Mid-July is pivotal point of summer
By mid-July there are obvious signs of seasonal change, although everything from vegetable gardens to flower gardens are in peak production.
Seasonal change is marked in the bird world by the close of nesting season for most, and juvenile development is the focus. It’s egg laying time for the black rat, black racer and ringneck snakes, usually in the hollow of a tree or the compost or mulch pile.
By mid-July milkweed is in full bloom along roadsides and in highway medians. A new awareness about milkweed’s importance to the Monarch butterfly is spreading nationwide. The Monarch will lay eggs only on milkweed plants, ensuring the larvae have plenty to eat.
Folk healers have long valued milkweed for treating respiratory illness. Another common name for butterfly weed, a milkweed family member, is pleurisy root.
Bees can’t get enough of milkweed pollen and can become trapped in the blossoms which often proves lethal for them. In midsummer, milkweed is one of the most fragrant weeds around. Adult monarch butterflies eat a lot of nectar, but their offspring, especially in the caterpillar phase, eat only milkweed leaves.
Wild birds benefit from the milkweed as well as the butterflies. Goldfinches use milkweed along with thistle fiber to line their late season nests. Chickadees and orioles use last year’s milkweed fibers in their nests.
Summer time woodpeckers become illusive during breeding-nesting season until it is time to bring the young ones to the suet feeders in mid-July. Woodpeckers peck and drum as a part of feeding, declaring territory and attracting mates. When a woodpecker taps a tree, it is locating insects hiding under the tree bark. Pecking and drilling are used for eating. Some 75 percent of the summer diet is made up of insects, larvae and spiders. Urban Downy woodpeckers supplement their diets with suet.
All woodpeckers have shock-absorbing systems that prevent their brains from slamming into their skulls when they are drumming or drilling. They also have thicker skulls than other birds.
The Downy, measuring about six inches in length, is the most common and smallest American woodpecker. They are year-round residents in the mountains. They have relatively short lifespans, ranging from two and five years. If the Downy survives its first winter, it will breed the following spring.
Between hatching and fledgling, both parents feed the young which taxes the adult birds. Many raise two broods, but others are content to raise only one.
An easy way to tell the difference in a Downy and a Hairy woodpecker is the size of the bill. The Downy has a dainty bill, and the Hairy has a large, spike-type bill that is almost as long as the bird’s head. The Downy is about the size of a house sparrow, and the Hairy is the size of a robin. The Hairy is about 50 percent taller than the Downy.
You can lure the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers and their young with suet feeders. Be sure you get the kind that doesn’t melt or become rancid, and make the birds sick. Both woodpeckers like meal worms (even the freeze dried ones), peanut butter, sunflower seeds, fruit, including oranges and apples. They also enjoy grasshoppers, nuts and berries. They will visit a platform feeder quicker than a tube one.
Both the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers will stop by a nectar feeder for a sip occasionally. Both enjoy tree sap from the holes the yellow-bellied sapsucker drills.
The Hairy woodpecker also helps incubate the eggs and raise the young ones. The male and female Hairy exchange duties throughout the day. They begin courtship in the dead of winter. The Downy doesn’t begin courting until spring.
Baby bears are beginning to try various foods and are still nursing. They are totally dependent on their mothers for another year. Cubs put on weight quickly. The mother bears spend the following year and a half weaning, feeding and teaching cubs what to eat, where to find food and how to survive. Many do not reach adulthood, due to hunting and attacks from predators.
Cubs enjoy a splash in the creek along with their mother. Watch for small footprints along the creek banks. Their paw prints leave no claw marks. Bears without cubs are entering the last phase of breeding season, and they are beginning to gorge on berries.
Dragonflies are laying eggs. Birdsong is lessening by the day. By August, most of the birds will go silent.
Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing, and keep the bird baths clean of algae. Bring in the birdfeeders and hummingbird feeders, to prevent a hungry bear from taking them.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.