Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wednesday Vignette: Time to feed the birds

Early this year, when word of a salmonella outbreak among song birds spread, I stopped filling my bird feeders.  After the risk dropped, I held off on filling the feeders as I hosted periodic gatherings with friends in my back garden  - fewer birds in the vicinity reduced the frequency with which I had to scrub my outdoor furniture.  Even as my friends and I got vaccinated against COVID-19 and returned to a semi-normal schedule of meeting at local restaurants, I held off refilling the feeders.  But I've felt guilty every time I looked out my home office window and saw a bird land on the empty feeders.  As Thanksgiving loomed, I decided there was no better time to scrub the feeders and get back to feeding the birds.  It only took a day before they were back.

Most of the avian visitors thus far have been lesser gold finches

Scrub jays show up periodically, scattering the smaller birds, but the weight of the larger birds causes the seed portals to close and the jays haven't figured out how to get around that

Of course the finches and jays the weren't the only creatures to return.

Full feeders or not, the birds have remained in the garden but the squirrels largely disappeared when the feeders were empty.  This fellow showed up at the feeders almost as soon as the birds did.

It took him numerous tries to figure out how to get up the pole but he's yet to master the fine art of feeding from these "squirrel buster" feeders without his weight closing the seed portals

He keeps working at it, though, and I'm sure he'll figure out how to feed upside down one day soon, just like his predecessors

I have three feeders in the front garden too but they've barely been touched thus far. 

These feeders contain a different seed mix but I suspect their closeness to neighborhood street traffic is what's put off both birds and squirrels

Meanwhile, as I pondered when I should cut back the Senna bicapsularis on the north side of the garden, I spotted caterpillars of the cloudless sulphur butterflies (Phoebe sennae) munching away for the first time this year.  Pruning will be delayed for at least a couple of months. 

These caterpillars can be either yellow or green depending on whether they're consuming the flowers or the foliage of the host plant.  The ones I found were feeding on the few flowers remaining on the Senna.  Heat and dry winds have already eliminated most of the flowers on the shrub. 

These three were easy to spot because they were yellow and feeding at eye level.  The Senna grows several feet above my head (where no flowers remain) so I imagine there are probably more I can't see.  According to one source, these caterpillars molt 4 times before forming a leaf-like chrysalis.  Once they form a chrysalis, it takes several weeks for them to transform into butterflies.

Hopefully, offering the birds plenty of seed will discourage them from eating caterpillars!

For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

20 comments:

  1. I could not stand taking them down so I cleaned them often which was a huge job. I eliminated all but a few. Now I have about 3 main feeders. I have six hummingbird feeders up though and there have been record numbers of them this year.

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    1. I eliminated my hummingbird feeder some years ago but they have lots of plants they love here and I still see them daily (even if I almost never get a photo). When I first heard about the salmonella among song birds, I cleaned my feeders and refilled them but, as you said, it was a major job to do that every time they emptied them, which here is usually within a week or less.

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  2. The smell of the feed must make the squirrels crazy - and determined! And provide you with around the clock entertainment.

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    1. The squirrel seems to have declared my garden his territory once again. He's darting all over the place, from feeders to trees.
      Today I saw him scolding a bird or critter from the safety of our large peppermint willow (Agonis). He's also started "harvesting" the still green guavas ;)

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  3. Senna plants are poisonous and consumption of the plant is a deterrent for birds consuming Phoebis sennae caterpillars.

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    1. Yes, I read that. Hopefully, the birds are also aware of that.

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  4. Your squirrel photos made me think of my stepdad, who wished his gradstudents had half the resolve and persistence of the squirrels trying to invade his feeders. LOL! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Kris!

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    1. When I'm not upset about one or another creature's assault on my garden, Anna, I'll freely admit that even the most annoying of my wild garden visitors - like the squirrels and raccoons - are remarkable in many respects. Best wishes for a happy holiday to you too!

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  5. Thank you for sharing the senna munchers; you remind me to start the seeds I picked up in San Luis Obispo a couple of weeks ago after seeing the cloudless sulfurs enjoying themselves there (along with a ton of monarchs hooray!).

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    1. I can honestly say that, before I planted that Senna bicapsularis, I'd never seen cloudless sulphurs in my garden, or really anywhere nearby. They're now the most prevalent butterflies in my garden, even if I'm hopeless at getting good photos of them. Best wishes with growing Senna from seeds.

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  6. A neighbor across the street has several bird feeders hanging from their tree, they're just far enough away that I have a hard time seeing the birds, but the squirrels are very entertaining as they try to get at the food. Happy Thanksgiving Kris!

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    1. It appears that my bird feeder break must have impacted the process of conveying knowledge of how to break through the defenses of the so-called "squirrel buster" feeders from one generation of squirrels to the next. The current resident squirrel is back hard at work trying to crack that nut this morning, though. He's sitting on top of the largest feeder right now ;) Oops, he just fell off!

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  7. Squirrels (and to a small degree, chipmunks) are annoying raiders of our seed and suet. If I chase them away, they laugh and come right back, ha! Human fool! :D

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    1. The "squirrel buster" feeders are helpful in controlling their greed for seed but they're definitely not fullproof - or foolproof ;)

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  8. Squirrels are amazing - annoying, yes, but also amazing. They are persistent and I feel I can see their brain hard at work trying to conquer the obstacles they run into. I don't have feeders up - did that long ago and far away and it got very messy very fast.

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    1. Squirrels have terrific tenacity, that's for sure, Barbara. I think I may follow last year's pattern and keep the feeders up during the winter months but let them remain empty during our warmer months. Not that food - for squirrels as well as birds - is particularly difficult to find year-round here.

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  9. Happy Thanksgiving Kris. Good eye catching the caterpillars. Hopefully you will be rewarded with the beautiful butterflies later on.

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    1. One year, all the cloudless sulphurs seemed to break out of their chrysalises at once, temporarily filling that area of the garden with a mass of bright yellow butterflies. It was magical!

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  10. Senna bicapsularis is intriguing. Looks like it is root hardy in NC. Glad you're seeing lots of butterflies! I stopped feeding the birds also but haven't started back. I feel sorry for them as it has been 27 this morning, but trying to discourage the squirrels. That's not working--they're burying acorns everywhere.

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    1. The birds here are very spoiled, Susie - even our overnight lows have been in the 50sF of late and it looks like we're going to go up to a daytime high of 80F by Wednesday. I guess I was lucky with the squirrels - once the seed was gone, they disappeared. I think I may have had 2 sightings from spring until the feeders were filled again just recently. I had no visits by peacocks either this year!

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