While working in your yard this summer, you might want to identify the plants and determine if they are native or non-native species. Many non-native invasive plants are outcompeting our native plants with disastrous consequences for our native birds. Non-native honeysuckles are particularly problematic. National Wildlife Federation encourages us to remove them.
Fruit eating birds such as cardinals, catbirds and robins love their tasty red fruits, and spread their seeds far and wide. But these birds are generalists and can eat a wide variety of fruits. The result is that Asian honeysuckle covers huge swaths of land, smothering out our native plants. Honeysuckle berries are not very nutritious, and worse, the plant itself hosts few beneficial insects. Without beneficial insects, birds have much less to feed growing nestlings. Warblers and chickadees, for instance rely on hundreds of caterpillars per day to feed themselves and their young.
Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, has found that the number and diversity of plant-eating insects drops dramatically when exotic plants invade. Caterpillars comprise 90 percent of warbler and chickadee diets during the breeding season. Tallamy states, “We are so used to hearing disastrous environmental news, and it often seems there is little that one person can do. But I’ve been going all over the country saying that you can do something. You can change the plants in your yard.”
If you set yourself to creating a bird and bee friendly yard, they will thank you with hours of entertainment. Your goal should be to provide as many native flowering trees, plants and shrubs as possible, and a source of water. The National Audubon Society has provided a complete list of native bird-friendly plants. Go to www.audubon.org, search the website for the Native Plant Database, and enter your zip code. You can then navigate the database to look for trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that are native to our area. The site indicates which birds especially appreciate each plant. For instance, top trees listed are oaks, especially white oak, alternate-leaved dogwood, American basswood, American Beach, American hazelnut, hornbeam, larch, American Mountain ash, American plum, and serviceberry. Top shrubs listed are gray dogwood, witch hazel, beaked hazelnut, black chokeberry, black raspberry, and American pokeweed. Top herbaceous plants listed are goldenrods, black-eyed Susan, bluebell of Scotland, butterfly milkweed and all milkweeds, winterberry, yarrow, Canadian lily, Joe-pye weed and cardinal flower.
For bees, wildflowers provide bees with an excellent source of pollen and nectar. Leave a small brush pile and areas with dry reeds or grasses or deadwood. A muddy area will provide nesting material for bees. Bees love blue, purple and yellow flowers especially with flat or shallow single-petal blossoms such as daisies, asters, and Queen Anne’s lace. Another advantage of gardening with natives is that they are already adapted to our soil conditions and weather and will take very little care.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of June. Please send reports by July 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Late May Reports:
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 24, little downy getting irritated with big hairy taking too long on suet. Great blue heron landed out front. May 27, four graceful turkey vultures soaring over woods. Tree swallow darting about overhead. May 28, robin enjoying bird bath on front step. House wren often calling in nearby woods. One bunny carefully venturing out onto back lawn. May 30, on front walk, a still-speckled fledgling robin hurrying after a parent. A few grackles trying to maneuver on feeder.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. May report: cowbirds, turkeys, crows, robins, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, goldfinches, titmice, rose-breasted grosbeak, grackles, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, house finches, a robin’s nest with three eggs under our deck, on the side rail of a ladder, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits.
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. May 31, put up a “nesting ball”, which has been quite a hit. It is a softball-sized twig ball with natural cottony materials affixed. Its made by Krafts by Kevin, and packaged by a young man with autism: firstname.lastname@example.org. Today, spotted a neighborhood turkey hen out with her poults, eight or nine little brown puff-balls.
Kate Hollister, Vine Brook Rd. mother mallard leading about ten duckling across our lawn at dusk, heading back to nearby wetland. Saw a red fox and kit checking us out from a ridge near Ideal Concrete. Lots of chipmunks, red and gray squirrels.
Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. June 1, Canada geese, mallards, black ducks. June 4, flicker, tree swallows. June 7, woodchuck. June 14, snapping turtle crawling across back yard, followed closely by annoyed turkey. June 16, female turkey with nine poults. June 20, mockingbird. June 21, three skunks. June 23, adult raccoon with two babies. June 24, deer. June 25, kingbird.
Dot Mooney, at Howard Rd. wetland, June 1, titmouse, common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbirds, red-bellied woodpecker, song sparrow, chickadee, tree swallow, a few bull frogs. Blooming are, cinquefoil, blue toadflax, peppergrass, bittersweet nightshade. Yellow pond lily and arrowhead growing. Concord Rd., June 1, flicker, cowbird, goldfinch, blue-winged warbler, robin, titmouse, house sparrow, oriole, cardinal, common yellowthroat and red-winged blackbird. June 2, Monadnock Dr. Sat on front step early afternoon, heard or saw red-eyed vireo, four turkeys, three grackles, house wren, chipping sparrow, flicker, house sparrow, robin, two goldfinches, four doves, three house finches, one red-tailed hawk, young robin still chasing parent around. June 6, at my feeder out front, a great blue heron was around and suddenly hurried off, chasing a chipmunk! This heron has been a frequent visitor lately, probably feeding young in the nearby rookery. Suet holder a very popular place, often visited by downies, hairies and red-bellied woodpeckers. Bird bath on front step also very popular. June 10, delighted to hear a warbling vireo in back woods–very distinctive song. June 11, mix of cowbirds and grackles around. Multiflora rose blooming along edge of back woods, poking out through the tall sumacs. Handsome male oriole around. June 12, Dave Mahoney said he saw an indigo bunting under power lines on June 1. June 14, finally a hummer on sugar water feeder. At Howard Rd. wetland, noticed two dug-up turtle nests and the remains of a few eggshells. One bull frog. Arrow wood shrub in bloom. Around me were red-winged blackbird, crow, cardinal, catbird, grackle, chickadee, blue-winged warbler, robin, chipping sparrow, dove, two tree swallows, a song sparrow. At Parkhurst Dr. power lines, the timothy hay looks the way our horses loved it. White-topped English plantain, red clover, white yarrow appearing. Birds heard there were house wren, prairie warbler, indigo bunting, common yellowthroat, blue jay, goldfinch, chestnut-sided warbler, and a very entertaining catbird. Later in the day, lovely male rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder. June 15, cute little chipping sparrow visited bird bath on deck. At Beaver Brook Rd., daisies, yellow hawkweed and bright yellow birdsfoot trefoil blooming. June 19, an adult garter snake slowly, carefully slipped across brick walkway, over the bark mulch and around shrubs, then into grass, which he was checking out very carefully. Fun to watch this interesting, harmless snake going to some place important only to him. On Parkhurst Rd., “Standing on the power lines in the middle of a little field of daisies and tall grasses, I am once again reminded that daisies mean summer to me.”
Mark O’Lalor, Concord Rd. June 4, nesting bluebirds in his box. Active oriole nest on Day conservation land. Nesting killdeer at Gould Rd.
Alan Emmet, Concord Rd. June 4, our pink ladies slippers don’t have flowers this year.
Herb Fenelon, Randolph Circle. June 6, the fourth and fifth grade Cub Scouts from Pack 96 built and erected bluebird nest boxes at each of Westford’s three elementary schools, Abbot, Crisafulli and Day. The results have been wonderfully successful. At last check we had nesting tree swallows and wrens at Abbot, nesting tree swallows and bluebirds at Crisafulli, and nesting tree swallows at Day. [Herb sent some great photos of these birds at the nesting boxes-MH]
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. June 7, lovely sunny day,, 65 degrees. Robin, scarlet tanager, Carolina wren singing, song sparrow, house sparrow feeding four young. At feeder: downy, hairy woodpecker, two blue jays, one a nearly-adult begging for food. Gray squirrel has outwitted yet another attempt to make the hanging tube feeder inaccessible and is eating it all. Titmouse, grey catbird, grackles, flicker heard. White-breasted nuthatch, female and two male cardinals, goldfinches, male hummingbird at feeder, cowbirds. Two grackles pulling grubs and insects from the lawn, common yellowthroat singing. June 9, blue-headed vireo and yellow warbler singing. June 10, a walk on the Frances Hill Wildlife Sanctuary: 74 degrees and low humidity, black flies. brown looper type caterpillar which looks just like a twig, (Common Lythrogis moth?), chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, red-eyed vireo, downy woodpecker, robin carrying worm, yellow warbler, chipping sparrow, great-crested flycatcher, many titmice babies squeaking around their parents, scarlet tanager, blue jay, cowbirds, grey squirrel, chipmunk, deer prints, cinnamon fern with its fertile fronds, chickweed in bloom, Canada mayflower blooming, buttercups blooming, twisted stalk, ragged robin blooming, viburnum blooming, jack-in-the pulpits. June 15, cooper’s hawk came through fast, birds scattered and some hit screens. Pair of house finches investigating the hanging geranium on porch. I took it down as I know once they build there, I can’t water the plant. June 21, a pair of Carolina wrens are nesting on our porch behind the porch light and inside the screens! They go in and out through a hole in the screen–very clever and brave. Pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks at feeder. Two tom turkeys here a lot–very friendly with each other.
Doug Pederson, Woodland Dr. June 8, photographed a tree swallow playing with a feather, tossing it up and then chasing it. Watched a red-winged blackbird chasing a crow and then bothering a heron.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June 16, a nesting bluebird male who lost his mate found a new female four days later. Hummers are using up my sugar water very quickly. I will put up a second one. A friend on Kirsi circle saw a pileated woodpecker poking holes in a buddha in their back yard. Another friend found a baby bird out of its nest. They made a nest of sorts and put it back out. The next day it was gone. rose-breasted grosbeak pair almost daily, grackles, red-winged blackbird pair, several pairs of blue jays, titmouse, nuthatch, chickadee, goldfinch, pair of cardinals, hawk circling overhead, downy pair, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, several rabbits in yard, whitish turkey still here, six squirrels chasing each other, chipmunks, several honey bees in rhododendron, lots of mosquitos and ant hole. On Beaver Dam Rd., friends returned from a two-month trip to find a robin nest in one of the little lights in front of the house, next to the front door. They were very aggressive, dive-bombing the homeowners. They also went to the car next to the rear view side window, pecked at it and left some droppings on the door. This also happened to the appliance man’s truck. In the next, I saw well-developed young robin flapping his wings. He left within a few days. They also pecked at mirror on my car and left droppings [Male robins are notoriously territorial. They often “attack” their own reflection in windows or car mirrors, thinking it is a male robin intruder into their territory. The only thing you can do is cover the window or mirror until nesting is completed. This is a kindness to the bird because they waste much energy and time attacking these “intruders”-MH]
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 14, I have blue columbine, and bee balm plants blooming. The deep pink flowers on my weigela bushes are attracting bumblebees and other bees, fly honeysuckle blooming by the beaver pond attracts bumblebees. Sheep laurel also in full bloom. Saw blackbirds, bracken and sensitive fern and cinnamon fern on the trail.
Larry Guertin, June 14, large mama snapping turtle laid eggs in our bark mulch.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. June 17, a small fox ran through our back yard. June 18, blue heron at Grassy Pond.
Gute Fernandes, Vineyard Rd., June 18, many turtles killed on Russell’s Way where turtle excluders are supposed to keep them off the road.
Kate Hollister, at Grassy Pond. June 18, it was nice to see water in the pond again and that the water lilies survived. We saw hundreds of baby toads hopping across the trail, going away from the pond. Heard a large swam of bees in the rotting downed tree near the water. At Powers Rd., saw a snapping turtle crossing the road, and evidence of turtle nesting near Kennedy Pond.
Donna Cecere, Calista Terrace. June 18, one resident groundhog, daily turkey visitor to bird feeder, hornets and bees drinking from bird bath, as well as goldfinches, mourning doves, sparrows. A cooper’s hawk came swiftly flying into yard and swooped up a chipmunk in its claws and took off with it. Two birdhouses have nests. Many robins this spring, blue jays, woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, cowbirds, hummingbirds, sparrows, rose-breasted grosbeaks, cardinals, red-winged blackbird, mourning doves (I love their coos in the evening).
Nancy Eberiel, Depot St. June Report: a turkey hen with two chicks continues to patrol the yard. At the feeder, a grosbeak, two cowbirds, jays, grackles, nuthatch, cardinals, sparrows, house finches, goldfinches, chickadees, doves and cowbirds, a rabbit family and deer. I also see chimney swifts and barn swallows overhead. The swifts nest in the Roudenbush tower. June 26, ravens around.
Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. June 20, a foot-long snapping turtle in the driveway [Roger took a great photo-MH].
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June report: turkey pair are here occasionally. The wrens and the robins nested in the same tree. Robins dive-bombed wrens at first, but they learned to get along together, and both nests of babies fledged on the same day–fun to watch. Two or three baby bunnies and three adult rabbits in yard, along with some groundhogs. So many blackbirds of all types are eating everything.