I was working in my yard this afternoon when my next-door neighbor came walking up. She knew I was a bird lover, and wanted to know if I knew how to get a hummingbird out of her garage. It may sound like an odd request to many. However, it’s one I’m getting all too familiar with. I have over 4,000 individual web pages on my South Dakota Birds website. Of all those pages, which page gets the most hits? During the summer months it’s generally not even close…it’s this blog post page from a few years ago, about a hummingbird trapped in my garage.
Once a hummingbird is in your garage, it’s not easy to get them out. My garage, for example, is quite tall, with the ceiling height a good six feet above the top of the garage door itself. Once a hummingbird comes in a garage, their instinct to escape drives them to fly upwards. They really seem to have trouble seeing the open garage door as an escape, and instead seem to always fly up towards the ceiling of the garage. For us, we’ve had two hummingbirds trapped in our garage over the years, and in both cases, we weren’t able to get them out until they were quite tired from flying around trying to escape. Then we got them to cling to a feather duster while we slowly moved them down and out the garage door. Other people have had some luck luring them down with flowers, hummingbird feeders, or some “red” item that grabs their attention.
And that is the problem in the first place…their attraction to the color red. The item in the picture below may be the most dangerous item for a hummingbird that you have in your entire house or yard. This is the manual “pull” on a garage door opener, what you use when the power goes out and you want to manually close or open your garage door. The problem is quite simple…garage door manufacturers seem to love making these items red in color. Hummingbirds strongly key in on the color red, associating it with flowers, and thus, nectar for feeding. If a hummingbird goes past an open garage door and sees a red item dangling down, just that attraction to the color red may cause them to enter the garage and check it out. Once inside, if you have a garage with a ceiling higher than the top of the garage door, they tend to get “stuck”.
We have multiple hummingbirds around our yard from early May through late September. However, with one simple change in our garage four years ago, we haven’t had any hummingbirds inside our garage. That change? Simply taking the red pull off the garage door opener and changing it to a black item. When I went over to my neighbor’s garage this afternoon, I knew what I would find…red garage door pulls.
Given how difficult it can be to get a hummingbird out of your garage, the best advice I have…prevent their entry in the first place. Check your manual garage door pulls. If they have a red pull, take it off and use a neutral colored item in its place.
It’s been a bad last week with my eyes, so dry and so hard to be outside in the wind. As such, I again haven’t been in much of a mood to go shoot, but thankfully these things seem to run in spurts and I’m feeling better now! What better way to get back outside than do a little more macro photography.
One of the things I’ve really loved about getting into macro photography (one whole month into it now!!) is that it’s opened my eyes to things I just wouldn’t have ever noticed before. When I’m walking along, closely scouring the vegetation or trail for an insect or some neat pattern to shoot with my macro lens, I certainly notice things I’d never noticed before when I shot almost exclusively birds. While walking in the Big Sioux Recreation Area (State Park across the street), I noticed that the undersides of the Burr Oak leaves had many little fuzzy balls. Not only fuzzy, but colorful and quite variable fuzzy little balls, between 1/4″ and 1/2″ in size, mostly in mixed bands of pink and cream colors.
A perfect opportunity for some macro shots! As the photo above shows, the fuzzy balls are variable, but seem to always be composed of the same two colors. I had assumed they were related to insect reproduction, thinking they were some kind of egg mass or something. A quick search of the internet when coming back home revealed that they are the galls of certain wasp species.
A wasp gall…OK? I knew the term “gall”, and had myself associated it with a variety of odd bumps and lumps and deformities that you see on plants. I had always assumed they were created by an insect to house eggs or young. I didn’t know the gall itself is actually plant tissue! Fascinating to read about! The galls are from the Cynipidae family of wasps. The females lay an egg on a leaf. There is some unknown chemical or mechanical triggering that induces the Burr Oak leaf itself to produce a protective gall around the egg. Once the egg hatches, the tiny wasp larvae feeds on the tissue of the gall itself, with the wasp eventually breaking free of the gall and flying away once it matures.
Very cool! And something I doubt I ever would have been aware of had I not started taking photos with a macro lens. I certainly wouldn’t have ever guessed that this fuzzy, pink-and-cream colored creation was actually part of the oak leaf itself!
While out birding the other day, I was standing on a bridge, trying to shoot (photograph!) Cliff Swallows that roosted under the bridge and were flying all over the place feeding on flying insects. A car drove by, stopped and backed up, and asked what I was doing. I told the couple, then they started asking a bunch of questions about birds in the area. They asked how many bird species there were in South Dakota, and I told them there have been about 420 different species seen here. They were shocked that there was such a variety of birds.
I was probably the same 15 years ago, right before I started birding. People are often aware of the most commonly visible birds in their yards, such as Robins or Blue Jays. However, for the most part people are very unaware of just how many kinds of birds might pass through their yard. When you think about how extensively an urban landscape is altered from whatever former natural vegetation used to be there, it really is amazing how birds adapt, and how you can find a wide variety of species, even in an suburban setting sometimes.
For raptors in urban areas, I typically would think of Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks, two species that have learned to use cities to their advantage. Both species will often take advantage of bird feeders and the concentration of prey that they attract. Peregrine Falcons have become adapted to a human presence, learning to hunt and breed in even the densest of cities to take advantage of Pigeons, European Starlings, and other prey that live in an urban environment. Around here, you do see Red-tailed Hawks on the urban fringe, but I guess I don’t normally think of them as “urban” raptors, even with the fame of those that inhabit the Central Park area in New York City.
The Outdoor Campus isn’t exactly Central Park (and Sioux Falls isn’t exactly New York City), but it is a nice oasis of habitat in an urban setting. I do bird there on occasion, but typically only on an early Sunday morning or other time when people aren’t around, as it can be very busy. I recently went to the Outdoor Campus, looking for spring warblers, but found more screaming kids and joggers than I did warblers. Despite all the activity, there are definitely many birds that have adapted to the loud-but-semi-natural habitat at the Outdoor Campus. As I walked around the park on that day, I saw the Red-tailed Hawk pictured above sitting on a tree branch, RIGHT above the path where the children, joggers, and others were passing through. It was definitely in active hunting mode, looking downward and scanning the area for prey. It didn’t seem to mind the noise or activity. It happily obliged while I took photographs at quite close range, something that I typically find VERY hard to do for raptors around here in a more “wild” setting.
From a bird photographer’s standpoint, the noise and activity at a place like the Outdoor Campus CAN be a blessing in disguise, as the birds that use the area get used to a human presence and are often much more “camera friendly” than birds found elsewhere.
Chalk this one up under the category of “something you hear about but haven’t seen”. You always hear about songbirds “mobbing” owls, but it’s not something I’ve personally witnessed more than a handful of times. Yesterday after birding, on my way home, I thought I’d do one quick drive up “Spook Road”, a road east of my hometown of Brandon that follows a little creek, and has some nice riparian veg and trees. It’s been a good birding spot in the past.
As I drove slowly down the road with my windows open, I first heard the scolding of a Blue Jay, and then a Chickadee and Robin that were joining in. With multiple species all scolding something, I figured it was likely an owl or other bird of prey. I stopped the car and looked around, but didn’t see anything at first. But then a Brown Thrasher came into the picture and went flying at something, banking off at a sharp angle right before it got to its quarry. There was a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl sitting on a branch, the target of the scolding by the mob of songbirds.
Two things were interesting about it, one, of course, being the mobbing behavior. There was also a Swainson’s Thrush hanging around showing interest, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a few others. It did make me wonder how much of a threat Screech Owls are to all these species. I’m sure they will take a songbird when they get a chance, but I don’t think a Screech Owl would take a bird the size of a Blue Jay. It didn’t seem to matter though, as it seemed like every bird in the area was intent on driving him away. The owl, for his part, didn’t seem to care. In fact, for most of the time he was being scolded, he had his eyes closed.
The second interesting thing was that it was a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl. The gray phase if overwhelmingly more common in South Dakota, and in fact, the ONLY place I’ve ever seen a red-phase screech owl here is…right on Spook Road, within a mile of this same bird. It’s been a handful of times where I’ve encountered them in this area now, so obviously the red-phase gene is sticking around in this particular spot.