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.
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.
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.
This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 14, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
Nothing says Christmas time to me like a guy in a bright red suit and the smell of bayberry. I saw a flash of red the other day. “Is it SANTA?”, I wondered aloud. Checking the calendar it seemed doubtful, we still have 11 days to go. Besides, Santa seems hell-bent on the cookie tray, and this guy was dancing through the small, tight limbs of one of my female bayberry shrubs, a.k.a. wax myrtle. Oh, silly me…’tis a male Northern Cardinal(Cardinalis cardinalis).
The northern cardinal is one of the more vivid and recognizable birds. The males have that bright red thing going while the females are a little more sedate with a reddish brown glow. Rather like L’Oreal RC6-Cherry Auburn versus 6RB-Light Reddish Brown.
These birds are year round residents in their range that covers the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Nice that so many of us have the opportunity to be in their breeding area, although they tend to hide nests in dense tangles of shrubs. I know that they nest in my neighbor’s scrub area because I have seen the parents bringing food for little ones, but heck if I can find where the actual nest is. I can often hear the cardinals flitting from shrub to shrub with their “chip” of a call. They also have a very melodic song that they readily share.
“My” cardinal was happily snagging the waxy blue berries on the bayberry, which is native to Florida. Cardinals readily visit backyard feeders, although planting shrubbery native to your locale such as Bayberry or Red Cedar is a more nutritious way to bring them calling and will provide for a greater variety of wildlife than just commercial bird seed will.
While a lot of people aren’t fond of Wax Myrtles since their roots structures creep along creating baby wax mrytles where you might not want them, I appreciate their “creep”. They pretty much are filling in along the fence lines to create a natural barrier; AND they attract massive species of wildlife, such as the beautiful cardinal. As I watched while I drank my morning coffee I was happy with nature’s choice of this planting since it brought this red beauty to my beautiful wildlife garden.
This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 18, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
I heard the thump. I opened the door to the welcome mat filled will the most unwelcoming pile of feathers and my heart sank. Based on the small size of the feathers and the coloring, I started poking around the patio for the remains of a brown-headed nuthatch. Very upset, I searched but found nothing. My thoughts were for the other bird…would they be without a mate? They have been working so diligently at the Pine snag forming numerous holes and I had just seen them bringing in nesting materials to fill one of those holes. The next morning I heard a familiar squeak, but only saw one of the two.
Bird can run into windows, often when they see through to the other side such as when there are windows that align on both sides of a home. Reflection of habitat is another cause of collision, as is being startled.
Audubon offers many solutions and outlines the effectiveness of each toward Minimizing Window Collisions, including feeder
placement and use of drapes, decals and similar window add-ons.
Cornell offers tips on what to do if you find a victim of a window collision. If it is obviously injured, get it to a rehab facility. Today would be a good day to look up where the nearest facility is in your area so you are ready in case of tragedy. If the bird is just stunned, place it in a covered shoebox and leave it alone for 15 minutes. Darkness helps calm birds. If it is extremely cold, take it inside. After the 15 minutes, take the box outside and remove the lid. If the bird flies off…GREAT. If not, cover it and try again in another 15 minutes or so. If you are still without success, take it to a rehabilitation hospital.
The good news is that I needed neither a burial nor a rehab facility. By late afternoon the day after, my two birds are back at the snag. I believe the crash took place because there is a lot of territorial fighting during this time of year…mating season…and the snag is just about 25 feet or so from the patio. Since the crash I’ve witness the wrangling in flight of these birds and they pay little attention to where they are headed as they tumble through the air. I’m just grateful that tragedy was averted.
Take time to try and protect our wildlife friends with the above tips. You can find decals by putting “bird collision decals” in your search engine. There are many shapes and sizes and you place them on the OUTSIDE of windows. Some are designed to be almost transparent from the inside of your home. Help prevent some of the estimated 1 billion birds killed in the United States due to window collisions as the birds return this spring.
This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 27, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com/. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
They gracefully soar through the air and rarely do you see the flap of the wings. They appear able to move around on unseen air currents. I relish their beauty against bright blue skies. They snag the high-flying insects, eating “on the wing” without making a stop. It is a hawk commonly called the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus).
Yes, they are beautiful, and most times I do love to see them around my place, but there are a few things about them I don’t like. For one, they eat lizards and not the non-native brown ones that stick close to the ground. Unfortunately, they grab the lizards from high in the trees, which means they eat our native Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis). I like our native anoles; they are fun and entertaining.
Second, they eat dragonflies, again a species I find beautiful and entertaining. Ok, I know all about the natural food chain, I just wish the Kites would stick to the crickets, beetles and cicadas or add something to the menu that I like less, for instance, love bugs!
Third, hawks are known to shop around for bird nestlings and that why I’m not too fond of any hawks this week. I had 4 mockingbirds fledge this past week and I did find one who had met its demise since jumping from the nest. When it was found, I was listening to the mockingbird parents chasing after a red-shouldered hawk, so apparently the culprit was caught in the act.
Sunday as I watched the graceful aerobatics of the Kite, in my mind I knew what it was up to. My bluebirds were ready to fledge, probably on Monday. I also saw a brown thrasher sneaking some food into the palmetto scrub under my neighbor’s Dahoon. That must mean there are more babies out there. And the Kite, with all its beauty and grace, seems to have zeroed in on my little piece of bird-nesting heaven.
I have come to accept the things I don’t like about nature…it is nature, after all and some things in life are just hard facts that must be handled. I promise to go back to loving the beautiful black-on-white of this majestic raptor, but not until after I see my four baby bluebirds successfully fledge and grow up.