What to do when a bird taps on your window or car mirror

from the Wild Bird Care Centre (via Sandy Garland)

When one of our volunteers posted a note about an “amorous male robin” flirting with the mirror on her neighbour’s car, I chuckled. But later, another friend of the FWG pointed out the following good practical advice from the Wild Bird Care Centre.

American Robin photographed by Diane Lepage

American Robin photographed by Diane Lepage

“Tap, tap, tap, TAP, TAP, TAP!! Anybody home?

“With many local birds in full breeding mode you may have observed some strange bird behavior lately.

“Northern Cardinals and American Robins are notorious for tapping away at windows, car mirrors, or any other reflective surface. If you have observed one of these birds constantly flying into or tapping at your window it is able to see its own reflection. They think their reflection is other bird and they are trying to scare it out if its territory!

“These birds can waste the better part of the day attacking their own reflection. To stop these birds you must place something on the OUTSIDE of the window to break up the reflection. This could be as simple as post-it notes or streamers, but for some of the more determined birds you may need to cover the entire window with a sheet. Some have suggested using bubble wrap so the light will still come through the window.

“Covering the window for a day or two usually solves the problem for the entire breeding season.”


Earth Day 2013 at FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

Happy Earth Day! It was a great day to be at the FWG, sunny, not too warm, not too cool, just right to bring out all sorts of wildlife.

I saw four mourning cloaks today, three around the ash woods, one by the butterfly meadow.

Wood frogs were still calling from the pond, not in any great numbers, but it is encouraging that they are there and seemingly more frequent than in 2012.

No spring ephemerals yet in the woods, but by the end of the week, I bet they’ll be in bloom. This means that for the moment, there isn’t much nectar for insects, so the lone willow tree, covered with pollen-drenched catkins, is very important, and ditto for the few clumps of crocuses and scilla. There were many andrenid bees on the willow and in their several usual nesting spots. Honey bees were gathering pollen and buzzing around the tree were many of the bee mimicking hover fly, Eristalis.

Birds were numerous as well. A female red-winged blackbird was in the Backyard Garden; soon there will be a lot more and nest-making will commence around the pond. Also new (to me, this year) was a pair of brown-headed cowbirds. A great blue heron flew toward Dow’s Lake, and a turkey vulture circled over the red barn. The kestrel pair was very much in evidence. Anouk reported barn swallows near the locks, while tree swallows were swooping and calling constantly.

Many ruby-crowned kinglets were melodiously singing. Song sparrows were numerous. One was by the pond collecting cattail fluff for its nest. Speaking of nests, a black-capped chickadee pair was excavating a nest hole in a birch snag.

And speaking of snags, Diane found a red-breasted nuthatch excavating a hole in another snag (not birch). If this pair nests, it will be a first for the FWG and, in a way, unusual for this species, which typically nests in coniferous woods. At any rate, doesn’t this show the importance of standing dead trees, AKA snags?

I also saw a pair of red-breasted nuthatches today. One was busy excavating a cavity in a snag (this is surely the same one seen by Diane). I watched from a distance and was interested in how industrious the bird was. I could hear the quick tapping as it chipped away inside the dead tree. Every few minutes its head would peek out and wood chips would be deposited outside. Sometimes the nuthatch came out and sat on the snag, as if resting.

Let’s see, what else was seen or heard today? Dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, common redpolls still around, lots of white-throated sparrows, a few crows, house finches, american goldfinches, american robins, cardinals, starlings, hairy and downy woodpeckers, northern flicker, and a mallard in the stream running through the ravine.

Diane has some excellent bird photos on the blog. Please check them out, because they are wonderful, especially the one of the golden-crowned kinglet (she saw 5 on Sunday). She also reports seeing a belted kingfisher fly across the garden that day, as well as a pine warbler.

At this time of year, every day brings new sightings, so get out there and look! Spring doesn’t last long in our part of the world, and soon it will be sweltering summer.

More photos on the April blog

Garlic Mustard – Ecology and Control Methods

by Christine Hanrahan

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is recognized as a serious invasive plant species in North America. Native to Europe, the plant was brought here by settlers for food and medicinal purposes. It has been present in North America for over 140 years, apparently first recorded in 1868 on Long Island in New York State and in Canada (including Ottawa) in the late 19th century. Since then, it has had a long lag period, sitting quietly, doing nothing, until about 40 years ago, when it began to spread rapidly, alarming naturalists and biologists alike.

The plant is most abundant in southwest Ontario, but can be found all along the St. Lawrence Valley and, of course, throughout Ottawa.

Garlic mustard is found in forests, edge habitats, along trails, roadsides, and in just about any disturbed area. It grows in shade, sun, damp conditions and dry, although it prefers dry, wooded locations.

Biology of Garlic Mustard
This early spring plant grows rapidly. In the first year of development, only basal “rosettes” are visible, but by the second year, when they reach maturity, the plants can reach a height of 1 to 1.5 metres. A biennial plant (a 2-year life-cycle), it self-pollinates and is cross-pollinated (by insects) and spreads only by seed.

Seeds usually germinate in the second year, although they can remain viable in the soil for 5-10 years; seed viability apparently decreases over time. Long exposure to cold is needed for germination to occur; thus our winters are perfect. Individual plants can produce anywhere from about 350 (usual) to 8,000 seeds, and the germination rate is 40-100%. Although seedling mortality is high (only about 2-7% survive) and drought can kill off 95% of seedlings, none of this seems to prevent the spread of garlic mustard.

The problem with Garlic Mustard….
Garlic mustard is a habitat generalist; it seeds prolifically and has no natural enemies in North America. It displaces native plants (especially spring ephemerals) and decreases diversity, which in turn decreases available food for wildlife (pollen, nectar, fruit, foliage, roots). It probably also decreases suitable habitat for ground-nesting birds, such as ovenbirds and hermit thrushes, when it is the dominant understorey plant.

I read somewhere that in a highly infested area, seedling density may reach 17,000 in half a square metre. Even it only 2-7% survive, this is still a lot of garlic mustard. In one local site with a high diversity of native plants, particularly spring ephemerals, garlic mustard was first noticed about 12 years ago; within 5 years, it had almost completely dominated the area to the detriment of native flora.

It has been found to disrupt the symbiotic relationship between tree seedlings and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (mycorrhizae colonize root systems and are critical for nutrient and water uptake). In recent years, high concentrations of cyanide compounds have been discovered in garlic mustard, and these compounds may contribute to the reduction in mycorrhizal fungi.

Studies have shown that the growth of sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (A. rubrum), and white ash (Fraxinus americana) is poor in soils invaded by this species. Worse, the negative impact of garlic mustard on the soil and on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi continues for several years after the plant is removed from a site. Not all tree species are affected, and further studies are ongoing.

Garlic Mustard Control Methods
Control of this plant is both easy and difficult. It is easy to pull up, but difficult to completely eradicate. At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (FWG), we’ve been pulling it out for years. Initially, we thought we’d eradicated it, as it didn’t reappear for several years. But disturbed soil facilitates seed germination, and it came back in areas where we’d been removing it and other invasives.

Management options vary depending on the size of the infestation. For a small stand, pulling is feasible. For large areas, methods proposed by those who deal with this problem regularly include herbicide use (usually 1-2% glyphosate) and controlled burns. Neither of these is particularly desirable, although both can have some impact.

Pulling is easy to do (especially when the soil is damp), quick, and requires no special tools. However, this disturbs the soil, which encourages further growth from the seed bank. You also need to ensure that the entire root is pulled up (see photo of the long roots below). Nonetheless, this is the easiest method for smaller infestations, such as we have at FWG.

Cutting is often suggested for large areas of garlic mustard, particularly if nothing else is growing with it. Scythes, weed whippers, even lawnmowers are three tools that work best for cutting many plants at once, particularly as they must be cut at ground level. This needs to be done after flowering (earlier, and they may re-sprout), but before seed production.

Hoeing up the basal rosettes could help prevent plants from growing and setting seed, but we’ve not tried this at FWG, yet.

No matter the method you choose and whether you have few or many plants, follow-up control is critical. Your goal is to prevent seed production AND deplete that seed bank. You will likely have to do follow-up work for at least five years and, in most cases, much longer. Studies suggest that single-year control efforts are worse than no management at all, because the resulting soil disturbance creates perfect growing conditions for garlic mustard, aids in growth and distribution, and exacerbates the problem. Without follow-up control, it is probably better to do nothing!

Disposal is important too. If you have cut or pulled plants when seedpods are just forming, don’t leave them on the ground, as seeds will continue ripening. Place them in plastic bags and dispose of in garbage. Not an ideal method, but composting in a small home composter, or leaving on the ground, will nullify all the work you’ve put into removal! Creating a big pile and covering it with a tarpaulin may work to control seed production if the tarp is well secured. Basal rosettes dug or hoed up, can be left on the ground.

Other Plants Similar to Garlic Mustard
When removing garlic mustard, remember that many other common plants can closely resemble their leaves and flowers. Early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis) and toothwort (Dentaria diphylla), both have small white flowers similar to garlic mustard. Leaves of yellow avens (Geum allepicum), barren-ground strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides), violets (Viola), and non-native motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) can be mistaken for garlic mustard.

In Europe, 69 species of insects are known to feed on garlic mustard. Efforts to find bio-control agents for North America began in Europe in 1998, and several weevil species look quite promising. One, Ceutorhynchus scrobicollis (a root miner), has been in quarantine at the University of Minnesota (with two other weevil species)for several years, and if all goes well, it will be reared for release sometime in the next few years. The two other weevil species in quarantine, C. alliariae and C. roberti, are shoot-mining weevils. A fourth, being studied in Switzerland as quite promising, is a seed feeder.

Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, Inc., 5th Annual Garlic Mustard Challenge.

Gerber, E., Cortat, C., Hinz, H.L., Blossey, B., Katovich, E., Skinner, L. 2009. Biology and host specificity of Ceutorhynchus scrobicollis (Curculionidae; Coleoptera), a root-crown mining weevil proposed as biological control agent against Alliaria petiolata in North America. Biocontrol Science and Technology, 19(1-2).

Mabry, C. 2007. Background and methods of control for garlic mustard. A Report Prepared for the Sierra Club.

Nature Conservancy of Canada. 2007. Control methods for the invasive plant garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) within Ontario Natural Areas. V1.0. NCC – Southwestern Ontario Region, London, Ontario. 16 pp.

Nuzzo, V. 1997. Alliaria petiolata. Exotic Pests of Eastern Forests, Conference Proceedings, April 8-10, 1997, Nashville, Tenn.

Bee boxes, houses, condos and hotels…Part 2: The photos

by Christine Hanrahan

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and, bearing that in mind, I am posting some photos of a couple of bee nesting structures.

The large nest box made by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists has holes of varying sizes and contains rolled up tubes of paper that can be removed. At the end of summer, these paper tubes would be placed in a container in a refrigerator or unheated building for the winter and brought out in spring in a place where the bees can emerge safely. The nest box itself would be disinfected before being re-used.

The old bee box from 2009 was made for us by Bruce Burns and used as part of a display on pollinators. Later, in mid-summer, we placed it in a south-facing site, protected from intrusion and, within days, leafcutter bees (Megachile) were using it.

Bee bundles are another method of providing homes for tunnel-nesting bees and, in this photo, you can see how the bamboo bundles were placed inside a plastic plant pot for protection from the elements.

The next two photos are of two different bees using the bee boxes. The Megachile is checking out the old box in 2009, while the mason bee is investigating the newer box in 2012.

There is a close up of the rolled paper tubes in this next photo.

The last photo shows a tree swallow nest at the FWG, removed when the box was cleaned in early November. Inside were many dead bumble bees and, beneath the straw of the swallow nest, were many “honey pots” made by the bees.

Bee boxes, houses, condos and hotels…

by Christine Hanrahan

This is a simple overview of various types of accommodations for bees. I won’t be providing instructions for building bee boxes, but I do provide a reference below for the best all-round source for creating different types of bee houses.

Much media attention has been given to declining honeybees (Apis mellifera), but less well-known is the decline in many native bee species, such as bumble bees (Bombus) and others. Our native bees are facing habitat loss, pesticide contamination, disease, and who knows how many other problems. Studies are ongoing with more research devoted to this issue.

The good news is that people are becoming more aware of bees as beneficial. I spoke with a pest control official recently who said that although he still gets calls from people worried about bees, such calls are fewer than in the past. The ongoing media attention about disappearing honeybees and subsequent attention paid to bees in general, and their importance to pollination, has moved this group of insects into a more benign category.

One indication of the changing attitude is the recent interest in placing bee boxes (bee nest sites) in gardens. Although I am happy about this trend, there is also a downside. Buyers are not usually told that if they want to help bees, nectar rich plants must be available or bees won’t be interested. The importance of hygiene in bee boxes is rarely discussed either. Unfortunately, some commercially produced bee boxes are more concerned with making cute ornamental art for the garden than with the requirements of bees.

Many of our native bees are ground nesters and won’t use bee boxes. This brings up a whole different issue, which I’ll leave for another time, as this article is looking only at tunnel-nesting bees, the ones most likely to use bee boxes.

The natural nesting sites of these bees is the hollow stems of plants, such as wild raspberries, or holes in standing dead trees (snags). When we build bee boxes for them, we are emulating their natural nest sites, much as we do for cavity nesting birds when we install nest boxes.

The most common tunnel-nesting bees we see around the Ottawa are leaf-cutter bees and mason bees (both in the Megachilidae family). These are the ones that will be most attracted to bee boxes. Bumble bees may also be attracted to man-made nest sites. At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (FWG), a newly installed bee box in summer 2009, attracted leafcutter bees (Megachile) within days. In 2012, scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) placed a number of bee boxes as well as bee bundles, around the garden in a variety of sites, and these too were very well-used, particularly the nest boxes.

There are innumerable ways to provide nesting sites for these bees, the simplest being to leave snags standing, and to grow plants that bees would use in the wild for nesting. Creating artificial nesting sites is the other option, and ways and means are varied and many.

First and always, when making any bee structure, think of hygiene, as parasites and disease are a serious problem for bees. With simple bee blocks, essentially a wooden cube with holes in it, there are two options: you can replace them every year or you can use removable cylinders in each hole. These can be straws or rolled tubes of paper, which can be discarded when the bees have finished nesting. The bee block can then be disinfected, instructions for which are given in the native pollinator book listed in references below.

Bee blocks work best if they have holes of varying diameters (to accommodate different bee species) and of sufficient depth to allow bees a long tunnel to work in. Some people suggest drilling the holes slightly upward to prevent rain from getting in. Logs with drilled holes can also be used for this same purpose. Old, weathered logs are best as they emulate the snags that bees would naturally use. At the FWG, I’ve noticed bees making nests in some of our old well-worn wooden posts (used for habitat signs) and the split-rail fences.

Other types of simple nest accommodations include bee bundles, which can be made from lengths of hollow stems, such as bamboo, phragmites (abundant in the region, although very invasive so make sure you don’t distribute the seedheads elsewhere), cup-plants. These are best if situated within some sort of cover (large black soft plastic plant pots were used by scientists who set up bee bundles at the FWG in 2012) to protect them from rain and located in a sheltered site. At the FWG, I’ve noticed mason bees checking out plants for nest sites, and they also used the AAFC bee boxes.

Bumble bees frequently nest in the ground, but they will also nest in piles of stones, brushpiles, under decks, and even in bird nest boxes (which I’ve seen several times at the FWG). I’ve also seen them nesting in the foundation of my house and in sheds. In other words, while their sites are varied, what they are seeking is a warm, dry, sheltered cavity.

Finally, some very creative ideas for creating “condos” or “hotels” for bees (and other insects too) come via the Pollinator listserv. These examples show how bee and insect condos can be constructed fairly simply, using found objects, such as plant stems, bricks, logs, etc. Ingenious designs from across Europe are shown, ranging from small and simple to quite large and more elaborate, all of which can be used and adapted for our area. General information about cleaning out bee blocks, and maintaining sites is given, as well as tidbits of other interesting information. Some of the photos show carefully constructed structures that will hold about 8 or 9 separate bee boxes. Others are created with boards or pallets, separated by bricks, and stuffed with a variety of material that will attract not only bees but other insects such as ladybeetles. The site is fun to peruse and is sure to generate a desire to emulate at least one of the structures. At the FWG we are already planning to create several and will be keeping an eye on them throughout the summer to see who uses them.

***Attracting Native Pollinators. Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies. 2011. By the Xerces Society. Storey Publishing. I can’t say enough good things about this marvellous book. It provides excellent information, complete with photos, of different types of bee structures, good instructions for how and when to install, how to keep nest boxes and bundles clean, and much more. Buy it!!! It is the best source around; you need no others!

Bee and insect condos and hotels: inspirationgreen.com/insect-habitats.html

NAPPC Pollinator listserv: pollinator.org/nappc/listservrules.htm Provides a variety of topical and worthwhile information with much current information about bees and their conservation and efforts to protect them.

North American Pollinator Protection Campaign: pollinator.org/nappc/index.html The premier site for all things to do with conservation of pollinators.

Pollinator Partnership (NAPPC): pollinator.org/index.html Provides information about all pollinators, with an emphasis on bees.

Xerces Society: www.xerces.org/ One of the best all-round websites dedicated to bees and all pollinators, with a wealth of good, trustworthy information. Check under: www.xerces.org/fact-sheets/ for information on bee boxes.

More references for building bee boxes will be added when I find ones that are suitable.

April 8, 2013 at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

I am happy to tell you that the FWG’s April photo blog is now up and running. I was at last able to drive to the garden (hooray!) and, after an absence of 10 weeks, it felt good to be back.

As I got out of the car, the first thing I heard was the wonderful sound of multiple song sparrows singing. There were at least 6 in the BYG and another 14 or 15 around the rest of the garden.

After spending a few minutes in the BYG, I walked over to the pond and new woods, and immediately saw a pair of american kestrels near the barn. It has been a long time since a pair regularly nested in the bird box there. In fact, the new bird box (now several years old) has never had kestrels nesting in it. So, who knows? We’ll keep our fingers crossed. The female flew off to the barn, while the male circled around and came back to the same tree. But after about 5 minutes, they both flew off over the Arboretum.

Another happy sign was the sound and sight of a tree swallow soaring over the pond, which is still half frozen, while snow is still deeper than we’d like around the edges. However, the promised rain and milder temperatures should get rid of it soon. Other birds included a flock of common redpolls singing away in the ash woods, juncos trilling, robins and cardinals singing away, and of course all the usual suspects, such as chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, american goldfinches, and so on. A lone common raven was calling from across the canal, and just after I left the garden, a cooper’s hawk landed on a post along Prince of Wales Drive.

Chipmunks are common around the BYG especially, and I heard a groundhog giving its squeaky call. Lots of things to see, but we can expect to see lots more over the next few weeks. If we are lucky, we will get breeding wood frogs in the pond (the ones that sound like ducks quacking), the first ones we hear at FWG. (Chorus frogs, almost always the first frogs of spring, are being heard now in other parts of the region, as are spring peepers, but, alas, not at our pond.) Last year there were very few wood frogs, but in previous years, we’ve heard them over the period of a week, though never in great numbers.

Willow catkins are fresh and fuzzy and will soon be laden with pollen, attracting a variety of early emerging insects, particularly bees such as Andrenids, Colletes, and Nomadas. Speaking of insects, I noticed Muscid flies all over the garden.

The blog has many more photos:

Leafcutter Bees (Megachile sp.)

By Christine Hanrahan

Megachile constructing nest

As spring very slowly chugs its way into our region, many of us find our thoughts turning, longingly, to gardens and gardening. Those of us inclined to create and maintain gardens for wildlife, are also interested in the various things we can do to enhance our site for birds, bees, and other creatures. Bird boxes, bird baths, squirrel houses, roosting boxes, toad houses, and bee boxes are just some of the things that can be installed to help our fellow creatures. In this article, I’d like to focus on bees, and more specifically, on one type of bee that readily comes to bee boxes: the leafcutter bee in the genus Megachile.

First, a word about accommodation for bees. There are any number of plans for building bee boxes, ranging from the very simple to the extremely elaborate. In another article I’ll talk about the wealth of information available, but here I want to mention one very simple bee box we installed at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden a few years ago and how it attracted a number of Megachile leafcutter bees. Made for us by Bruce Burns, it was initially part of a display we had created to celebrate pollinators. In mid-summer 2009, I installed the bee box on a south-facing post behind the compost bin. A few days later I went back to see if anything might be using it (not really expecting any activity, but what did I know!). To my surprise, I found several leafcutter bees busily investigating the holes in the box. Within a couple of weeks it was very apparent that this bee box was being well used by a number of these bees, and I watched, fascinated, as they carried leaf sections, cut from rose bushes, into the boxes. When an AAFC scientist installed temporary bee boxes at the FWG in the summer of 2012, leafcutter bees were common inhabitants.

The family Megachilidae, typically called the leafcutter bees, includes a variety of genera, but the ones I am especially interested in are those in the genus Megachile. They are very common at the FWG, as indeed, they are throughout this region. Some years before I installed the bee box, while out exploring near Carleton Place, I’d come across nest sites containing a few leafy cells made by Megachile bees, and they were so remarkable that I began looking for similar cells in other areas. Most of the ones I found were under rocks, but they could equally be in rotting wood, in tunnels in the ground, in and around human made objects such as pipes, under bricks, or, as at FWG, in bee boxes.

The bees cut nearly perfect circles from leaves in the Rosaceae family, to construct tubular shaped cells, beautifully formed, and sealed with a leaf circle. In these cells a ball made of pollen and nectar is placed and an individual egg laid on top. A nest site can contain several cells, each closed off with a leaf circle. Some of the ones I have found were newly constructed, the leaves still fresh and green, others old and the leaves dried out. Some had obviously been disturbed by a predator. Some were half buried in the soil, others were jumbled together on top of the soil but under a rock.

I don’t know the exact species of Megachile that made these nests, but two common species are Megachile frigida and M. latimanus (the latter I have photographed at FWG, and the photos were identified to species by an expert). I tend to call all the Megachilid leafcutter bees I see, Megachile sp. These bees are easy to spot, as they carry pollen on their abdomens, instead of in pollen sacs on the legs, as most bees do.

Following are photos of the bees and their nests, including a bee busily constructing her nest. Many of these photos were taken at the FWG.

Roosting boxes

In spring 2010, the Blackburn Hamlet cub pack offered to make bird boxes or feeders for us. We asked if they would consider building roosting boxes instead as we wanted to know whether these much larger containers would be used over the winter, presumably by birds seeking shelter from the weather.

roosting-box-RedSquAccording to Shaw Creek Bird Supplies (where we found plans for the boxes), “Any backyard favorites that typically nest in boxes — bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers — may seek refuge in [a roosting box]. Roosting boxes differ from nest boxes in several important ways. A good roost box is designed to prevent the birds’ body heat from escaping, so, unlike a nest box, it lacks ventilation holes. Also, its entrance hole is near the bottom of the box so the rising warmth doesn’t escape.”

At the end of October 2010, the cubs and their leaders installed seven beautiful roosting boxes at various sites around the FWG. All were attached to trees.

The little red squirrel at the left wasted no time staking a claim to one box a few days later. He made multiple trips bringing mouthfuls of leaves and fluff that he busily stripped from dog-strangling vine plants.

Chickadees also checked out the boxes in early winter 2010, not long after they were installed (chickadees also use bird boxes for roosting in winter).

Fall 2011

roosting-boxAll roosting boxes are being used by squirrels, mostly red, but at least one in the ash woods (photo at right) is used by a grey.

Although the boxes are not used by birds as expected, this is not a bad thing! There aren’t many squirrel-sized cavities at the FWG, as our trees are not large enough, so the roosting boxes are a nice generous size for them and they may be less inclined to squeeze themselves into bird boxes.


When the Cubs again asked if they could build something for us, we decided to try “squirrel boxes” in hopes that our red squirrels would leave the roosting boxes to the birds and occupy shelters designed especially for them. We’re hoping to get these new boxes installed soon and will let you know whether the plan succeeds.