eighteen-hundreds their numbers were in jeopardy as they were a commodity bought and sold. People caged them as house pets to enjoy their melody.
They strive for greatness

According to whatbird.com:

A group of mockingbirds has many collective nouns, including an “echo”, “exactness”, “plagiary”, and a “ridicule” of mockingbirds.

And, they have been known to “ridicule” ME!

They nest in oaks as well as other shrubby plants

Mockingbirds aggressively defend “their” territory.  Well, I’ve got news for them, this is MY territory and I’ll not have them starting nests where they will chase away the bluebirds.  Bluebirds nest only in boxes or cavities whereas mockingbirds nest just about anywhere shrubby that will hold their assortment of twigs, dryer lint and cigarette butts.
They use an odd assortment of nesting materials

The males start the nest building in several areas, then the females choose which nest they like and put on the finishing touches. Baccharis halimifolia, Wax Myrtle, oak and holly are some of the shrubbery they have chosen to build at my place.  And build they do.  I’ve had numerous successful broods of Mockingbirds and also some tragedies…4 eggs one day…none the next.
Both dad and mom help build the nest in shrubs such as this groundsel

They like an open lawn (I think for a clear shot at me), shrubs to hide in and tall trees to perch for a “bird’s eye view”.
Mom sticks with the nest even when hungry

As with most birds, the mockingbird’s primary diet during nesting season and summer consists of insects. They aren’t fussy, eating beetles, earthworms, moths, butterflies, ants, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers.  Apparently they also will eat small lizards to round out their menu.  They are big fruit eaters come fall and winter.
They lay blue speckled eggs, usually 4

Some of their favorite eats in my yard consist of native plants: dahoon berries, beautyberry, winged sumac drupes, grapes, blackberries and gallberries.  Other choices would include mulberries and hawthorns.
Four babies all snug and hungry

So, while not my favorite bird, I listen to the songs of the Mockingbirds and think that maybe they aren’t so bad.  They certainly can bring a sound of joy to nature like no other creature.
Adorable and wobbly when newly fledged

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 8, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Bird Population Soaring

Pleased to report that in March 2017 I can add a new nesting bird species to my piece of paradise.  High in the Longleaf Pine Tree (Pinus palustris) Crows have taken up residence. Based on their sound they are more likely Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus) than American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Now we wait to see if they are successful.

This Crow’s nest (Corvus sp. likely ossifragu) sits in the top of a Pine Tree (Pinus sp.)

Dateline:  May 22, 2015*

four healthy eastern bluebirds

Spring 2015 is once again proving to be a banner year for bird broods in my beautiful wildlife garden.  Bluebird brood #2 has successfully hatched and 4 healthy mockingbird babies located in a holly shrub not 15 feet away joined them this past week.  It is dizzying watching the two sets of parents feed the 8 hungry mouths. As the days go by the number of feedings increase and the size of the insects get larger and larger.  Both sets of parents participate in feeding the youngsters.

Mockingbird eggs were in a shrub close to the bluebird nesting box

Earlier this month I spotted a baby dove nestling with one of the parents.  I was lucky to catch sight of them for the next day baby was on its own sitting in the nest and one-day later all was quiet.  The baby looked a good size and must have fledged in the early morning to avoid confrontation with the resident bird dogs.  Doves generally lay two eggs and apparently this brood only one hatched.

Dove baby and parent were spotted in thick shrubbery

Having the right conditions and plenty of readily available food in the form of insects is imperative if you are to be successful in attracting nesting birds to your garden.

two days later baby mourning dove was ready to fledge

The mockingbirds and doves like dense shrubs. The mockingbirds reused a nest from last year in a holly cultivar.  The doves reused a mockingbird nest from last year that was in a bottlebrush shrub.

Mockingbirds were caught in the act of hatching late one evening

I use to hem and haw over whether to leave nest remains or to remove them.  Now I leave them unless they are completely disintegrating.  The birds do refurbish them and I have had successful nestlings in the renovated nests.

Two days later mockingbird babies are getting feathers

Bluebirds are cavity nesters so I maintain a nest box in the yard.  I generally clean out the old nest about two days after fledge, but this time I didn’t get a chance to.  Mom and dad just brought in some clean materials and freshened up the existing nest and as can be seen, the four little ones don’t seem to mind “used” digs at all.

Mockingbirds like to nest in dense shrubs

Plant a variety of native plants to provide larval host materials for the insects that are key to making your garden attractive to birds looking to set up homes.  If they see easy access to a food source, coupled with the right type of habitat, they are sure to stop, stay and raise their young.  Then you can enjoy year after year of entertainment.  A variety of berry-producing shrubs will keep the adults around and satisfied through the winter.  During nesting season birds tend to eat more insects while later in the season and as the winter approaches they seek berries and seeds to fatten up.

The bluebirds start with small insects for the little ones.

I have a variety of blackberry, elderberries, holly and beautyberry shrubs that the birds all seem to relish.  Bluestem grasses, Black-eyed Susan, Bidens alba and a variety of other wildflowers feed the need for seed.  Be sure to have a readily available water source as well.  It can be as simple as a shallow dish or as large as a full size pond.

As the babies get bigger, so does the prey

And don’t be to tidy with the garden.  Leave some dried debris so they have hiding spots that also provides a plethora of building materials.  It won’t be long until the masses take up residence in your own beautiful wildlife garden and you can watch them soar.

This is an update of a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 22, 2015 at the defunct national beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Treetops to Marsh: The White Ibis

Dateline: September 13, 2013*

What’s with all the treetop birds?

I was gabbing on the phone with my sister yesterday afternoon and I wandered out onto the patio. Two lots over is where the wooded areas begin and I noticed some birds coming in for a landing in the treetops.  I didn’t pay too much attention thinking they were the resident Vultures, but then I saw a couple of Egrets land in some trees across the street.
My, that’s a versatile group: Ibis and Hawk and check out that Spanish Moss blowing in the breeze.

I finished talking with my sister and grabbed my field glasses.  I saw that there were several different birds perched in the cypress trees and pine snags, so I grabbed my zoom camera (which has minimal features since it isn’t high end) and snapped a few shots.
Wow, it’s a wading bird convention

Suddenly, more and more birds were flying in along the tree line, landing in a cleared lot across the street from the wooded area.

One flew in, then two at once.  A quartet followed.  Five landed in a tree.

Some landed in the trees overlooking the cleared lot.

I decided that this was something I couldn’t miss and took the short walk down the block.
The adults are white, the juveniles start dark turning white

I was amazed at the number of birds in the clearing, in the trees and many more still flying in.  The majority were White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) but there was a black vulture or two, the egrets and a  Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) all in the mix.
An egret stands tall next to the shorter cousins

I often see ibis fly overhead in large flocks and have even had a stray or two land pond-side, but these massive numbers was an amazing surprise.
Even a vulture joined the pack of mixed juveniles and adults.

The range in the United States is the Atlantic coastline from North Carolina south to and including all of peninsula Florida. Range continues west along the Gulf of Mexico down to the Mexican border where it continues south. The White Ibis migrates slightly further inland in its range.
Occasionally they visit my pond as this one did back in 2010.

The habitat for White Ibis can be freshwater, saltwater and brackish marshes.  I’m not sure what the attraction was in this particular lot but I suppose at this time of year it qualifies as a marsh.  As a cypress swamp it is seasonally to regularly wet and parts are drying out, so I can only imagine that the aquatic delicacies were within easy sight and reach of the flock.  It also is rich with native sedges.
That one was just a youngster, the bill wasn’t even pink yet.

A member of the Ciconiiformes Order, the White ibis will hang out with other members of that Order which include herons and storks.
They like the cypress trees

They feed primarily on crustaceans that they dig up using their long, curved bill as a probe.  In my area that would likely be crawdads.

Other food choices include insects, frogs, snails, snakes, and small fish, all readily available in our area. Flocks of white ibis will move from location to location in search of food so I guess that our block was a quick stop on the over-ground food railroad.

The white ibis is listed as a Species of Special Concern (SSC) in Florida due to habitat destruction. This truly was a fantastic and rewarding encounter and I believe they are secure in my area because most of the surrounding lands are wildlife management or conservation areas.