Birds of SGG

Posted on: August 27th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

ALL THINGS HUMMINGBIRD: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Pat Pepper, SGG Volunteer Birder


The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are generally found in wooded areas.

Food Sources:

  • Nectar: Prefers red & orange flowers such as trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, bee-balm, red buckeye, red zinnias and red morning glory. They also like sugar water in feeders and tree sap.
  • Insects: Mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees, spiders, small caterpillars, and aphids.


Male or Female? Males have a red throat and black chin.


Did You Know?

  • The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
  • The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it’s not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder).
  • Males hang around only long enough to court and mate. They do not help the female raise the young.
  • Incubation and fledging takes about a month.
  • Males may began to migrate south early in August.


Bring Hummingbirds to your yard by making your own nectar. Here’s how:

  • Boil one part table sugar with four parts of water. Cool before putting in feeder.
  • There is no need to color the sugar water, but having a red or orange feeder will help.
  • It is not necessary, but feeders with perches are greatly appreciated by hummingbirds.


Wondering which is better: Saucer or Inverted Feeder?

Pros and Cons

Saucer Feeders

  • Are easy to fill, clean and assemble
  • Can be more easily mounted on poles or railings

But, they also

  • Have a smaller capacity and must be refilled frequently
  • May be less visible to visiting birds

Inverted Feeders

  • Are easier to check nectar levels
  • Typically have a greater capacity

But, they

  • Are more prone to leakage and attracting insects
  • Can be more difficult to clean and fill


Cleaning Tips

  • Some feeders are dishwasher safe.
  • If washing by hand, use hot tap water and bleach, soap, or vinegar.
  • Scrub with a small bottle brush to remove sugary residue and any black mold spots.
  • Fill cleaned feeder with just enough sugar water to last a day or two.
  • In hot weather, the sugar water can turn cloudy quickly; this means it has fermented and must be discarded.
  • Hanging the feeder in a shady spot can reduce fermentation.


Keeping Pests Away

  • Ants, Bees, Wasps, and Bats also like sugar water, and feeders that drip will attract more insects.

Use Bee Guards! Insert bee guard into plastic flower on feeder.

Or, use an Ant Guard. The ant guard contains an insect repellent disc that will last throughout the summer. Hang it above your feeder.



Birds of SGG

Posted on: June 9th, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Birds of Smith-Gilbert Gardens

By Pat Pepper


Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush Photo courtesy of Cornell Labs


On the morning of June 1st, I parked in the back parking lot of SGG in the spot in front of the lamp post, which is located just to the right of the large Princess Tree. As I got out of my car, I heard the song of a male Wood Thrush coming from the woods behind the lamp post. If you ask birders what their favorite bird song is, many will reply “the Wood Thrush.”

Hearing the song of a Wood Thrush is the beginning of summer for me. These birds winter in Central America and migrate to the eastern half of the U.S. in late spring and will spend the summer here. If I hear a Wood Thrush, and have the time, I will just sit down, close my eyes, put a contented smile on my face and be serenaded. My spirit begins to rise with the sweet, flute-like melodious notes.

I have heard many more Wood Thrushes than I have seen. Some field guides call these birds reclusive. They like to perch themselves around eye level or lower in deciduous woodlands. They feed on the ground, looking for insects among fallen leaves. Once, while I was sitting on my front porch, I was lucky enough to see a Wood Thrush feeding on the ground beneath a tree.

The Wood Thrush is a little smaller than a Robin. It is reddish brown on its back with a boldly spotted white chest and potbelly. It has a bold white eye ring and a fan-like marking under its eyes. It can be easily confused with a few other thrushes we see in Georgia. Most of the other thrushes are just migrating through our state in spring and fall except for the Hermit Thrush. While the Hermit Thrush and the Wood Thrush look very similar, they are not here at the same time. The Hermit Thrush winters here and moves on when the Wood Thrush arrives.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush photo courtesy of Cornell Labs

Note the snow in the picture of the Hermit Thrush. I usually always get at least one Hermit Thrush on my Audubon Christmas Count.

The Wood Thrush, while still numerous, is having problems. The parasitic Brown Cowbird lays its eggs in the Wood Thrush’s nest. The Cowbird hatchlings are more aggressive than those of the Wood Thrush, so the Wood Thrush parents end up raising Cowbirds instead of their own future American Singing Idols. Cowbirds grow up to be members of the Avian Mafia.

In addition to their Cowbird problem, Wood Thrushes are seeing their source of food diminish as acid rain kills off many of the invertebrates they feed on. I hope I go extinct before the Wood Thrushes. I can’t imagine living through a Georgia summer without my reason to sit down in the shade of a deciduous tree, close my eyes and open my ears to one of the most beautiful sounds on the earth.

Listen to a Wood Thrush:

Happy Birding!


Birds of SGG

Posted on: April 23rd, 2015 by Christine Davis No Comments

Birds of SGG

by Pat Pepper


Just as the plant world dazzles our eyes with incredible blooming beauty in spring, so does the bird world. Spring means spring migration, and it is starting right now. The avian males are all decked out in their spring finery, and the neotropic migrants that are only passing through Georgia on their way north will give us a chance to view them in all their spring glory.

These migrants do present a challenge to us, however, when it comes to identifying them. Since we only get about six or seven weeks to try to see these migrants, it may be difficult to find out what bird we have seen. You might be able to get a picture of some of them, like the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, because they will sit at your feeder long enough to be photographed. I always see a few of them at the SGG feeders every spring.

Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

If you get a picture, then you can show it to someone who has some birding experience and hope he or she can ID it for you.

Many birds, however, like the colorful warblers, forage high up in trees and are very hyperactive. Photographing them is quite difficult. So, what’s a novice birder to do? You can buy bird guides that organize birds according to color. They are helpful, and that is what I used in the pre-personal computer days.

Luckily, we are living in a wondrous digital age. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has produced an extremely helpful new computer app for IDing birds. It is called       Merlin after the small falcon named Merlin.



The Merlin App is free and can be downloaded very quickly to an iPhone, iPad, or Android.

If you see a bird that you can’t identify, you can use the Merlin App to help you. The App will ask you to enter the location where you saw the bird, the date you saw it, then click on a bird silhouette closest to the size of your bird, click on all the colors you saw on the bird, then click where the bird was, such as your feeder, in a tree or bush, or wherever. Submit this info and Merlin will show you pictures of birds in your area that match the information you submitted.

A few weeks ago I was birding in Southern Arizona. It was dusk, so the lighting was poor. From my car, I saw a small flock of birds by the side of the gravel road. I could not ID them. I was not totally familiar with what species could be in Sasabee, AZ, in Feb. that looked like what I saw. I used my Merlin App and found my bird. They were American Pipits.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Here is a link that will show you how Merlin works:

It is quite simple to use. I hope you will consider downloading it to your smartphone, if you have one, so that you will have a bird ID source handy whenever you need it.

If you do download and use it, I would love your feedback on how it worked for you. Please e-mail me at the address below:



Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper


Pat Pepper

Birds of SGG

Posted on: February 19th, 2015 by shaerynck 1 Comment

Birds of SGG

By Pat Pepper

2015 Great Backyard Bird Count




Photo by Gary Mueller, Missouri

First, I want to give a big shout out to Stefanie Haerynck for her wonderful organizational skills during SGG’s first GBBC event on Feb. 14, 2015. She made my job as bird guide extremely easy with her handouts, white board, writing utensils, and binoculars for visitors to use.

The first bird walk of the day began at 10am. There were adults and children alike braving the cool, though sunny, weather. I handed them a bird list with accompanying pictures of thirty-four birds that I have seen at SGG in winter and asked them to try to find as many of them as they could.

We began our walk by the birdfeeders behind the Hiram Butler House. As if on cue, a Red-shouldered Hawk landed in the tall oak behind the gazebo and began his repeated “kee-yer” screams. Most likely these were courtship calls as this is hawk courting time. My three-year-old granddaughter, Cora, was in the crowd and began shouting “There’s a Red-shouldered Hawk! There’s a Red-shouldered Hawk!”

While my fledging birders were very excited to see this hawk, I was excited to see the delight on their faces as they studied this beautiful creature through the magic of their binoculars. After viewing the hawk, we looked at the birds coming to the feeders. There were many Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmouse.

In addition to these more common feeder visitors, other species seen throughout the two-hour event were Turkey Vulture, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, and many many Common Grackles. The Grackles were quite noisy, flying in and out of the holly trees behind the feeders.

I conducted four bird walks and really enjoyed meeting so many bird enthusiasts and sharing what I know about our fabulous feathered friends. Although this was a fun event for all who participated, we were also taking part in a serious scientific project.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place every February over four days—a Friday through Monday. It is a world-wide event. This year, in the U.S., it ended on Monday, Feb.16. Audubon, The Cornell Lab, and the Bird Studies of Canada team up to coordinate this event.

Here are the results of the checklists that were submitted over the four-day event:

Statistics from 2015 GBBC

  • Checklists Submitted:
  • 120,493
  • Total Species Observed:
  • 4,528
  • Total Individual Birds Counted:
  • 15,578,720

Our SGG checklist is one of those 120, 493. Contributing to the study of birds in order to insure their survival should make all of us who contributed in any way feel good about our efforts.

Thanks so much to the staff, volunteers, and visitors who helped find birds. I was in bird heaven with you all!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper


Birds Spotted during GBCC 2015 at SGG on February 14.

 All photos courtesy of Cornell Labs


Turkey Vulture

Red-shouldered Hawk



Downy Woodpecker


Blue Jay


American Crow


Carolina Chickadee


Tufted Titmouse


Brown-headed Nuthatch


Carolina Wren


Ruby-crowned Kinglet


American Robin

Brown Trasher

Brown Trasher


Northern Mockingbird


Pine Warbler


Eastern Towhee


Song Sparrow


Northern Cardinal




Tower Gardening Workshop for Teachers

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by shaerynck No Comments

Spring will be here sooner than you think!

Let’s GROW a Garden in your Classroom!!!

… a garden with NO DIRT? NO WEEDS?? Really???

…. Jump right into science with the aeroponic tower garden!


 Join for a free teacher

tower gardening workshop

Smith-Gilbert Gardens, Carriage House


Thursday February 26



Saturday March 28

Cost: teachers are free

Registration required!

Call 770-919-0248


to reserve your spot for this unique learning opportunity

What to expect:

– Learn about the tower garden and how it is great for the classroom

– Info on aeroponic system

– What you can grow, when to harvest, replanting…

– Comparison to traditional gardening

– Hear about how teachers around the country are using the tower garden as part of the STE(A)M program

– Check out Smith-Gilbert Gardens as a field trip opportunity for your class

Birds of SGG

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by Kelli Fuson No Comments

Birds of SGG by Pat Pepper

It’s that time of year! From Dec.14 to Jan.5, birders all over North and Central America  volunteer to count birds for the National Audubon Society. They usually spend up to twelve hours on one day identifying birds, both the species and number spotted. This information is invaluable in spotting bird migration trends and breeding success.

The Evening Grosbeak, for example, was once quite common here in Georgia, but now you must travel to Canada or the Northwest Region of the U.S. to spot one. Information like this can be gleaned by studying the results of these Christmas counts.

On December 14, 2014, I and three of my birder friends formed a team to count birds in two designated areas. Both areas were close to SGG, so any of the birds we spotted could be found in the gardens. Our first area included all the land in an area bordered by Stilesboro Rd. on the north, Paul Samuel and Acworth Due West on the east, Dallas Hwy. on the south, and Holland and Mars Hill on the west. Our second area was comprised mostly of Lake Acworth.

We started in the dark at 6am, hoping to hear owls. We were rewarded at Lake Acworth by the sound of a Barred and an Eastern Screech Owl. Birds may be counted either by sight or sound or both. The Lake Acworth area produced 47 different species. The most numerous species was the European Starling (47) and the Mallard Duck (43). The most exciting find, however, was three Common Goldeneyes (ducks). These are so rare for our area that we had to report them on the Rare Bird Alert.

The area south of Stilesboro Rd. produced 48 different species. Leone Price Park on Stilesboro, just west of SGG, and Green Meadows Reserve at the corner of Acworth Due West and Dallas Hwy. had the majority of birds. The most numerous bird was the Cedar Waxwing. We spotted 70 of them in the top of a tree. We also enjoyed watching 23 Eastern Bluebirds flit around near the communal garden. On the ground adjacent to Acworth Due West were a few Savannah Sparrows, always a treat to find.

Of the 63 species we found, I must confess that my favorite find was a very common bird found throughout the US. While common, it is rarely seen because of its excellent camouflage. This bird is the Brown Creeper. I have only spotted one other, and that was at SGG. It has the unusual pattern of walking up the trunk of a tree but then flying down. Nuthatches and Woodpeckers walk both up and down a tree trunk. Luckily, one of our team members lived in our birding area, and she had seen the Creeper in her back yard a few days before the count and had hoped it would still be there. It was!

We concluded our count at 4:30 pm. We were all tired but so excited by how many different birds we had found. You may wonder why the count is conducted in winter when it is not so pleasant to be outside, especially in Northern climes. The main reason is that the birds have finished migrating, so they won’t be counted twice or more in different parts of North and Central America.

Audubon will sponsor another count, The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb.13-16, 2015. I will be at SGG on Saturday, Feb.14, to help Stefanie Haerynck conduct a count and help visitors

identify birds. It will be Valentine’s Day, so if you LOVE birds, please join us!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper


In Bloom

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by shaerynck No Comments

Walking through the garden this week, I found that there are signs of color and sweetly fragrant blooms to be found throughout. Below are some photos I took of some of the most notable plants I found. As you can see, there’s lots of yellow!

Photos below (L -> R clockwise)



  1. Chimonanthus praecox – fragrant wintersweet : The name says it all. Sweet-smelling blooms that arrive early. While it is growing a ways off of any path, you can smell the fragrance wafting through the air quite readily near the north side of the camellia garden.


  1. Rhapidophyllum hystrix – needle palm : This hardy palm adds a bit of a tropical flair to an otherwise gray wintry day just around the corner from Thelma & Louise.


  1. Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’  — hybrid mahonia : This is a rather tall evergreen shrub with quite showy flowers found near the Japanese maple island.


  1. Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ – Adam’s needle :   Selection of colorful evergreen shrub native to sand dunes and dry areas of coastal Southeastern US. Growing just outside the magnolia gates.


  1. Platycladus orientalis ‘Van Hoey Smith’ – Oriental arborvitae : This loose, upright evergreen shows off electric yellow foliage in the conifer garden.


  1. Eriobotrya japonica – Japanese loquat : Small, fuzzy orange fruits will arrive in spring. This tree is typically not hardy in our climate, however it looks in good health with its sweetly fragrant, white blooms.


  1. Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ – glossy abelia : This low, compact evergreen is quite showy with its golden variegated leaves. New growth in spring will show off hues of red and orange as well.

Dave Simpson – Lead Horticulturist

Upcoming Events 2015

Posted on: November 11th, 2014 by shaerynck 1 Comment


Birds of SGG

Posted on: November 5th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

By Pat Pepper
As I walked around the gardens on Wednesday, Oct. 15, I found myself in the middle of male bird tomfoolery. I was standing near the picnic area on the west side of the gardens when male cardinals, mockingbirds, and towhees chased each other all about me like aerial stunt jets. I think they were enjoying having the gardens to themselves again as most of the Neotropical migrants have moved farther south.

I did encounter two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds still hanging around, but they also will be gone soon. If you would like to try to attract a Rufous Hummingbird this winter, leave your nectar feeder up. While Rufous Hummingbirds are difficult to find, you could get lucky.

Near the Bonsai Garden I spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk and two Northern Flickers. I hear and often see Flickers almost every time I go to the gardens. Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers were abundant. American Crows and Blue Jays pierced the quiet skies with their discordant caws and jaaays.

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice flew in and out of the trees, and White-breasted Nuthatches walked up and down the branches of oak trees while their cousins, the Brown-headed Nuthatches, did the same in the pines. Carolina Wrens scolded me whenever I got near to their hiding places, and American Robins shared the pathways with me.

Gray Catbirds did their best feline interpretations while a lone Song Sparrow scratched in the gravel on the road in front of the Hiram-Butler House. Except for the Ruby-throats, all of the above-mentioned birds will be with us all year. While we have enjoyed all the beautiful migrants passing through, we can now welcome our winter visitors. Birders in North Georgia are already reporting seeing these wonderful old friends.

The following are winter birds that are arriving here daily: Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush. Study the pictures below, then see if you can spot any of them in your yard.

winter wren

Winter Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Pictures courtesy of Cornell Labs.

Check your yard for these wonderful winter birds!

Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper

  Pat Pepper 

Birds of SGG

Posted on: September 25th, 2014 by shaerynck No Comments

By Pat Pepper

While birding at SGG on Monday, Sept.15, I ran into Stefanie Haerynck, SGG’s education coordinator. We started talking when I noticed a bird quickly dive into a small tree behind Stefanie. We were standing just off the northwest section of the main lawn.

I told Stefanie I would like to see what bird had flown into the tree so I got my binoculars on it. It was a Brown Thrasher, and it was hungrily gulping the red berries on the tree. While I could ID the bird, I could not ID the tree. I asked Stefanie if she knew what type of tree it was, and she did! She told me it was a linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum).

Linden Viburnum -  Powell Gardens

Linden Viburnum – Powell Gardens

Brown Trasher -  Cornell Labs

Brown Trasher – Cornell Labs









This incident got me thinking about the relation between birds and what they eat to our ability to find and ID many birds. This is an area in which I definitely need more knowledge and field experience, but I would like to share some basic information I have learned about what trees and flowers we can plant in our yards that attract birds.

According to the USDA, north Georgia is in Zone 7 for plant hardiness, so I will only suggest bird-friendly plants that can exist in Zone 7.

If you want to attract thrashers, you can plant ‘Heritage’ everbearing red raspberry, Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum), red mulberry (Morus rubrum), and as mentioned, linden viburnum.

If you want the beautiful songs of a thrush (wood, hermit, veery or robin) to envelop your yard, try planting flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), ‘Winter Red’ winterberry (planted along with a male winterberry variety such as ‘Jim Dandy’), blueberry, or spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

Wood Trush - Cornell Labs

Wood Trush – Cornell Labs

Spicebush -

Spicebush –  A garden for All

While the brown thrasher and the wood thrush can fill your yard with glorious song, they won’t visually dazzle you with their two-tone, brown and white feathers. In order to get some color, you need to attract some finches. Cardinals and blue jays provide vibrant red, white and blue, but you will need to do almost nothing to attract them. A male goldfinch or indigo bunting can take your breath away with their beauty. A purple finch and, to a lesser degree, the house finch have lovely splashes of red over their brown and white streaks.

In order to attract finches, plant mustards, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), annual sunflower (Helianthus spp.), lettuces (when they produce a flowering stem), and zinnia.

Purple Coneflower -

Purple Coneflower –

Indigo Bunting - Cornell Labs

Indigo Bunting – Cornell Labs

I am going to end this article with telling you how to attract an elegantly beautiful bird that you can enjoy in spades as you rarely see just one. They flock and can strip a berry tree pretty quickly, but just getting to view them, especially through binoculars, is worth a naked tree afterwards. This avian delight is the regal-looking cedar waxwing. They love berries, so try planting trees and shrubs that get berries at different times of the year such as serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), hawthorn, sour cherry (Prunus cerasus), sweet cherry (P. avium), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), or mulberry.


Cedar Waxwing - Cornell Labs

Cedar Waxwing – Cornell Labs


Serviceberry - Mother Earth News

Serviceberry – Mother Earth News

I hope the next time you decide to plant something new in your yard, you’ll plant something that will please both you and our feathered friends.


Happy Birding!

Pat Pepper

Pat Pepper