The lovely song “Feed the Birds” from the Mary Poppins musical keeps running through my head. Several questions I had this week were about feeding the birds. Wild birds don’t really need us to feed them, but we derive great pleasure in having them live near us and being able to see them up close. If you do feed birds, always keep their safety in mind. Your feeders need to be placed where the birds coming and going do not fly into any windows and get killed or wounded. Usually a window feeder should be no more than 3 feet from the window so any collisions will not be fatal. Other feeders should be placed no less than 30 feet away from your house.
Be sure to go out and look at the bird’s view of your house so you can find any reflections on your windows than might be hazardous. Have plenty of shrubbery and places for the birds to flee to when danger threatens. Feeders placed near picture windows looks good from the human view, but they are “death traps” for birds. If you find any dead or stunned birds near your feeders, or collisions often happen near them, the feeders are not in the right place and should be moved. If you want to find out more about feeding birds properly, look online for the Cornell University’s helpful publication “Backyard Bird Feeding.” It is an excellent, free download.
Cool nights and brightly colored leaves make the presence of autumn more real this month. It is a visual treat to drive around on our local roads and see the colorful landscape. Staghorn sumacs are bright red, as is the colorful but untouchable poison ivy creeping here and there. I’ll never forget seeing a family in New York State, where we lived at the time, collecting the red leaves of what they thought were Virginia creepers, a perfectly fine plant. They had their arms full of poison ivy and were in for lots of trouble that night back in the city. There was no way for us to warn them on the busy highway.
Dragonflies are still out and about patrolling their territories. I’ve seen them several times lately along the shore at Seawall as I’ve sat watching the lovely scene there. Dragonflies are ancient insects and fierce hunters. Long before dinosaurs walked the earth, dragonflies took to the air.
Their nymphs live in the water. Female dragonflies deposit their eggs on the water’s surface or on vegetation there. When these eggs hatch in the water, they spend their time hunting and eating aquatic invertebrates. Larger nymphs might even eat a tiny fish or tadpole. When the nymphs leave the water, they shed their skin and become adults. For the first few days, they may be weak fliers, not the robust adults easily seen patrolling their territory looking for food.
Dragonflies have extraordinary eyes with a visual range of 360 degrees. They also see in a wider spectrum of colors than we do as humans. With such excellent vision, they can catch their insect food in flight with ease and accuracy and avoid collisions in flight. Dragonflies have even been known on rare occasions to “take down” a hummingbird.
A number of dragonflies migrate in response to colder weather. Green darners, for example, fly south in the fall on a one-way trip, as adults in sizeable swarms and their offspring make the one-way trip north in the spring. Dragonflies follow weather fronts, fleeing the cold and chasing warm fronts in the spring, as do many humans living on our island.
Dragonflies and damselflies can be very colorful. Some have two wings; others are like bi-planes with a double set. They are well worth watching. No dragonflies overwinter as adults in the north woods. Most winter beneath the ice in the larval form in a state of a suspended animation called “diapause.” Dragonflies are very useful creatures in their endless pursuit of flying insects, such as mosquitoes, flies, wasps, flying ants, etc. At least 158 species have been documented in Maine. That’s about 36 percent of the total number in North America so far.
Keep watching this month for waxwings. An occasional Bohemian waxwing is seen now, as well as the common cedar waxwing. At 8 inches, the Bohemian is slightly larger than the 7-inch cedar waxwing. To me, the Bohemian has more of a flourish in its attitude and presents itself boldly. Both are crested birds. They love the bountiful array of berry-bearing shrubs to be found now. Watch for them anywhere on Mount Desert Island. In late summer and autumn, the spruce grouse also dines happily on wild berries, and in the winter, survives on shoots, foliage and the buds of spruce, larch and fir trees. When available, they will eat the low-growing plants. Young grouse subsist on insects and spiders.
Eagles may be seen these fall days as if in courtship, both in the air and on the ground. The length of day now is so similar to spring that thoughts of love are in the air. Even a peeper of two will call in hopes of finding a mate if it missed out in the spring! Canada geese are flying by on migration, often honking as they go. This is a special wildlife sound no matter how often you hear it. The leader honks to the flock, and the flock honks in reply at frequent intervals. It is one of my very favorite sounds to hear and always makes me stop to listen in awesome wonder.
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