July 27, 2011
I know that yellow jackets and hummingbirds have nothing in common other than they are both fly and both are extremely prevalent this time of year. In Central Georgia, like all of Eastern North America, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that is regularly observed. The ruby-throats migrate into Georgia in early spring and this year I observed my first hummer on April 1st. During migration, it is not unusual to have a number of individuals at feeders at one time but this only last for a few weeks and then there is a sudden disappearance of the species with the exception of the limited number of hummers that nest in the Atlanta area. Over the past twenty years, I have observed hummingbirds nesting in my yard. However, there are certainly far more years when I do not have the species nest in my area than years when I have them. After nesting, usually by July 4th, there is once again an onslaught of activity at the hummer feeders as immature birds have fledged and many find their way to the free source of food…..sugar water in hummingbird feeders.
They are soon joined by adults and from late July through August and September there may be constant activity at feeders. It is also at this time of year when temperatures can be very hot and thus changing the sugar water in feeders, every few days, is very important. In the extreme heat, sugar water ferments and it is advisable to rinse and refill feeders to insure a safe food source for the hummingbirds. In addition, it is very simple to make your own sugar water. The ratio is 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. It is best to use hot water so the sugar goes into solution. In addition, if you want to provide some natural food sources for fall migrating hummers, plants like cardinal flower and jewel weed provide wonderful colors and food sources for the nectar loving hummers and these plants typically flower through the fall until the first frost…..usually around the end of October.
Ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder.
So, enjoy the hummers as by mid October, most have departed and they are heading for their wintering grounds, some in extreme south Florida but most head to Central and Northern South America for the winter.
Yellow jackets…….oh what fear they evoke in people!
During late summer and fall, yellow jackets (yellow and black wasps) are very abundant over much if not all of Georgia. While disturbing a nest can have terrible consequences for people and their pets, it is much more typical that you observe them flying around your picnic table or other outdoor activity area. During these times, the little wasps are just looking for food items or moisture, especially during the extreme heat, such as what we have experienced over the past month and half. Yellow jackets are little carnivores and they love to feed on bits of sandwich, hamburgers, hot dogs and sweet fruits like orange and watermelon. During our back porch bar-b-Q’s, I most often will set a small bit of food aside so the yellow jackets can share my plate. I do not swat at them but rather let them feed peacefully and I enjoy my meal as well…..and watching them feed is certainly more entertaining than watching TV. This being said, yellow jackets can be sneaky and if one enters a beverage can, they sometimes have difficulty in getting out and when the can is pressed to ones lips……lip or tongue stings may result. This is very unpleasant and quite painful so it is always wise to cover your beverage can while outdoors. Another simple idea is to just use a glass so that any unwanted insects can easily be seen in your drink. In regards to yellow jacket nests (hives) these must be avoided as the little wasps are often very protective of their nest sites and they protect the area against any and all intruders. Nests are often very difficult to see as the only sign of the underground nest chamber is a hole about the diameter of a pencil and there will usually be numerous wasps coming and going from the hole. Any ground vibration near the hole may result in immediate retaliation by LOTS of very angry wasps. Running away from the site is an automatic response but be aware that the little wasps may chase an intruder for quite some distance, including following people into their cars, homes, garages etc…….all the while they sting the intruder as often and as many times as they can. The stings are amazingly painful and as with any sting, there are people that are very sensitive to the venom of the yellow jacket and thus allergic reactions can occur which may result in a life threatening ordeal.
An exposed Yellow jacket hive. Yellow jacket perched on my finger
Yellow jackets are carnivores. Here, feeding on a cicada.
The best advice I can give is to be observant when walking outdoors. This should go without saying but so many people walking trails, visiting parks or just simply walking in their own back yards do so without really being observant. If you happen to notice there are a lot of yellow and black wasps flying near to the ground and especially if they are entering a hole…….back away very slowly and as softly as possible so as not to anger the residents of the hive. You certainly will have a much more enjoyable outing. Lastly, I want to comment that I am out in the field quite often doing reptile work, birding or just out enjoying nature and it is very rare that I get stung by wasps and or bees. I love looking and investigating all sorts of natural history subjects and I often photograph many of the creatures that so many people find terrifying. These creatures are not out there looking for people to hurt but rather they are doing what comes natural to them and that is to find food, pass along their genetic material by breeding and they are doing their best not to be eaten by other creatures doing exactly the same thing….trying to survive and take on their vital role in the ecology of the habitat where they live. We just happen to get in harm’s way when we are not as observant as are the little creatures just trying to survive until the first frost.