Cedar Waxwings in Amelanchier (shadbush) trees. The male will hop over to a female, often with a berry, as part of courtship and if she accepts it they will become a pair.
Cedar Waxwings are fruit eaters and this time of year look for them in Amelanchier (shadbush) trees, whose fruit ripens early. We have the trees framing our front walk and are delighted the waxwings are there when we go to our house. In fall waxwings like crabapples trees, so plant both crabapples and shadbush for multi-season Cedar Waxwing fun!
Monarch Butterfly. They lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars feed on this plant.
Great Spangled Frittillary on Purple Coneflower
Close-up of Great Spangled Fritillary
American Lady Butterfly, told by the two eye spots on underside of the hindwing
Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies are unmistakable
Spicebush Swallowtails can be told from other big, dark swallowtails by their single row of prominent white dots inside the margin of their forewings. The larvae of Spicebush Swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafrass.
Pearl Crescent butterfly. Scores are feeding on white clover on our path so we keep the path mowed high to preserve the clover flowers for them.
Mourning Cloaks are widespread across much of North America. They are one of the few butterflies who overwinter as adults, finding protected places in log piles, nooks, or under loose bark, and when they emerge in the spring they look worn, as this butterfly does. They are one of the longest lived butterflies and some may live as long as 10 months. Mourning Cloaks feed on sap and fruit.
Our butterfly bushes will bloom soon and they're magnets for the butterflies. Check with your local nature society to see which butterfly plants are not invasive in your area. Here's a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on butterfly bush.
We've written two books to help you attract and identify butterflies. Stokes Beginner's Guide To Butterflies, has an easy ID key to help you quickly identify the butterflies you see by size and shape.
Stokes Butterfly Book gives you plans for a butterfly garden, lists and photos of butterfly plants, and chapters, with color photos, on the identification, behavior and caterpillars of common butterflies. Both are available at amazon.com and stores.
When the birding is slow, and it's the middle of the day, a wonderful thing for birders to do is look for butterflies. Butterflies are colorful flying creatures, just like birds. The identification skills birders already have can be transferred to identifying butterflies.
Look at butterflies through your binoculars, no need to catch them in a net.
The hot weather favors butterflies as they need to warm their bodies to fly. They need to get their body temperature up to 85 to 100 degrees Farenheit in order to fly well. Adult butterflies come to flowers for nectar, lay their eggs on special host plants, which can be unique to each species of butterfly. The eggs hatch, larva feed on the plant then turn into a pupa or crysalis from which the adult butterfly will emerge. A complete cycle or generation is called a brood, and butterfly species can go through from just one to as many as four broods per year, depending on the species and the number of warm months. Different butterflies are on the wing at different times during the summer, so you will continue to see new species.
There are about 17,000 species of butterflies in the world. In North America there are about 700 species but only a small fraction are common and likely to be seen by the average person.
When you see a butterfly watch it closely for several minutes. Observe how it flies, its size, shape, and the colors and patterns on its wings, both above and below.
Start by knowing the major families of butterflies that are distinctive. Below are some:
Swallowtails - are our largest butterflies and most have long tails coming off their hind wings.
Whites and Sulfurs - these are all medium-sized butterflies that are predominantly white or yellow.
Gossamer Wings - this group is easy to identify since it includes all of our smallest butterflies, such as the blues, coppers and hairstreaks, and metalmarks. The blues tend to be iridescent blue, coppers are often copper, hairstreaks often have hairlike tails on their hind wings, and metalmarks often have metallic spots on their wings.
Brush-footed Butterflies - this is a large and varied group of medium-sized, generally dark-colored butterflies with such strong and rapid flight they are hard to follow. Their is no one field characteristic, besides their flight, that makes them easy to identify as a group.
Satyrs - these are medium-sized butterflies that are almost all brown, often with darker eye-spots on their wings. They have a weak and bobbing flight and are often seen at woods edges or among grasses.
Skippers - are small butterflies whose flight is extremely rapid and erratic. They are mostly rich brown or orange-brown.
Baltimore Oriole, male, so enjoying the oranges at the feeder next to our deck. During the recent spell of cold and rain, both he and his mate frequently came to the oranges, and also to suet. Such a perk for them in difficult weather, helping them get easy calories while they continue their challenge of breeding and raising young. Even though they are eating the fruit now, they also eat insects and will primarily feed their young in the nest caterpillars and insects as oriole babies need good protein for growth and feather development. You can also attract orioles with mealworms and oriole nectar and grape jelly feeders. Some orioles will come to feeders all season but others stop using feeders once they have young in the nest and instead focus on eating insects. The best time to attract oriole is to have feeders ready as soon as they come back from migration. It is such a thrill to see these orioles up close. For more on attracting and feeding all the species of North American Orioles see Stokes Oriole Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Orioles
Mourning Doves catching a little snooze on our garden bench which is in our veggie garden. Did you know you can tell male from female? The male is on the left, sleeping on the arm of the bench, the female is resting on the right. The male has a more rosy breast, female is more brown. So cute that they are making themselves at home. This undoubtedly is a mated pair.
Mourning Doves make a loose nest of twigs and lay two white eggs. Incubation lasts 12-13 days. Amazingly the male incubates the eggs without a break from morning until evening and the female does the same thing from evening until morning. The nestlings are in the nest for 12-13 days then fledge. The parents feed the young "pigeon milk," nutritious white liquid the parents regurgitate. The young put their bills inside the parent's and the parent pumps the food up. Toward the end of the nestling phase, an increasing percentage of the food is regurgitated seeds and insects. The parents brood the young almost constantly until they are about ten days old. Feedings of the young are spaced far apart as the adults spend a great deal of time gathering food in their crops and then regurgitate it all at once to the young in the nest. Great stuff to know if you are watching a Mourning Dove nest.
Yellow Warbler, male, one of the most widespread breeding warbler
Migration is in full swing now and has reached all the way to the northern areas of the country. Here in NH, warblers are migrating through and breeding warblers, like this Yellow Warbler, are returning. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have returned and are visiting feeders. Gray Catbirds are coming to dried mealworms. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds eagerly visit feeders, as not many flowers are blooming yet due to the late spring. Goldfinches are turning from their dull winter plumage into their yellow breeding plumage and visiting feeders and bird baths.
Welcome the birds into your yard with food, bird houses, shelter, bird baths, and enjoy!
We have been seeing beautiful migrant warblers coming into Florida for weeks and they and we are headed to The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, Magee Marsh, Ohio "the warbler capital of the world." The festival is organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Beautiful eye candy warblers gather on the south shore of Lake Erie before crossing and birders view them at close range from a boardwalk that runs through the important stop-over habitat at Magee Marsh woods. We are giving a keynote talk there on Sat. May 16th at 4 pm and we will lead a special bird walk on Sun. May 17th at 8 am (for which you can register now). The festival runs from May 8-17th with lots of trips, speakers, birding vendors, warbler viewing and fun. We hope to see you there.