Category Archives: Bugs & Animals

Bugs, insects, animals and wildlife.

chickadee in birdhouse

Getting Birds to Come to The Backyard

Wildlife is abundant in Florida.  Birds are everywhere so getting them to come to the backyard is not difficult.  They enjoy the same things here as they did when I lived in the North.  If you’d like them to visit regularly, give them a proper welcome. They need food, water, trees and places to land and hide.

Birds Love Water

Like us, birds need water to drink. Birds also love to play in the water.  It looks like playing, but they are cleaning their feathers. They dip their heads and swiftly shake from head to toe while fluffing out their plumage.

In the north cardinals are more rarely observed than they are in Florida. It was a wonderful sight when they landed in my snowy winter yard. Here they are everywhere. But they are still just as afraid and skittish. Any movement will scare them off.

I captured (not so great) video of this red cardinal splashing around in my makeshift birdbath. I have a good view from my home office area and with the windows open, I can hear the birds land in the birdbath. He stayed there preening for a good five minutes, but the video is short.

This cheap “bird bath” was thrown together one day using a large plastic plant saucer with a brick in the center (or a rock would work). The brick helps hold the saucer in place and gives the birds a place to stand. Birds don’t like deep water and I don’t like the price of real birdbaths, so we are both happy! Sometimes birds will line up waiting for one bird to finish for the next to have his turn – like these gray catbirds waiting for the cardinal to finish up.

bird bath
The Gray Catbird waits for the cardinal to be finished.

I’ve also seen robins, mockingbirds, goldfinches, a thrush, brown wren, and bluejays at the water.  Change the water daily, and put it in the sun to remove mold in summer.  The water can get pretty hot in summer, so it needs to be changed more often.

Feed the Birds

A winter ritual for me when I lived in New Hampshire was to stock my big metal barrel with sunflower seeds. I had to keep a heavy rock on top so the black bears wouldn’t get into it.  Feeding the birds in winter was a nice thing to do.  Here in Florida I will not feed them, except to provide plants that may have berries or fruit they eat.

In the North I would make my own suet, which the birds LOVED. Suet is not used in summer (unless you buy the non-melting kind), nor is it used in Florida where it will go bad quickly.  If you decide to make your own, you’d better make a lot – it goes fast.

hanging tray feeder
Going Green, recycled tray feeder for birds

The tray feeder is something I will try in my Florida backyard.   I don’t plan to buy seeds for it.  Seeds will draw squirrels and the birds don’t need feeding here.

The tray feeder will be used for old bread and fruit bits that some birds may like. When pulling worms from garden vegetables (think big juicy tomato hornworms) or grubs from the grass they can be plopped into this feeder and birds will swoop down and scoff them up!  I already have the shepherds hooks .

Trees and Bushes

Birds like to have a place to hide, or land, which is up off the ground. I have two cats, but they have never caught a bird in this yard. I had a cat once that was an absolute killer, but these cats are not. The birds seem to know this because they come to my yard even when the cats are sleeping near the garden.

Trees, like the Dahoon Holly which grows next to my property, are perfect places for birds to gather. My yard has scrawny oak trees and a few palm trees, but the birds love the tangled mass of branches right next door.

The Dahoon Holly tree is not something I was familiar with. This wild specimen grows hanging berry clumps and draws the birds to feed.  It’s maze of branches give the birds a great place to rest and feel safe.

Dahoon holly tree with red berries
Dahoon Holly

Bird Houses and Shelter

The previous section pretty much covers shelter in my opinion, but some people like to add a birdhouse to the yard.

I used to have one and watched the chickadees build a nest inside. If I see a chickadee in Florida it won’t be the northern Black-capped chickadee (in my photo), it will be the Carolina Chickadee.

chickadee in birdhouse
New Hampshire – Black-capped chickadee at birdhouse

Then there are the curious big birds that stroll through.
Don’t you love the Sandhill Cranes? They are the coolest birds. These three come strolling through the yard regularly, and they are not afraid!

(For great photos of backyard Florida birds visit the CatandTurtle blog. It’s how I discovered that the gray birds in my photo were catbirds.)

tomato hornworm eating eggplant

Non-Producing Vegetable Plants Can Still Serve a Purpose

In the heat of the Florida summer months, I have done little gardening. But the plants I began growing in Spring, are continuing to grow. Even though I am not getting much, if any, produce from them, they serve a purpose. They can be food for worms; give bugs a place to crawl, which in turn feeds the birds, (mostly, I have cardinals); and provide a playground for the lizards.

The two eggplant plants I have in the garden have grown tall. They have continued to produce pretty purple flowers, but have never given me a single eggplant!  It’s either the poor soil, or the heat, or both.

Eggplant flower
Purple Flower of the Eggplant

The plants themselves are interesting with their big leaves. I have trouble tearing up and throwing out a perfectly healthy plant, even if it’s not giving me the food I’d hoped for.

I’m glad I left the eggplants growing, and continued to give them water, just because I couldn’t NOT do so.   I noticed missing leaves and found a big, juicy, tomato hornworm chowing down on the leaves. The hornworm can eat a tremendous amount, and it’s apparent they have arrived when you notice entire leaves missing on the tomato plants!  Stalks can become completely bare in a matter of a days time.

tomato hornworm eating eggplant
Tomato Hornworm on Eggplant

One summer I was visiting my sister in Massachusetts, and she said that something was eating her tomato leaves. Sure enough, there it was – a big green worm. So I pointed it out to her!  She was astonished, but hadn’t looked close enough to see the worm.

Tomato hornworms often show up near the end of summer – at least in the north, that was how it happened in my garden. The one eating my eggplant here in Florida was lucky. I did not care that he was destroying the plant, it was useless to me anyway.  He ate and ate and grew bigger over the course of about 2 days.

I find these pretty green worms quite interesting.  Often, a wasp of some kind lays it’s eggs on the worm, which kills it.  There were no eggs on this guy.  He was doing quite well for himself.

Then he was gone… eaten by a bird maybe? I don’t know. Most of the eggplant’s leaves had been eaten by then, and I felt like I had given him a meal at the very least.  If the worm lives, it becomes the Sphinx Moth.

Most gardeners don’t allow the hornworm to live… it is too detrimental to vegetable plants, like the tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants, as you can see in my photo below!

Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate leaves
Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate the leaves

On to the parsley worms.

In the North, I always grew parsley, and it lasted well into the winter months. But eventually, it did die.  Deer used to come into my backyard and nose through the snow looking for greens to eat, and sure enough, they would find the parsley still going strong at the beginning of winter.

Since I’ve been in Florida – over a year now – the parsley I planted last summer is still growing fine! I use it daily in my omelets, salads, and other home-cooked food.

The parsley is planted in two separate containers, and I’ve noticed that both areas have parsley worms munching on the leaves.  They will turn into Black Swallowtail Butterflies. One has already made a cocoon.

So the plants that are simply growing for … what, fun? in my garden have served a useful purpose to help nature continue.  Whether the worms change into butterflies or are food for the birds, it’s all nature doing it’s thing.

parsley worms
Parsley Worms Become Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Read my page, with my photos, about the Swallowtail Butterflies that come from these worms.

two raccoons in a tree

Okay, I Hate These Raccoons

Raccoon standing on back feetAfter we moved into our new house in Florida, we noticed every night that raccoons would come out of the woods next door and explore our yard.  They came right up to the back door, with the outside light on.

Oh, they were so cute. One time we looked out back to see three little raccoon faces peering out of the woods at us. Similar to the photo above (not taken by me), plus one.  It was adorable, and if I were any kind of photographer I would have had the camera handy and captured that image.

However, I know that raccoons are not the sweet, adorable creatures they appear to be.  And these days I abhor seeing their cute faces. They are thieves, that even wear masks as a warning!  They have no regard for the hard work farmers and gardeners put into growing their crops.

Raccoons have sharp claws and teeth. They can be vicious if need be, and the ones that visit my yard are mostly unafraid of humans and my cats. They mostly do their damage at night, but we’ve been sitting at the outside table, in full daylight,  and had one come out of the woods a mere 10 feet from us. Once he noticed we were there, he left. Rabies is common among them, but this one did not act in an unusual manner. I think he just wanted to see what we were up to.

I usually leave water outside for the cats during the day because of the heat. If I don’t empty the bucket, the raccoons always get into the water overnight and leave a muddy mess.  Occasionally they dump the bucket.

One evening after we had been out on our boat, I rinsed my expensive water shoes and left them to dry on the back patio. The next morning one of my shoes was missing! Luckily I found the shoe at the edge of the woods where apparently the raccoon decided it would be of no use to him.

sunflower stalk
My sunflower was much taller than this when the raccoons tore it down.

That same morning I discovered my tall sunflower stalk broken and dragged across the grass. It was the only sunflower seed that grew for me, and I really had hoped to see the flower bloom.

But worst of all is the stealing of my tomatoes. I just picked two ripe tomatoes and left about 4 more green ones on the vine. Today I saw that all the green tomatoes were gone! Last week they stole 2 nice red ones just before I had a chance to pick them.

They will drag pots and my fabric potting bags around.  It seems they have a grand old time during the darkness of night.  When the weather is nice, and my windows are open, I can hear them outside my window at night scampering around and occasionally “screaming” at each other.  Yes, they make noise, and it’s creepy.

raccoon and chain link fence
No doubt they can climb a chain link fence.

I’m thinking it’s time for a fence. However, I am not sure that will keep them away. I’ve read that they can climb fences, and we’ve watched them climb down from way up in a neighboring tree. The fence may have to be made of slick material, like metal or plastic, that they cannot climb.  I’m saving my money, as we had planned to fence the yard anyway.  These creatures just give me more incentive to do so.

I can only hope that with a wall between them and my yard the little robbers, or bandits as they are rightfully called, will forget about my garden and go someplace else to scavenge.

(Thanks to the photographers of Pixabay for these raccoon photos.)

Parsley Worm and The Butterfly it Becomes

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.55.56 PMThis is a story about the parsley worms in my backyard. My garden is small, and a bit unique in that at the present time my vegetables are in pots and fabric bags.  I use fresh parsley often, and I have it growing in two locations.

One day I found this colorful worm crawling along a parsley stem and munching away.  I could see that he had chewed off many of the surrounding leaves.  This striped guy is appropriately called a “parsley worm”.

I couldn’t remember what type of butterfly it would become, (had to look that up) but I knew it was getting ready to form a chrysalis.

Turns out it’s a Swallowtail butterfly that emerged from the green chrysalis a few weeks later. The wrapped worm was attached to a stem of basil, which had gone to seed, but was in the same pot as the parsley the worm was eating.

But here’s what happened first.  I found the worm sitting in this position (below) and he was no longer eating.  In fact he was on the basil now, and not the parsley.  This is where he formed his chrysalis.  I checked it every day, and after a few weeks, there was something new to see.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.58.07 PM
Worm beginning to form a chrysalis

Once the butterfly “hatched” he crawled to the top of the basil stem to try out his new wings.  Maybe this is the perfect set up for encouraging butterfly production.  I hope it happens again.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 2.34.44 PM
Arrow pointing to the empty chrysalis

A few days ago I happened to go outside and saw this beautiful black butterfly at the top of the basil stem, and I knew… the baby was born!  The wind was blowing, but he held on for hours.  I kept checking on it, and then suddenly he was no longer there.

I felt like a proud parent.  I had helped a new baby butterfly enter the world. Course, I had done nothing but plant the parsley… haha!!!  But I felt good. And I’m glad I was able to see the beautiful butterfly before it flew away.  I took lots of photos, like a proud parent does, and one video.


It turns out that there are many types of Swallowtail butterflies, and the worms can be different colors too.  I honestly don’t know much about all of this, but I love it!  Imagine going from being earth bound and crawling among bunches of green parsley, to having big beautiful wings that take you up into the sky!  I will keep an eye out for eggs on the parsley leaves, and bright green worms among the branches.