Birds and Bats

Birds

In general, birds have excellent vision and a poor sense of smell, so it’s easy to guess what kind of flowers they are attracted to. They tend to favor large, showy, and bright inflorescence with little to no fragrance. It is believed that birds are attracted to red hued flowers because their spectral sensitivity is in the long wavelength (red) end of the spectrum.

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Photo Credit: Flickr user: Bill Gracey

Another important feature of bird pollinated plants is the nectar reward. Birds are large, move fast, and expend a huge amount of energy when flying. To ensure return service by their pollinator, these types of flowers are nectar abundant. Tubular shaped with cups or funnels, these flowers often have sturdy bracts, stems, or leaves which provide places for the bird to alight whilst capturing nectar and pollen.

Birds in your pollinator garden

Hummingbirds feed on nectar by sticking their beaks deep down into the flower and withdraw a face covered in pollen.

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Photo Credit: Flickr user Kelly Colgan Azar

Some flowers, such as the fuschia, have long threads extending from each pollen grain so that when a hummingbird dips in its long bill, the threads catch on short stiff hairs located toward the base of the bill and become unwittingly stuck.

Remember, birds often visit nectar rich flowers because of their energy needs. With a heartbeat of 1200 beats per minute and wings that beat 70 times a second, hummingbirds definitely fit this requirement!

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Photo Credit: Flickr user: TJ Gehling

Georgia is home to 11 hummingbird species during the year: the ruby-throated, black-chinned, rufous, calliope, Magnificent, Allen’s, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Green violet-ear, Green-breasted mango and Broad-tailed hummingbird.

According to sighting records, the ruby-throated hummingbird is by far the most frequent visitor and is the only species of hummingbird known to nest in Georgia  For further help in identification of hummingbirds in your garden, please visit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources hummingbird website or visit their hummingbird pdf information packet here.

This website also features some great images of hummingbirds for at home identification.

To report rare winter or unusual hummingbird sightings in your pollinator garden, call (478) 994-1438 or write to: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame Conservation Section, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, GA 31029.

Bats

Bat pollinated flowers often have large inflorescence that open at night when bats are actively foraging for food.  Flower visiting bats are found mainly where there is a succession of suitable flowers year round with the exception of migratory bats that pollinate cacti in southern Arizona. Because most of the interaction between the flower and its pollinator occurs at night and in the dark, it is often a hard interaction to study.

Mostly dull in color, the flower must be large enough for the animal to insert a portion of its head or have clustering “ball like” inflorescence that can dust the visitor with pollen. Scents produced by the flower must be strong; often fruity, sour, musty, or suggest a smell of fermentation. Interestingly enough, bat pollinated flowers often have the same odor as the bats themselves!

 Lesser Long-nosed Bat
Photo credit Flicker User: U.S. Department of Agriculture (Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International)

A bat’s tongue, unlike a bird’s beak or bill, is unable to support pollen transfer, so the anthers are targeted toward the the throat or just outside it so as to deposit pollen on the head or fore-body.

Bats in your pollinator garden

Georgia is home to 16 species of bats. Some of which have become adaptive by opportunistically roosting and foraging in altered habitats such as suburban and agricultural landscapes. These species are the ones you might spot in and around suburban pollinator gardens. However, a few species have specific habitat needs such as caves with suitable temperature and humidity or large hollow bottomland trees.

  • Big Brown bat – Eptesicus fuscus
  • Mexican free-tailed bat – Tadarida brasiliensis
  • Eastern pipistrelle – Pipistrellus subflavus
  • Eastern red bat – Lasiurus borealis
  • Eastern small-footed bat – Myotis leibii
  • Evening bat – Nycticeius humeralis
  • Gray bat – Myotis grisescens
  • Hoary bat – Lasiurus cinereus
  • Indiana bat – Myotis sodalis
  • Little brown bat – Myotis lucifugus
  • Northern long-eared bat – Myotis septentrionalis
  • Northern yellow bat – Lasiurus intermedius
  • Rafinesque’s big-eared bat – Corynorhinus rafinesquii
  • Seminole bat – Lasiurus seminolus
  • Silver-haired bat – Lasionycteris noctivagans
  • Southeastern bat – Myotis austroriparius

Click here for a field identification guide for bats of the eastern U.S.

Habitat decline and White Nose Syndrome

Bats are vulnerable to species decline through habitat alteration and destruction.  This is why we will see encroachment of populations from some species into areas where suburban gardens may provide a source of food and roosting site.

We have to remember that sometimes our pollinator gardens are not just restaurants, they are motels too! That is why it is important to think about also incorporating some habitat structures along with your plants. Examples of these manmade alternatives are  wood nesting or cavity nesting structures for bees and roosting boxes for bats.

Other factors impacting bat populations include pesticides and water quality that impact aquatic-based food sources.  In addition, a recent threat is a mysterious disease known as White-nose-syndrome.

First observed in populations in a New York cave in 2006, the condition is named because of a white fungus that grows on the wings and muzzles of infected bats as they attempt to hibernate. Instead of hibernating, bats become active and starve before they’re normal waking in the spring. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, since its discovery in 2006, the fungus has killed 5.7 to 6.7 million bats.  In some instances, whole cave populations have perished.

Luckily the disease has not yet been detected in Georgia bat populations. However, a response plan and options for managing access to caves and mines on state lands has already been developed. Researchers have also limited scientific activities in caves.

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Photo Credit: Flickr user: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Species affected include the tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus, big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius), small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), cave myotis (Myotis velifer), and the Federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and gray bat (Myotis grisescens).

All of these species, except the cave myotis, are found in Georgia!

To learn more about bat conservation in Georgia, visit the Department of Natural Resources website and see what plans are in place.

To find out more information on white nose syndrome and how it is being managed in North America, including advisories and national management plans, click here.