Birds and Blooms Blog

Get the latest birding and gardening tips from our expert bloggers.

Winner of our Outdoor Animal Video Contest


Congratulations to Thomas Vitale! He’s the winner of our Outdoor Animal Video Contest. Thomas submitted a charming video of a deer and a rabbit. Enjoy it below!

Thanks to everyone who submitted videos and voted. Check out our YouTube channel to see more funny videos and expert Q&As!



Bird Species Profile: Northern Shoveler

Rob Ripma

Although the start of fall signals that we are heading toward the winter and colder temperatures, I always look forward to the season because it means that ducks will be starting to migrate. One of the species that I always look very forward to seeing is Northern Shoveler.

This Northern Shoveler is in the process of molting.

This Northern Shoveler is in the process of molting.

Northern Shovelers have already started their migration and can be seen throughout the United States right now. They are wetland specialists and make use of this habitat in all seasons so if you’d like to see one, head out to your local wetlands! You can see recent reports of the species on eBird by clicking here. This species can be seen in all 50 state including all the way out in Hawaii where some will spend the winter. Can you imagine flying all the way over the ocean to get to Hawaii?

The name shoveler comes from their large shovel-like bill. When feeding, they swing this unusual bill through the water and strain food from the water as it passes through.

I photographed this female Northern Shovler at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Texas last November.

I photographed this female Northern Shovler at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Texas last November.

Have you ever had the opportunity to see Northern Shovelers?


Watch a Butterfly Feeding

Jill Staake

Butterflies can be skittish creatures. When you try to get close, they take off in another direction. Working in a free-flight butterfly exhibit gives me the chance to observe their behavior up close, and this week I shot this video of a Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe) butterfly feeding on the flowers of Mona Lavender (Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’). Take a look, and watch the butterfly use its proboscis to get at the nectar deep inside the flower. (Learn about the proboscis and other basic butterfly anatomy here.)

One thing that was interesting to us as keepers of the exhibit was the fact that this butterfly was feeding on a plant that not very many other butterflies use for nectar. The reason is most likely because Mona Lavender has a very deep, narrow flower. The nectar is at the very base of the inside of the flower, at the end of the tube, and a butterfly must extend its proboscis all the way down to the bottom to feed. Butterflies have different proboscis lengths, and it’s not necessarily based on the size of the butterfly itself. For instance, this little Sleepy Orange is only about the size of a quarter, but it has a very long proboscis compared to other butterflies. This allows it to feed on flowers that other butterflies can’t – an evolutionary advantage.

Sleepy Orange Butterfly Feeding

Jill Staake A Sleepy Orange butterfly feeding on Mona Lavender.

Butterflies and moths are though to to have co-evolved with flowers in many cases, with the flowers developing tubular shapes that only certain butterflies or moths can reach. Flowers benefit from visits by these butterflies and moths, since they serve as pollinators. In the 1800s, Charles Darwin noted an orchid found in Brazil with a flower tube so long that the insect which pollinated it would need a proboscis of at least 10 inches. Sure enough, another scientist eventually discovered he was right. The so-called Predicted Moth (Xanthopan morgani) has a proboscis that measures over 11 inches! Learn more about this amazing story here.

Have you ever watched a butterfly feeding? Share your stories in the Bugs & Butterflies forum in our Community!

You Don’t Say: Head First


You Don't Say

In our November issue, we feature this fun snapshot from Gilberto Sanchez of El Paso, Texas. Do you have a clever caption for this picture? Share it below and you might see your caption and name printed in the January issue of Birds & Blooms Extra!

Easy Garden: Fall Leaves Make Great Mulch for Your Lawn

Autumn Leaves

Fall has officially arrived and leaves will soon be turning beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red, providing a fall display that we look forward to each year.

However, it’s what comes after the show that does not make most people happy – fallen leaves!  BUT, did you know that there are some people who look forward to seeing fallen leaves on their lawns?

Now before you start thinking that people like this must be a little crazy – let me tell you an easy garden secret that they have already discovered – “Fallen leaves make a great mulch and add nutrients to your lawn.”  What’s even better is that you don’t have to haul out your rake and trash bags – all you need is your lawn mower.

fall leaves as organic matter

When leaves are broken up into smaller pieces, they gradually break down and make their way down into the grass where they provide mulch.  The mulching action of the leaves keeps a majority of weeds from germinating in spring.  Now wait, it get’s even better – as the leaves break down, they add nutrients to your lawn as well, which is vital to rapid recovery and regrowth in spring while needing less supplemental fertilizer.

So, are you ready to ‘mow’ your leaves instead of raking them this fall?

To create leaf mulch from your autumn leaves simply set your lawn mower on its highest setting (without the bag) and run over the leaves twice, which will break them down into small pieces.  (I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather mow leaves than rake them!)  Thereafter, every couple of weeks, continue to mow your leaves until they are finished falling.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly they disappear from the lawn surface as they break down.

Creating leaf mulch for your lawn is a great example of sustainable, organic and easy gardening!

So, as the temperatures begin to cool and the first brightly colored leaves begin to fall, leave the rake in the shed and reach for your lawn mower – you’ll end up with a healthier lawn with much less effort.

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