Birds and Blooms Blog

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Warblers of the Deep Forest

Rob Ripma

Warblers are some of my favorite birds, and it’s always exciting when the warblers that breed in the deep forests of southern Indiana return to the state. I was lucky to have the opportunity to go birding in that area often while I was in college at Indiana University, and I always like to make a return trip each spring to enjoy these warblers again. One of my favorite warblers (and actually one of my favorite birds overall) is the Hooded Warbler. This is a species that specializes in living in the deep forests and is an extremely common breeder within the right habitat in southern Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it's always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it’s always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

In addition to the Hooded Warblers, there are several other species that add a little more color and diversity to the forests of southern Indiana. Kentucky Warblers are similar in color to the Hooded Warblers and are also very common in the forest. Worm-eating Warblers are drab brown birds that skulk along the forest floor, and Cerulean Warblers add a splash of blue to the woods.

This Cerulean Warbler was being banded along the Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

This Cerulean Warbler was banded recently along the US Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

While I’ve talked a lot about these warblers occurring in the forests of southern Indiana, there are many places throughout the eastern United States that you can also find all of them. Have you seen any of these warblers yet this year?  If so, where were they?

Spring Butterfly Gardening Reminders

Jill Staake

Some people watch for robins patrolling the lawn. Others wait for the first sign of cherry blossoms. But for some people, spring hasn’t arrived until they see their first butterfly, colorful wings flashing in the sun. Perhaps you’ve already seen your first butterfly this year, or maybe you’re still anxiously awaiting its arrival. Here are a few things to remember about springtime butterflies and butterfly gardening.

Butterfly Gardening

Jill Staake Don’t forget the small ones! Spring Azures are roughly the size of your thumbnail.

What happens to butterflies in winter?
The answer to this question varies by species. A few species migrate or move further south, like the famous Monarch migration. But most butterflies overwinter in the same area where they spend the summer, in various forms. Some butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak, overwinter as butterflies without migrating (though some populations will head south for the winter). These butterflies seek out dry cracks in the rocks or warm tree hollows and hunker down for winter. Other butterflies, like Great Spangled Fritillaries, overwinter as caterpillars buried in the earth. And some, like Cabbage White butterflies, overwinter in chrysalis (pupa). In all cases, these creatures enter a state known as “diapause“, which is much like hibernation, in which all of their bodily functions stop until the weather warms up again. (Learn more about butterflies in winter here.)

How warm must it be for butterflies to fly?
Butterflies are “poikilotherms”, which is essentially like being cold-blooded; their body temperatures reflect the temperatures outdoors. Most butterflies need a body temperature of about 80 degrees F to fly, but it doesn’t need to be nearly that warm outside. Butterflies use solar energy to pump up their body temperature by as much as 20 degrees above the temperatures outside. So when outdoor temperatures consistently start reaching 60 degrees F or so, butterflies will begin flying, at least on sunny days.

Which butterflies appear first in spring?
This of course varies by region, but here are a few to look for as soon as days hit the 60s and 70s in your area:

  • Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) overwinter as butterflies, and will emerge as soon as the days warm up, probably looking a little tattered and worn. They can be seen across most of the country.
  • Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) also overwinter as adult butterflies, emerging in early spring and laying eggs on the first new growth of nettles and elm trees. As the name suggests, they’re found in the eastern half of the country, except the Deep South.
  • Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae) and other members of this genus overwinter in chrysalis, making their appearance in early spring as newly-emerged butterflies. They’re seen around the country, and their caterpillars are often considered pests by vegetable farmers. (Learn more here.)
  • Spring Azures (Celstrina ladon) are another butterfly species that overwinter in chrysalis and appear in early spring as newly-emerged adults. This tiny blue butterfly is found throughout the country, except in the Deep South.

What if butterflies emerge before there any plants for them to nectar on?
The “first” butterfly of spring, the Mourning Cloak, has this problem solved. It actually rarely nectars on flowers, instead preferring tree sap, which by now has been running for weeks in most places. In other cases, the earliest wildflowers of spring coincide with the first butterflies, and some of the best early nectar plants are actually flowering trees like redbuds and dogwood.

Butterfly Gardening

Jill Staake Cabbage Whites and other early butterflies lay eggs on early spring flowers and plants.

How do I attract early butterflies to my yard?
The earliest butterflies may not visit flowers as often, but they’ll still need the right host plants to lay their eggs. Find out which butterflies visit your area in early spring, and make their host plants a part of your butterfly gardening efforts. Provide a few large flat rocks in your butterfly garden, too, for butterflies to bask in the sun on cooler days, and some native ornamental grasses or shrubs for them to seek shelter when spring rains pop up. Get good nectar plants started early, so your garden will be full and inviting when more butterflies arrive. It’s also not uncommon for some butterfly species to visit hummingbird feeders when plant nectar is scarce, so fill your hummingbird feeders when butterflies start to appear to see if you can lure in a few extra visitors.

Have  more questions about butterflies? Drop by our Community forums to send me your questions. Have you seen your first butterfly yet? Share your sightings with others here!

Gardening Ideas: Do You Have a Life List for Plants?

Have you heard the term ‘life list’?  It is a term that birdwatchers use to describe the list of birds that they want to see during their lifetime.

I confess that I don’t have a life list for birds, but as a horticulturist, I have a long list of plants that I hope to see.  During my travels, I have been able to cross off a few plants off of my life list.

Life List of Flowers: Gardening Basics

Top Left: Flowering Agave desmettiana, Baja Fairy Duster, Hedgehog Cactus.
Bottom Left: Flowering Ocotillo, Parry’s Penstemon and Argentine Giant Cactus.

What would you include on your life list for plants that you hope to see?  If you travel through the Southwest, maybe the flower of an agave 0r the vermillion-colored flowers of ocotillo would be on your list?

Pink & Purple Flowering Plants

Top Left: Double-flowering hollyhock, pink hibiscus, radiation lantana.
Bottom Left: Ornamental allium, prairie fire and lupine.

Are you a lover of cool-colored blooms such as pink and purple?  How about the multi-colored blooms of bush lantana or would the tall stalks or ornamental allium topped with purple balls be a must-have for your list?

Flowering_Plants

Top Left: Red bird-of-paradise, purple lilac vine and queen’s wreath vine.
Bottom Left: ‘Lipstick’ Salvia, tropical bird-of-paradise and silk tree blossom.

Do you like to search for different-colored varieties of your favorite plant(s)?  How about ‘Lipstick’ salvia?  If tropical flowers are more your thing, there is nothing to compare with the beauty of tropical bird-of-paradise.

Whenever I am traveling, I’m always on the lookout for flowering plants that I have not seen before.  Even when exploring around my hometown, I’m sometimes surprised by different flowers not often seen here.

Creating a ‘life list’ for flowering plants isn’t hard to do.  If you are crazy about roses, then create one for different rose varieties.  Maybe you love succulents and/or cacti – then create one for these types of plants.  The list is uniquely yours and you can put whatever kinds of plants you like.  As you search out plants to cross off of you list, you may find yourself inspired to use them in your own garden – you never know where gardening ideas will come from.

I must admit that I have a long list of plants on my life list that I have taken pictures of – BUT there was always one missing.  The flower of this plant is almost impossible to see up close much less photograph without a tall ladder as it is usually very high up.  However, last week I finally came within inches of this glorious flower.  I invite you to visit my gardening blog, azplantlady.com where you can see what flower I was able to cross of my life list.

How about you?  Would you ever create a life list for flowers and/or plants?  What plants would be on your list?

Picking a Finch Feeder for Your Backyard Bird Feeding Needs

Rob Ripma

As the American Goldfinches near my home start to molt into their breeding colors, it’s definitely the time of year when I commonly get asked about which feeder is best for attracting these cheery birds to people’s backyards. Since feeding this species is so popular, there are many different feeders to choose from when considering your backyard bird feeding needs.

These are some of the many options that you can choose from when buying a finch feeder to meet your backyard bird feeding needs.

These are some of the many options that you can choose from when buying a finch feeder to meet your backyard bird feeding needs. Each of these feeders is available at Wild Birds Unlimited stores.

Most people that feed finches have had a tube feeder with traditional ports such as the green feeder in the photo above. The finches seem to like eating from these tube feeders, but they are prone to get moisture inside of them that can cause mold. You have to be sure to keep those feeders very clean. To help with easy cleaning, be sure to buy a feeder with a removable bottom.

Sock feeders, such as the white sock above, have also been around for a long time. They are very popular with finches, but they do wear out quickly. Since they are inexpensive, it’s not a problem to replace them frequently.

If your finches love sock feeders but you would like something that won’t wear out so quickly, metal mesh finch feeders are right for you. These are my favorite way to feed finches, and I have two of them outside my window right now with many finches on them. These feeders allow for more finches to be on them at the same time (since there isn’t a limited number of ports like the tube feeders), and they tend to have less of a molding problem than the traditional tube feeders. Since the air moves through these feeders, even if the seed gets wet, it dries out quickly.

For those that are having trouble with species other than goldfinches eating all your seed, such as House Sparrows, you might want to consider an upside-down finch feeder. In order to keep some species from eating out of this feeder, the ports are below the perch, making the goldfinches have to flip upside-down in order to feed. This is very hard for birds like the House Sparrow, so they tend to leave the feeder alone.

If you have questions on finch feeders, visit your local backyard bird feeding store such as Wild Birds Unlimited or submit a question in the comment box below.  What is your favorite type of finch feeder?

Garden Basics: How to Dig a Hole

Did you know that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to dig a hole? Learn what size your hole should be before planting to ensure a happy plant.

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