March of the Butter Butts: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2020

‘Butter Butt’ is the affectionate nickname given by birders to the songbird, Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I’ve been fortunate to host at least one Yellow-rumped warbler each winter for the past few years.  These attractive warblers, muted in color when I see them in winter, are widespread throughout North America.  My home in Central Texas is in the middle of their geographically wide migratory path; many  overwinter here.

“My” little Butter Butt–and I think it’s the only one this winter–is a female, a member of the “Myrtle” subspecies.  There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumps:  “Myrtle”  warblers, from the eastern half of North America and “Audubon’s” warbler, from western areas.  The primary distinguishing features between the two subspecies are that the male Myrtle has a white throat and black mask across the eyes, while the Audubon’s throat is yellow and has no black mask.  There are other differences too, mostly in amount of white between the males and females on the wings and faces.

I’ve identified my Yellow-rump as female.  She lacks the black mask across the eyes that a male Myrtle Yellow-rump warbler wears.  Even without the mask and the bold coloring, she’s still very cute.

When Butter Butts molt (in late spring) their coloring is quite dramatic. You can see  photos of these beauties in their finest feathered forms, here.   Even without the dramatic breeding colors, I think this little bird qualifies as a head-turner in the looks department.

I typically see her at the suet feeder, or bathing in the bog area of the pond.  Plus she frequently forages along the ground in the garden; I have no clue what she noshes under the plants.  Seeds?  Insects?  Probably both!  Yellow-rumped warblers enjoy the widest menu choices of any warbler species.  They eat a huge variety of insects, gleaning those with their pointed beaks from trees and snatching with expertise during flight.  These warblers stand alone–maybe I should say they digest alone–with their consumption of bayberry and wax myrtle berries; no other warblers digest those two berry species.  Ornithologists believe that Yellow-rumps ability to eat the two widely available berries allows them to overwinter farther north than most other warblers. 

I’ve observed scads of little songbirds flitting in my trees and always assumed they’re eating parts of leaves or spring flowers with pollen, and maybe, some insects. But in observing this Yellow-rump as she hops along the limbs and darts through the leaves, it’s clear that she’s focused on insects, rather than nibbling at vegetation for her meals.  Ms. Yellow-rump is a bundle of energy, constantly in movement:  up, down, and all around.   I haven’t witnessed any bug-munching, but most afternoons when I look for her, she’s there, in the trees, hunting for protein.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Yellow-rumps forage on the outside branches of trees and along those limbs in the bottom third of the tree.  That’s exactly where I’ve noticed my warbler and thank goodness for that!  She’d be even more difficult to observe if higher up in the trees.

In winter, Yellow-rumped warblers spend their time in mixed arboreal landscapes–those areas with plenty of trees and fruit-bearing shrubs, like parks and urban gardens, all good habitats brimming with the needed munchies.  In their breeding areas, far north from Central Texas, they concentrate on insect eating, but easily switch to fruits, if available.  Yellow-rumps nest in coniferous trees, the female building the chicks’ homes along branches.  Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge within two weeks.  They grow up so fast!

These hardy warblers are adaptable, which is why their populations are relatively stable.  That said, it’s always a good when gardeners plant for birds:  native plants are best to provide berries and seeds, to provide cover for protection, and to provide a rich, diverse garden habitat.   Also, habitats free of insecticides is a must, since many birds (not only warblers) require insects for themselves and their offspring.


And there it is–the famous, often talked about, but only briefly glimpsed–yellow rump!

The flash of that bodacious booty is easily visible–at the correct angle, with tail feathers up–as they bop around the ground or zoom through trees, but catching these busy birds to photograph their famous bums is a little trickier. It requires patience and some good luck.

For more great information on this charming songbird, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or Audubon’s site on the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

What wild things are in your garden?  Please share and leave a link when you post a comment–and happy spring and wildlife gardening!

Some Like it Hot: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2018

With apologies to Billy Wilder and his silly romcom, Some Like It Hot,  I can’t think of a more appropriate title for this edition of Wildlife Wednesday.  Here in Austin, Texas we’ve sweltered through 15 consecutive days of over 100°F (37.7°C) temperatures, with 20 some-odd days over 100º in total for the summer.  On one of those days, the temperature reached 110ºF (43ºC).  Sadly, that’s not a record breaker, (it’s 112F in 2011) but it was oven-like nonetheless.  And, August is just beginning.


These days in Austin, it’s not unusual to experience many days reaching over 100ºF and while that’s concerning, so far this summer the wild critters in my garden are weathering the blistering heat just fine–they thrive with available water sources, cover in the guise of trees and shrubs, foods in the form of seeds on perennials (and some in a bird feeder), and places to nest.

I lost my main passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) during some hard freezes this past winter, so I haven’t enjoyed viewing as many Gulf Fritillary butterfliesAgraulis vanillae,  as I usually see. Passion vines are the host plant for these orange beauties. Recently though, one or two Fritillaries have appeared and are laying eggs on a few sprigs of a second, and different, passion vine which volunteers in an open area of my back garden.  This Purple passion-flower, Passiflora incarnata, doesn’t bloom in my garden, but boasts enough foliage for the caterpillars to partake of on their way to adulthood.

This Gulf Fritillary rested on a plant near to where the passion vine grows. Had it just emerged from its chrysalis?


I’m fairly sure this plain little thing is a Dun skipperEuphyes vestris, but I’m not positive.

It worked the blooms of a salvia and stopped just long enough for me to snap a shot.

I don’t see American Snout butterflies, Libytheana carinenta, very often, so it was a treat to see this one on the foliage of one of my Softleaf yuccas.

I kept my distance and never successfully captured the butterfly with wings spread because it flitted away warily from the weird woman stalking it through the garden.  Snouts’ host plant is the Common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, which is a tree that many modern Texans hate. Hackberry trees seed out everywhere and often in less-than-desirable spots, but they’re an important wildlife food source.  Along with the Snout, Hackberry trees also feed the Question Mark and Mourning Cloak butterflies, as well as providing fruit and shelter for birds.  Native Americans didn’t hate the Hackberry and used it for medicine and food.

This Funereal duskywingErynnis baptisiae, looks like it might have had a close-call  with a predator.

The bits of missing wing didn’t slow down its nectaring and pollinating mission.   It favored the sunflowers which are still in bloom.

I’ve had a difficult time identifying this petite pollinator, but I think it’s a Eufala skipper, Lerodea euflala.

Eufala skippers are considered “grass” skippers, as their host plants are grasses like Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, and sugarcane.  Both Johnson and Bermuda are common in Central Texas, but I don’t grow either in my garden.

Here’s yet another I dunno what this is, but firmly in the native bee category.  I thought she was one of my ubiquitous Horsefly-like carpenter bees, but she’s not quite that big.  She buzzed around the very pink Rock rose flowers, snuggling in to the reproductive parts of the flowers and covering herself with pollen,

…and showing me her backside.

I think she’s in the Melittidae family which collect pollen on the hairs of their bodies and nest in the ground.  She was fast flyer and a busy, busy bee.

This diminutive, metallic-green sweat bee sported loaded pollen baskets, full-to-bursting with creamy white pollen.  As I watched her, I think she was resting and not collecting pollen, on the end of the Mexican Orchid bloom stamen.

I’ve been privileged to observe a couple of big, beautiful Southern Carpenter bees, Sylocopa micans,  in the last couple of weeks.

Stunning black with a blue sheen on their wings and bodies, these bees have moved with intention through the Turk’s cap shrub, from red bloom to red bloom.  At least in my garden, the Turk’s is the clear favorite of these bees.  This bee species utilizes buzz pollination–a particularly efficient form of pollination–and as I observed the two visiting, I could see and hear that buzzing on the flower.

Hummingbirds are not bees (duh!), but they sure are buzzy as they zoom through the garden, and this summer, they’ve been in abundance.  This female, probably Black-chinned hummingbird, also worked Turk’s cap blooms.

Have I mentioned that Turk’s cap is a fabulous wildlife plant?

I don’t typically hang a sugar water feeder out for the hummers.  I have nothing against hummer feeders and they’re great for attracting and supplementing the tiny birds’ diet, but I’ve found that hummers prefer what I’ve planted in my gardens and don’t visit the feeders when I’ve placed them.  That said, the sugar water is important for hummingbirds, especially as they ramp up for their fall migration southward.

Volunteer sunflowers are still blooming, but the spent blooms are also setting seed.  A variety of birds feed on these seeds including ones like this female House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus,

…and this handsome male Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria.

I’ll leave the stalks up until all the blooms are done and the seeds eaten.  Then I’ll cut back the stalks to about 2-3 feet tall and leave some on the ground, so that insects (native bees, primarily) can utilize the hollow stems for nesting through fall, winter, and next year’s growing season.

A pair of Carolina wrensThryothorus ludovicianus, nested nearby and are teaching their 2(?) chicks how to manuever through the neighborhood.

I’m confident this cutey is junior, baring his belly in birdly pride as mom and dad wren perched close by, chchchhching at me, while I snapped this shot.

This Green anole lizardAnolis carolinensis, can’t decide whether to dress for the heat in green or brown.

I didn’t hang around long enough to observe, but I’ll bet it chose the green outfit to fit in with the surroundings.

No matter if your garden is deep in the dog days of summer or chilling in the depths of winter, what wildlife happenings did you share in or observe this past month?  Please post about your wild happenings and leave a link when you comment here–and happy wildlife gardening!

Wildlife Wednesday, March 2016: Birds are Boss

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for gardeners and garden bloggers to celebrate the wild critters that we share our world with.   I’m still quite besotted with “my” backyard birds and have concentrated efforts on observing them this past month.  But on a chilly morning, this winter-colors clad  Carolina Anole, Anolis carolinensis, was hanging out, too cold to scramble away from my camera.

His coloration isn’t winter-only, but instead, camouflaged to match the limestone wall and rust-colored mail box.  I’ve seen a few of these guys-n-gals this past month and plenty more will emerge as we move into our warm season.  Green will be their primary color in most of their photos to come.

In experimenting with the Cornell Merlin app on my phone, I inadvertently discovered that when I play the song of certain birds–looking at YOU, Carolina Chickadee,  Poecile carolinensis,

…the bird responds.   Honestly, it was an accident the first time or two that I played the Carolina Chickadee vocalization on the phone and then noticed the real one was answering and flitting ever-closer to where I was sitting.  Another time, I was showing a neighbor this cool trick and the same thing happened–the Chickadee answered and moved closer to where we were standing.

Poor guy. I’ve been messing with his little bird-brain and he can’t figure out where his rival Chickadee is located.  Rest assured, other than the 3 or 4 times to confirm that the bird was actually responding the the phone’s Chickadee call, I haven’t played the Chickadee song since.  I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised a bird would react to the vocalization issuing from the phone.  Knowledgeable and passionate  birders, the ones who started birding as kids, learned and excel at bird vocalizations and it’s the method they employ to attract birds for observation and photography. I have zero ability whatsoever to vocalize bird calls, but, going forward, I’ll keep my trusty phone handy if I ever need to call a bird.

Maybe I’ll use the phone to call humans, too.

This little cutey has been a constant, though shy, visitor all winter.

I’m reasonably confident that he’s an  Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata, and he’s one of several birds that I don’t think I would have noticed if I wasn’t…well, trying to notice birds.  Counting birds for Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which I wrote about here, has been good discipline for me.  In keeping binoculars handy (I now have a greater appreciation of birders’ reliance upon those things) and actually using them when I’m observing birds, I’ve discovered that a remarkable variety of birds pass through and regularly visit my garden.

House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, couples are residents, year-round.

This House Finch male munches contentedly, though I guess his parents didn’t teach him to chew with his mouth closed.

And this,

…is the monthly obligatory shot of the always stunning male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis,  a pair of which are daily visitors.

American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis, have been new and  constant visitors to the garden.  Such attractive and tiny birds, they brighten the late winter landscape. Sometimes I have as many as 15-20, though usually there are only 5-10 at any time at the feeder, birdbaths, or foraging on the ground.

I realized as I was perusing photos that I have no clear shots of the bright yellow and black mature males.  I’ll have to fix that little glitch before they fly north for their summer breeding and nesting activities.

American Goldfinches and  House Finches share the bounty well.


My red headed Red Bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is a big fan of suet.

I still haven’t successfully caught that blush of red on his belly for which he is named, but he’s a pretty boy and always fun to watch and hear. His mate has also appeared a time or two, though she is shyer and doesn’t pose for pics as readily as he does–or maybe it’s that she doesn’t eat as much.

I’ve had to put away my suet, or at least have it out only when I’m at home and can supervise, because of an influx of these bad actors.

Yes, the European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, bane to native North American birds and bridges alike, have arrived–and in droves sometimes.  Starlings are actually lovely birds with beautiful plumage,

…and I’m fond of their vocalizations.  But they’re so aggressive and greedy, and sometimes, downright mean to the other birds.  My little warblers and finches don’t stand a chance against their bully behavior, though I must say, the Blue Jays hold their own.  I know that Europeans (the people, not the birds) lament the decline of the Starlings in Europe, but they (the birds, not the people) have become truly problematic here in North America.

No, I’m not in favor of building a wall, but maybe we could arrange a swap??  How about some good European wine, beer, or cheese in exchange for some Starlings?  Deal?

A happier and more welcome invasion is of this gorgeous bird, the Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum.

Oh, that strip of yellow on the tail feathers and that dash of bright red on the wing, not to mention the stylish face mask!  I absolutely adore these beautiful, gregarious birds. They’re fun to watch, though they’re usually waaayyy up high in the trees, so I get to see a lot of Cedar Waxwing creamy lemon-yellow tummies. Cedar Waxwings swoop up in flocks landing near the top of trees, then swoop down again into the next tree, keening all the while. They’re such cheerful birds.

Their courting behaviors are charming.

Cuddling up...

Cuddling up…

Leaning in close...

Leaning in close…

Kiss, kiss, smooch, smooch, flirty, flirty.

Kiss, kiss, smooch, smooch, flirty, flirty.

Oh, that went well!

Oh, that went well!

Be still, my beating heart!

Be still, my beating heart!

Shy again...

Shy again…

Sharing berries is love, or perhaps more accurately, a prelude to breeding.


Look who stopped by the pond early one morning!  A lone male American RobinTurdus migratorius, popped in for a quick sip and a pose.

Sadly, I haven’t seen a Robin visit my garden in years.  It was always a hit-or-miss with Robin sighting during late winter/spring migration, but in the past there were usually a few to observe.  In recent years though, not a one has stopped by for a nosh and a drink. So, welcome Mr. Robin and please, bring your brethren for a visit.

Finally, there’s this young lady.

Mama-to-be Eastern Screech Owl,  Megascops asio, has returned this winter and is settling in to the nest box a bit early this year.

The winter has been mild (to say the least), so I suppose that explains the early move-in date.  Dad-to-be was comfy, though wary of me, in the nearby Mountain Laurel tree on Sunday, keeping watch and looking dashing.

The Blue Jays, Cardinals, and the little birds keep me apprised to the owls’ whereabouts and when I hear their complaints, I know where the owls are roosting.  I’m thrilled the owls are back this year and will keep my fingers crossed that all goes well for them and their brood.  We installed a bird cam in December so we have a view inside the nest box this year. There’s not much to see right now, but when Mama is sleeping in the box, this is view:

For reference, you're looking at the top of her head and down her back. Her eye is just above my last name.

For reference, you’re looking at the top of her head and down her back. Her eye is just above my last name.


When Mama is looking out of the box, the view inside is this:

You can see her two wings, resting down, side-by-side.

You can see her two wings, resting down, side-by-side.

If there are no glitches with the wiring or camera, we should be able to see the eggs and then the chicks, in all their fuzzy cuteness. It should be an interesting experience.  As I mentioned to a friend about viewing the goings-on of an owl family:  You know, tearing apart songbirds, mice, and lizards.  Fun stuff.

Mama wasn’t in the box yesterday, so that’s a bit concerning (especially because there is a Great Horned Owl pair also nesting in the neighborhood).  As she’s been settled in for a week, it’s odd that she wasn’t  there.  Plus, I didn’t hear any trilling the previous night.  I’m hoping  she just stayed out late and needed to crash at a friend’s place–but time will tell.

The native bees, honeybees, and butterflies are waking up and beginning to make their presence known in the garden–buzzing, breeding, nesting, flying.  They’ve been a little too fast for this pokey photographer to capture, but with some practice and good luck, there will be a variety of insect goings-on in the coming month to share for the next Wildlife Wednesday.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March Wildlife Wednesday–share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!