August 26, 2019

Monarchs and Milkweed

Monarch MigrationYou might not get to Mexico this winter, but if you plant some milkweed, you can help a Monarch Butterfly get there.

With their bright orange and black wings, monarchs are one of the most easily recognizable butterflies in the U.S. and Canada.  But where do they come from?  The monarch in your garden is like a long-haul trucker stopping for a meal.  This little creature travels hundreds or thousands of miles in its lifetime.  You can be part of this incredible journey by planting milkweed, the one plant absolutely essential to the monarch’s life-cycle.  See the video at the bottom of this post for more information.

Monarchs are well known for their long-distance migration.  Each fall, they fly thousands of miles on their delicate wings to ancestral roosting sites, where they spend the winter months semi-dormant in large colonies.  Western monarchs migrate to dozens of locations along the California coast, where they cluster in native trees and in the ubiquitous non-native eucalyptus.

East of the Rockies, monarchs make a more dramatic migration.  They fly from southern Canada and the northern United States all the way down to a handful of sites in the mountains of Mexico, where they roost in the millions.  It’s breathtaking to see so many monarchs in the trees that their collective weitht sometimes breaks branches, and to hear the sound of millions of butterfly wings when the monarchs take flight to sip from puddles.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this migration is that it takes place over several generations.  The last generation of the summer hatches at the northern limit of monarch range.  That generation delays sexual maturity and, triggered by the changing season, begins the 3,000 mile journey to Mexico, where it spends the winter.  In early March these butterflies reach sexual maturity and head north, mating as they go.  Some get as far as southern Texas, where the females lay eggs and die.  The next generation hatches and, after completing metamorphosis, heads north and east and repeats the process.

Over three or four more generations, monarchs repopulate the rest of the continent easy of the Rockies, until the last generation of the season begins the southern migration again.  A similar, thought shorter, migration happens west of the Rockies as Monarchs overwintering in California head north.

Understanding the Milkweed Connection

Butterfly gardens must provide food for both adults and caterpillars.  Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, a double-duty plant that also serves as a nectar source for adult butterflies.  Milkweed has a sap that contains alkaloids, which make the insects taste bad to birds and other predators.  The striking coloration of the monarch evolved as a warning that tells predators, “Don’t eat me; I taste bad.”

Start your monarch garden by planting milkweed species such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, butterfly weed (A. asperula), and common milkweed (A. syriaca).  If possible, choose a species that’s native to your region.  Plant native perennials to provide nectar from spring through fall.  Because monarchs migrate, late-season nectar is particularly important.  Good choices include coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), sedum (Sedum spp.), and verbena (Verbena spp.).  Commercial nectar is also available along with butterfly feeders specially made to provide a quick meal to migrating butterflies.

Add some dense shrubs where the butterflies can hide from hard rains and strong winds or a butterfly house Avoid insecticides, which can kill butterflies.  Then sit back and wait for these orange and black beauties to arrive.

Note: Avoiding Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush (Baddleia spp.) has long been a staple for gardeners trying to attract butterflies, and there is no doubt that butterflies find the shrub irresistible.  An import from Asia, butterfly bush comes in many colors and grows in a variety of conditions.  Beware however, butterfly bush has become invasive in some parts of the country, notably the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic region.  Choose native perennials and flowering shrubs instead.

Click the link below for an interesting video from the New York Times.

Monarchs and Migration

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The Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Elegance and grace define the Tree Swallow.  With an iridescent coat of metallic blue-green, and underparts and cheeks of pearly white, it’s hard to find a more elegant looking bird.  Grace comes naturally to this lovely swallow as it glides along with its distinctive, swooping flight.

Left on their own, this bird nests in tree cavities and prefers a habitat near forests, hence it’s name.

Listen for single chit or cheet notes.  Durning breeding season, these birds also create a song out of happy, twittering notes.

They are great at hunting mosquitoes and other airborne pests around your garden making them an attractive bird to attract to your yard.  Build or buy nest boxes and attach them to trees in the back part of your yard away from where there is activity.  Optimum opening size is 1 1/2″.  Bluebird-style houses work just fine.  Expect Tree Swallows to dive and swoop at you if you get too close to their nesting territory.

Unlike other species of swallows, the Tree Swallow eats berries and seeds as a part of their regular diet.  Bayberry, dogwood, red cedar, Virginia creeper, and other berries and seeds comprise about 30 percent of their diet.

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Protecting Hummingbird Feeders

Hummer hat baffleProtect your hummingbirds with this transparent hummer hat that fits over your feeder providing shelter from sun and rain for the hummingbirds while offering you the ability to watch these wonderful little birds.  Keeps the squirrels at bay as well!

The “Hummer Hat” is the best baffle made for protecting your hummingbird feeder from squirrels and the weather.  Not only will it stop squirrels but it will also stop pigeons from roosting.

The 17″ clear red dome will never block your view and it is made from 100% recycled Plexiglas.

You’ll also love that it will increase the hummingbird activity around your feeder due to the bright red color which hummerbirds are so attracted to.

Easy to hang and the hardware is included.

Lifetime warranty.

Dimensions: 13.00 x 17.00 x 8.00





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Butterfly Gardens : Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

Butterfly GardenThe Keys to Attracting Butterflies to your yard are pretty much the same rules as for attracting Hummingbirds.  Provide food, flowers, and misters (water) for them to fly through. Hummingbirds are extremely loyal to feeding sites.  A hummingbird that feeds in your yard one year will return to that feeder the next.  If you aren’t attracting as many butterflies, or hummers as you would like to, read on…

There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a chair or swing on your patio, deck, or porch and watching butterflies make a graceful trip around your yard.  Even in today’s hectic times, all “seems at peace and right with the world”, as a butterfly pauses to sip some nectar or relax on a warm rock.

Without a doubt, the number one thing you have to do if you want to attract butterflies is quit using chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides in your butterfly garden.

In the United States, you can find over 16 kinds of Hummingbirds.  For people east of the Rockies, the most prevalent by far is the Roby-Throated Hummingbird.  In fact, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the most widely distributed of the world’s 338 species of Hummingbirds, all of which occur ONLY in the Western Hemisphere.

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is often found between woodland and meadow.  However, it has adapted well to human development but only if there is shelter, space and food.  Thus, it is frequently seen in suburban backyards with mature trees and shrubs, in wooded parks, and around farmsteads.

As the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is so territorial, on key is to offer losts of feeders.  We have several different feeders available for every garden decor.  No matter what kind of feeders you decide to use, remember two golden rules: Keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh.  Fermented nectar can support the growth of deadly molds.  If a hummingbird gets a taste of fermented nectar from your feeder, it will look elsewhere for a drink and remain suspicious of the offending feeder for a long time.  Fermented nectar to hummingbirds is like drinking alcohol to humans.  Hummingbirds understand that they need a clear head for their acrobatic flying.

  • Plant open throated red flowers.
  • Tie a big red bow to trees and branches in your yard near feeders.  Hummingbirds have keen vision and are attracted to red.
  • Provide Nesting material.
  • Keep Feeders Clean!  We recommend the Brush kits in the hummingbird feeder section below.
  • Offer lots of feeders protected from ants.  Keep ants away from your feeders by using “Nectar Guard Tips” or hang a “Nectar Protector Ant Moat” above your feeder and fill it with water. (Ants can’t swim)  Recommended Feeders are listed below in the shop.
  • Keep Bees and wasps away from your feeders by using a flat top feeder where the nectar is not at the feeding port.  Hummers can reach but the bees can not.

 

One thing people often forget is it’s important to provide “host plants”, not just nectar sources.  By providing host plants, you can watch the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into an adult butterfly.  Besides host plants, of course, you need nectar plants that bloom from the start of the season to late summer and fall.

Remember to provide butterflies a place to warm in the sun.  Provide a bath waterer or “mister” for them.  Put out slices of banana.  Fruit flies come to the banana and butterflies consume fruit flies which provides them with protein and minerals.  Put out a slice of watermelon or overly ripe fruit, and you’ll be amazed at all the butterflies that stop by for a light lunch of “fruit plate”!

Visit our shop, The Empty Nest, where we offer both hanging and pole mounted butterfly houses.  In addition, find more  information to help you encourage butterflies to visit and stay with you. You will find advice for starting a butterfly garden, you’ll be able to browse butterfly houses, butterfly feeders, nectar, and garden decorative items featuring a butterfly motif.  You can shop for gifts for the butterfly lover, and watch a video on what host plants to provide if attracting butterflies is what you want in your garden.

To your success!

P.S. You’ll find more info and products to help in attracting butterflies here.

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How to Attract Hummingbirds to your yard.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

In the United States, you can find over 16 kinds of Hummingbirds.  For people east of the Rockies, the most prevalent by far is the Roby-Throated Hummingbird.  In fact, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the most widely distributed of the world’s 338 species of Hummingbirds, all of which occur ONLY in the Western Hemisphere.

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is often found between woodland and meadow.  However, it has adapted well to human development but only if there is shelter, space and food.  Thus, it is frequently seen in suburban backyards with mature trees and shrubs, in wooded parks, and around farmsteads.

The Keys to Attracting Hummingbirds are to provide food, Help for nesting, and misters (water) for them to fly through. Hummingbirds are extremely loyal to feeding sites.  A hummingbird that feeds in your yard one year will return to that feeder the next.  If you aren’t attracting as many hummers as you want, read on…

As the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is so territorial, on key is to offer losts of feeders.  We have several different feeders available for every garden decor.  No matter what kind of feeders you decide to use, remember two golden rules: Keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh.  Fermented nectar can support the growth of deadly molds.  If a hummingbird gets a taste of fermented nectar from your feeder, it will look elsewhere for a drink and remain suspicious of the offending feeder for a long time.  Fermented nectar to hummingbirds is like drinking alcohol to humans.  Hummingbirds understand that they need a clear head for their acrobatic flying.

  • Plant open throated red flowers.
  • Tie a big red bow to trees and branches in your yard near feeders.  Hummingbirds have keen vision and are attracted to red.
  • Provide Nesting material.
  • Keep Feeders Clean!  We recommend the Brush kits below.
  • Offer lots of feeders protected from ants.  Keep ants away from your feeders by using “Nectar Guard Tips” or hang a “Nectar Protector Ant Moat” above your feeder and fill it with water. (Ants can’t swim)  Recommended Feeders are listed below in the shop.
  • Keep Bees and wasps away from your feeders by using a flat top feeder where the nectar is not at the feeding port.  Hummers can reach but the bees can not.

Nesting

A hummingbird nest is not much bigger than a quarter, and often it contains just 2-3 eggs no bigger than small peas.  it’s typically hard to see, as it blends in well to the tree branch it’s attached to, and is made of fine animal or plant down and moss or lichens.

Hummingbirds have been proven to really take to a product called “Hummer Helper Nesting Material, which provides a natural replacement for some hard to find materials.  This item is sold in a convenient holder in the hummingbird section below.

Water

Hummingbirds, like many birds, need and are attracted to water.  One of the best ways to attract hummingbirds is with a “mister” taht emits a fine spray.

Hummingbird Facts

  • Hummingbirds beat their wings about 78 times per second.  During a display dive, their wings can beat up to 200 times per second.
  • Hummingbirds take about 250 breaths per minute
  • Hummingbirds like all other birds, have no sense of smell.
  • They have about 1,500 feathers.
  • Average Length: 3 1/2 inches
  • Average weight: 1/8 oz
  • They consume half of their body weight in food every day.  That would be like an average child eating about 40-50 pounds of food a day!
  • During migration, they must fly 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico to reach their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.  To make the trip, they must eat enough so they weigh 1 1/2 times their usual weight.
  • They can fly at speeds of 60 miles per hour and can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways, and even upside down briefly, but they can’t walk.  Avg speed is 30 miles per hour.
  • The average life span is 3-5 years.  Maximum 12 years.
  • Diet: Nectar and small insects such as gnats, ants, and flies.

More information is available in some of the books that are available in our shop below.

Artificial Nectar Recipe

  • One part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water.
  • Boiling the water for several minutes before measuring can retard spoilage in the feeder by a day or two; if you measure first, some will boil away and mess up the proportions.  Stir in the sugar while the water is still hot.  let cool before filling the feeder.
  • Store unused nectar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
  • This mixture approximates the average sucrose content (about 21%) of the flowers favored by North American Hummingbirds.

Our hope is that you will find this information helpful in your ability to attract these wonderful little birds.  Hummingbirds will bring you many hours of pure enjoyment!

P.S. To browse our page of hummingbird supplies visit our store hummingbird feeders and supplies.

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Garden Decorative Items & The Empty Nest
Summerville, SC 29485 | 843-647-0489

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