Sunday, April 14, 2013

Just Passing Through

Spring birds are migrating north this time of year. My red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) are loaded with fat, red buds. They will be just what the hummingbirds are looking for as they travel through the area. The native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is already blooming; the bright red blooms are another hummingbird favorite.

Kentucky warbler passing through

We don’t always see migratory birds, however. Many of them are not seed eaters and so do not stop by feeders. These birds feast on insects. Last year I saw a whole flock of cedar waxwings swoop through the old leaves clinging to a sugar maple. They were looking for insect larvae on the leaves and made quick work of the search. They were gone in 5 minutes and I was glad to have been there at just the right time to witness the event.

This year a Kentucky warbler stopped by my house (actually he probably ran into my large window). I was able to snap a few pictures while he recovered (which he did). What a beautiful bird. He is a timely reminder that we can support these birds as they fly up from their wintering areas (his winter home is in Mexico according to the literature).

Red buckeye; a hummingbird came by as I was taking
this picture yesterday.
Native plants support insects in ways that non-native plants do not. Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on host plants and their host plants are largely very specific plants. Very few can adapt to use non-native plants for their young (parsley is one such exception for insects that use plants in the Apiaceae family). 

Most of us have heard the story about how the Monarch butterfly only lays its eggs on milkweed plants (Asclepias sp.). It's a story that is repeated over and over for the many other butterflies have "specialist" appetites for native plants. North American insects have very little ability to adapt to non-native plants - certainly not in our lifetime.

Why does it matter? Fewer plants equals fewer insects which equals fewer birds. So take stock of your garden and see what native plants you have and think about adding more. More for birds that eat berries, come for nectar, or just stop by for the insects on the leaves.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) - yeah, it
really is native!

If you would like to get plants like red buckeye and coral honeysuckle, be sure to stop by the giant native plant sale hosted by the Georgia Native Plant Society this coming Saturday, April 20, 2013. We’ll have both of those plants and many more good ones that support the insects which warblers are seeking.


  1. I had a buncha pine warblers in my garden back in January... My coral honeysuckle, red buckeye plus yellow buckeye are putting on a show too... Where's the pictures of the eastern columbine?

  2. I have window clings on my glass. it helps with bird strikes a bit. though I wish there was a better solution other than completely covering every few inches of the window with ribbons or tape. Sadly glass buildings and windows kill an enormous number of migratory birds each year. Many birds fly away but die later. IF anyone has a better solution I'd love to know.