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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
Dateline: May 22, 2015*
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I decided that this was something I couldn’t miss and took the short walk down the block.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A member of the Ciconiiformes Order, the White ibis will hang out with other members of that Order which include herons and storks.
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.
I have been enjoying quite a show of avian wildlife visitors to my bird-planted Oak tree that is in full view of my dining area windows as well as the small outdoor patio. It is providing endless entertainment especially between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. That seems to be a favorite time for the gang to show up.
Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) is a fast growing tree that can achieve a height of 60 to 70 feet with a spread of 35 to 45 feet. Also known as Darlington or Diamond Oak, it has a dense, symmetrical crown and is semi-evergreen. Mine loses it leaves slowly in January as the new leaves appear so the tree is never completely bare.
One drawback is its relatively short life span of 50 to 70 years. Easily propagated by seed as is evident at my place where I find saplings growing here and there, planted by birds and mammals that enjoy the bounty of acorns and insect delectables that this tree produces.
Wunderlin, R. P., B. F. Hansen, A. R. Franck, and F. B. Essig. 2017. Atlas of Florida Plants (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/).[S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), USF Water Institute.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa.
Carey, Jennifer H. 1992. Quercus hemisphaerica, Q. laurifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2017, February 10].
I’ll admit that I was not a big fan of Longleaf (Pinus palustris) and Slash Pine (P. elliottii) trees when I first moved out to my rural lot in January 2006. They were the only species in my yard at the time, and to me didn’t seem all that beautiful…very tall and somewhat gangly. Given that at that time I subscribed to gardening magazines whose photos espoused neat lawns and clipped exotic bushes…unsustainable visions…it’s no wonder.
Fast forward to present. I no longer subscribe to said magazines, preferring enlightening books such as Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy and The Landscaping Revolution: Garden With Mother Nature, Not Against Her by Andy Wasowski. I have joined the Florida Native Plant Society and I now base my choice of plants on their value in a biodiverse landscape and appropriateness to my ecosystem rather than some cookie cutter look that we are brainwashed to adapt to.
I’m now a big advocate of the native Pines since I found their beauty in the glimpse of sunset through their tall branches and in the magnitude of their purpose in a beautiful wildlife garden.
The title of this article says it all and might not be what you think. I see it every day. I see hawks, kingfishers and great blue herons on alert in the branches looking down at the pond waiting for their bounty to swim near the top. I see black vultures and swallows resting comfortably, taking a break from flight in the shade of high branches. I see brown-headed nuthatches and red-bellied woodpeckers picking under bark for food. I see pine warblers flitting from cone to cone grabbing at the pine nuts held within. I hope to see their fledglings sometime for they use the high branches of these pines as their nesting grounds. Bluejays, red winged blackbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds all spend time foraging in the pines and the list goes on and on. The Red Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is the only woodpecker in North America that excavates its cavity in a living pine tree. With the loss of old growth pine forests, this bird has become endangered and since it needs a forest, won’t be gracing my acre, but I’ll look for them in the conservation areas nearby. Yes, Pine Trees are for the Birds.
According to the US Forest Service, because of its timber value and because longleaf pine communities house many endangered plant and animal species, forest managers are attempting to regenerate more longleaf pine communities. Sixty-eight species of birds utilize longleaf pine forests. Mice, squirrels, and other small mammals eat the large seeds. Eagles utilize large slash pines as nesting sites.
It takes a long time to grow a mature longleaf pine and I have a few babies growing where I’m letting my property restore itself. There are various stages of growth in a pine, one being the grass stage, which can last one to seven years, depending upon competition with other plants. This is when the root system is established. At this stage, more grows beneath the soil than above and the pine is virtually immune to fire, which is a common occurrence in pine ecosystems…those lanky trees are just begging lightening bolts to hit. Next up is the bottlebrush stage when a white tip, known as a candle, begins to emerge. The bottlebrush stage is when it works on gaining height, bark begins to form, but no branches are apparent. This stage can last a couple of years. I have a couple of trees in the beginning of this stage.
Once the young pine reaches 6-10 feet, it starts to form the lateral branching and thus begins the sapling stage, lasting several years. I’m pleased to report that my neighbor has many in this stage. The remaining stages are: mature, where they grow from 60-110 feet; old growth (nearly nonexistent with clear cutting in the early 1900s), death and the last stage, “after death”.
The Slash Pine, on the other hand, grows more quickly, can be used as a landscape tree in zones 7-10, prefers full sun to part sun and is tolerant of moist sites. Grow from seed or purchase seedlings.
I’m grateful that “an angel on my shoulder” had me make the house setup guys leave a dead pine standing. I spotted some Pileated woodpeckers busy at work and I was interested to see what they were up to. Two fledglings were the result; an extremely rewarding wildlife encounter and a defining moment is my appreciation of pines. I used this dead pine as a post for my first bluebird nesting box. When it came down in a tropical storm, I got out my chain saw, cut it up and stacked the wood so the butterflies, snakes and lizards would have habitat. The birds visit the decaying stacks to peck and find beetles and other insects for protein. As the layers break down I move the broken-up wood to form pathways through the native grasses.
If you are lucky enough to have pines, protect them, if you have a supporting ecosystem, grow them. The pine is a mighty important tree and having learned what it takes to make a pine, I have a newfound love for them in their journey to become mature.
I’m happy to live in a Pine Flatwoods ecosystem where I can monitor their stages and enjoy all the wildlife that they provide for.
This is a fun time of year in Florida. The birds are returning from their summer digs so I get a wide array of visitors. I glanced out at the pond the other day and eyed a thin white head poking up through the cover of native grasses. There standing on the tussock in the pond was a bright white bird in the heron family.
Since the pond is jumping with fish, I get quite a variety of wading birds visiting the pond for a snack…and in all color varieties. Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are a favorite of mine. They aren’t as wary as some other species of herons who stop by, such as this guy.
In observing the bright white color characteristic, it seemed too small to be one of the Great Egrets(Ardea alba) that are routine visitors. I figured it was one of the Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) that are common around here, although more often than not you see them in fields, standing as sentries next to livestock, grabbing easy insect meals that the cows stir up with a defensive slap of their tails.
I did a double take since it seemed a bit too large to be that species, and was missing the telltale orange markings on the head, although that coloring is more apparent in springtime…more a “breeding colors” characteristic.
My guest seemed skittish, so I sneaked down closer to the pond hiding behind some wax myrtle shrubs to get an vantage point to zoom in with the camera lens for a closer look.
The bird lazily drifted with a slight swish of its wings to the far side of the pond bank evacuating the small island.
I watched and waited a bit longer, but after snagging a quick meal of a mosquito fish or frog, the bird took flight and left me.
I cropped the photos and was a bit perplexed by the coloring of the legs. Egrets have black legs and this bird had a hint of a minty-green leg coloring.
I knew from experience that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, so I first investigated whether it might be a young Great Blue Heron(Ardea herodias) which are routine visitors to my place.
However, there was something unique about the look of the eye that made me realize that this was not a species that had visited me before. I thought maybe a snowy egret, but it lacked the showy plumes and again, didn’t have black legs.
Meet a juvenile Little Blue Heron(Egretta caerulea). As with the youngsters of many different types of fauna, often the coloring of the adults are in stark contrast to youthful appearances. The common names do little to help in identification attempts. In this particular species, as it matures, the birds take on the purple-blue hues that gives them the common name.
The diet of this beauty consists primarily of small fish, supplemented by crustaceans and various arthropods, including dragonflies and grasshoppers.
I’m hoping that my friend will come back to visit over the course of the winter so I can see the change in coloring. I’d like to add a Little Blue Heron to my home observation list that is ACTUALLY blue.
This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 7, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
These charcoal-colored birds with the darker Mohawk stripe on their head will draw your attention with their call. Like mockingbirds they have a repertoire of sounds one of which sounds a little like a cat meowing. They are distantly related to the mockingbird.
Here in Florida they are non-breeding winter residents. I guess that they like it really warm and must stay further south, so central Florida is merely a migration area, based on my observations.
While I lived in New York, they frequently visited and I was under the assumption that they were called catbirds because when my kitty and I were out for our daily trot around the property they would dive-bomb her, showing no fear. My take was the common name indicated catbird because they attacked cats and the gray, well, just look at the photo for that reasoning. So much for what I know, it seems it was the call after all.
I heard that familiar call the other day. Too fast for a photo op, but I looked up from last year and found they flew through in February, so they are just about on target time-wise as last year. A second encounter took place just yesterday with two catbirds flying low to the ground when I walked down the drive. They have a little red and white markings showing under that rump as they flit by. Hopefully they will stay just a bit longer so I can enjoy their presence. Ahh, these snowbirds, only fleeting joy for some of us.
They breed in most of the eastern third of the United States, except for the Deep South. They like dense shrubs for cover and nesting. They eat insects and fruit and at this time of year seem particularly drawn to my wax myrtles. They can be damaging to “cash crops”, so if you grow your own strawberries, raspberries and the like, you might want to put a net over them…the berries, not the birds…although that might work 😉 Since they seem to favor serviceberry, maybe try planting that as a distraction from your personal edibles. Other possibilities include the usual berry producers, elderberry, holly and the like.
This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 7, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
I love this time of year in Florida. The birds have returned; a lot go missing for many months since they are smart enough to travel north during the times of blasted heat.
One that I see often in late fall, winter and spring is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). There are a few, here and there over the summer months, but they pretty much stick to the woods where it is cooler. The name seems odd since the red on the belly isn’t all that prominent but what is visible on the head sure is. There is only a slight red wash on the belly, hardly noticeable. A lot of people think they are redheaded woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), but those have heads that are completely red like Little Red Riding Hood, whereas the Red-bellied has a Mohawk thing going on although the front of the female’s cap is gray.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a distinctive call and I can hear them from a distant lot when they are working on their breeding cavities. They build their nest in snags and use the wood chips as the nesting material.
The males have a habit of hammering on metal to attract a mate and they are more than happy to use your rain gutters, aluminum siding, car or any other available metals so they sound like the strongest, best man for the job. I guess that is the reasoning behind calling a group of woodpeckers a “drumming”. One time they also started hammering on a wooden section of my house where the siding had blown down. I did shoo that one away!
The range for this bird is the eastern half of the U.S. from around the Great Lakes and Southern New England south to the Gulf and Florida. They can be year round residents although the northern most birds may move further south during the cold of winter.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has an interesting flight. It dips as it flies resembling an aircraft in downdraft turbulence. To me it looks like a very bumpy ride though I didn’t see any airsickness bags to confirm that theory.
The preferred menu is insects that they glean from trees, snags and less often from the ground. You can find them looking for berries and they are happy to visit a backyard feeder. In addition, they won’t pass up fruits, vegetables, acorns, nuts or sap and you may find them hanging from a suet cake. Red-bellied Woodpeckers also may eat lizards, eggs or nestlings of other birds and small fish.