Start Feeding Now!

Did you want to feed us squirrels… Um, we mean, the birds this winter?

You need to start now.

Like us–hint, hint–wintering songbirds are flitting around checking out the best food sources now. They pick quite a few sites and back-ups. If you aren’t on their list now, they won’t bother looking during the coldest part of the season. No animal has the energy to spend on searches when their stores are down. Prepare now to enjoy our–their company during your extended quarantine!

Who knew?

Sometimes you stroll through the neighborhood knowing what and where everything is. Then you skip a route for a week or two and…

Who knew these plants got this tall? Miz Flora says it’s a Tithonia sunflower. There are two and maybe the extra space and good soil allowed them to stretch farther than usual.

Anyhow, they are seven feet tall and reaching for the sky, far out of range for us squirrels.

Sadly, as they go to seed, the birds will have a treat, not us.

Burdock

We squirrels know all about you humans. Watching from high up, we see many things happening. That’s how we know you don’t want to see certain plants growing in your yard.

Burdock is one of these plants. It grows huge–three feet tallied wide–and the burs get in your fur!

But then you notice that the somebody likes that plant more than you do…

and maybe it needs to stay.

Happy Pollinator Week!

Yes, pollinators have the support of a week dedicated to them, just like squirrels do! (That shows you how important they are. Squirrel Week IX was back in April when we were doing out Blogging From A to Z Challenge, so we, um, missed it.)

Pollinator Partnership sponsors this activity to coordinate events and raise awareness about the need for pollinator health.

We’ve tried to do that here, without any coordination, and we trust that our human readers are interested in keeping our natural world healthy, not just squirrels activities. We put out a bee and wasp quiz after featuring bees in 2016. This is a fun look at our most common bees and was a lot of work for Hickory to collect for a Mystery post, so we will just post that here for you to return to: One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve — Bee Quiz.

Pollinators aren’t just bees…so maybe we will get together another post–quiz?– by the end of pollinator week. But for today, we have some bee identification resources for you.

In that bee quiz, we suggested using the Native Bees of North America on Bug Guide to identify your bees. We’ve found another site specific to Bumble Bees that is more detailed in breaking down each part of the bee that you need to look at to make an accurate identification: Bumble Bee Watch. You can even submit your bumblebee photos and go through the guided key to identify your local species.

We gave it a go, because Hickory and I have pretty good photos, right? Hmm. Take this group of the same bee foraging on a Purple Turtlehead.

We know the location, the date, the plant the bee is on. We have a great view of his side and tip of his abdomen. But the bee face is missing! And so is the very top of the bee’s thorax. And we can’t see how the yellow bands merge with the black ones, which can take many, many shapes. You need to have these bee parts to identify the bee!

Bumble Bee Watch has a very clear tips on how to photograph bees for identification. We get close enough–bumble bees are focused on getting their nectar and pollen supplies when they visit a flower, so don’t worry about being stung. But in the future, we will take more photos from different angles–especially if the bee is on the flower for as long as this one was!

Bumble Bee Watch has a nice gallery of dozens of bumblebees showing their identification features, flowers, and range. So even if you don’t submit a photo, you can learn a lot!

Have you tried to identify a bee? What resources did you use? We’re sure we haven’t found them all yet!

Bluebirds Return

We squirrels may forget where we buried our acorns, but it seems like our local bluebirds haven’t forgotten where the good eats are!

The Eastern Bluebirds were chased out of nesting in the backyard nest box they used last year by a pesky House Sparrow–here’s the guilty party.

The humans decided not to let the sparrows–or the catbird!–get a foot in the door and blocked the box.

Wherever the bluebirds reared their young must be close by. The parents have brought the young by to find food!

Maybe a pair will get a chance next year!

Are you still feeding the birds?

Many humans feed birds throughout the year. Some only feed in the winter, when food is scarcer for the birds–and us squirrels, mind you! We have seen some humans stop feeding when grackle or starling flocks invade their feeding stations. Believe us, we don’t like the noise and the mess of those big, pushy flocks either.

One of our human neighbors is feeding the birds and has quite a variety of birds coming to visit.

Ms. Flora commented on the pleasant coo of the Mourning Dove, which I’ve noticed, but it’s so common it’s like a background music when we leap around the neighborhood. Mourning Doves are practically everywhere except deep woods, and we don’t have too much of that in suburbia.  Hickory and I thought we would look up a little bit about it. We didn’t realize that these birds are hunted! They are no bigger than a robin, so why would people want to eat them?

But they do, and apparently that led to uninteresting discovery: A dove shot in 1998 in Florida had been banded–in 1968 in Georgia. That made the bird at least 30 years and 4 months old! We had no idea these small birds lived that long–to us squirrels, that’s like forever, and something we would only have thought would be the lifespan of something as large as a hawk.

Mourning doves are kind of like chickens, in that they prefer to scratch and pick their food off the ground. We have sort of battle going with them under the feeders. They are round enough that they don’t seem to like perching feeders, but will eat off those tray feeders.

They’re mighty quick to land and take offer and do startle easily. If you haven’t heard their coo, here’s a link to a nice recording of it on All About Birds.

Z is for witch haZel

Again! (We used witch hazel in our 2018 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, too!) There just aren’t enough ‘Z’ names in nature. But we’re lucky witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has a Z in there for our Trees for Bees posts.

The native witch hazel becomes a small tree–to 25 feet–in the shady understory of the forest, but there are also many shrub forms of this species available. They may bloom at different times, like very early spring.

The native tree’s flower blooms in the fall, right around Halloween, and the long, stringy, yellow petals look like spiders–making us squirrels think you humans named it because you thought the tree was ‘bewitched.’ Not so! The name comes from wiche, which means pliant– as in bendable branches.

That makes no difference to bees or other nectar-seekers! If it’s one of those warm fall days that we are prone to having, they want to eat! Witch hazel and the late fall asters are about the only things blooming in October-November, so planting this tree is a real benefit to insects.

And indirectly to us squirrels, I should fairly add. Once the bees pollinate those flowers, the nuts will form, a tasty treat for wildlife.

Of all the woody trees and shrubs we’ve presented for our April ‘Trees (and Shrubs) for Bees’ challenge, witch hazel is one of our favorites. Those crazy fall-blooming flowers are just a neat thing about about nature. We hope you put it on your planting list!

We will compile a complete list of Trees for Bees for you as a summary of this month…sometime this week!

And remember: Please don’t purchase plants that have been grown with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. You’re not doing anyone a favor with that these days. And if you haven’t yet, please watch Marla Spivak’s TED talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and what  you can do to help.

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

Oops! We got our alphabet days wrong!

‘Y’ day is today for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We accidentally posted it yesterday. So for today, um…

…remember that blackberrY and raspberrY flowers also are a favorite with pollinators! Just  because these trees and shrubs help the bees doesn’t mean they can’t help us squirrels, too!

Y is for blueberrY

Again, we know this isn’t exactly how the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is supposed to run–with our chosen alphabet letter at the end of the word instead of the start–but desperate times… Honestly, we should have saved Yellow Poplar for Y, used tupelo for T… and on and on, but you know, squirrels!

Nonetheless, you readers are getting a nice list of Trees and Shrubs for bees!

Blueberry, Vaccinium sp, is found as a wild plant and a cultivated one across the entirety of North America. The wild blueberry bushes in our mid-Atlantic states are Vaccinium angustifolium.

They grown in a partial shaded forest floor, whereas most cultivated blueberries prefer full sun. The soil can be dry to average and our native plants only grow to 2 feet high, while the cultivated shrubs are 8 feet tall.

All blueberries have a small urn-shaped flower that opens at the bottom.

Only the smallest of bees pollinate them, or bees with very long tongues. However, some bees–like honeybees, carpenter bees and short-tongued bees–cheat. they chew holes in the back of the flower postal the nectar without pollinating the plants! They bloom in the spring and set berries that ripen throughout the summer.

All of the wild blueberry relatives attract bees: cranberry, deerberry, lingonberry, bearberry and huckleberry

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing