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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Attract birds for hardly any money;

You can attract birds and butterflies to your yard for less than you're shelling out now. Maybe for next to nothing!  (NOTE: some of these ideas may not be appropriate in other parts of the country, but they all are valid in north Texas)

By far the most effective thing you can do is reduce the size of your grassed lawn. Shrink it down to what you actually need - not what somebody else thinks you should have. At our place, roughly one-quarter of our yard is lawn (grass). That's all we need and all we need to maintain (I have better things to do). The rest is "birdscape".

To a bird, a big grassy lawn is like a desert; with almost nothing to eat, no water and no place to hide, rest or nest. This time of year (unlike up north) is easily the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Less lawn translates into more places to plant these birdscape plants.
In a birdscaped yard, native Texas plants supply food that attracts birds naturally.  Meaning you need to buy less birdseed! Plants also supply places for birds to find shade, nest, and hide from predators - so they hang around a lot more.
Birds love suet, but regularly buying it takes money.  We also feed suet to birds because it's good for them.  But when we're out we give them the next best thing.  We put some chunky peanut butter on some old slices of bread (usually the 'heels') and put it in the suet cage. As long as you don't do it all the time, it won't  affect their health.

All birds need water every day, whether the weather's freezing or super-hot. Water (like in a birdbath) is not only inexpensive, but will attract species that don't eat seeds, such as Robins, Wrens, Mockingbirds and Flickers. A "birdbath" needn't be an expensive, ornate thing - anything that holds water and doesn't embarrass you is fine.

Another inexpensive thing is a "brushpile". It's just what its name implies - a random pile of woody branches (tree trimmings?), leaving lots of nooks and crannies inside for birds to find. Every yard can and should have a brushpile; it's a mini bird sanctuary.

Feeding only good, fresh seed is crucial. If you run out, so be it. The birds can simply eat something in your birdscaped yard. If you ever use cheap/stale, grocery store or big box seed, however, the birds will leave that feeder for good! A wild bird gets only about 10% of its food from birdfeeders. So remember - just because a feeder is empty, it doesn't mean you have to fill it.

A feeder that goes empty for several days is like a restaurant closing - the birds won't starve; they'll just go somewhere else. And if your yard is birdscaped, they'll still be in your yard.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

They'll migrate no matter what we do

A few people still think that a full birdfeeder (or nectar feeder) will prevent birds from migrating and somehow "trap" them here for the winter. That's not only been disproven - it's also silly.

The one and only thing that triggers migration (as it has since well before mankind walked erect) is photoperiodism - the relative amounts of daylight and darkness over time.  Food availability and weather have nothing to do with when they leave north Texas. These two factors only determine the pace at which birds migrate.

Photoperiodism, usually called 'day length', also triggers leaves to grow or fall, flowers to bloom or go to seed, animals to hibernate, insects to become active, wild animals to have babies, and so on.  It's been this way millions of years before Man appeared on earth.

So when your neighbor takes credit for causing flowers to bloom since he added a certain chemical to the soil, or he cautions you to take down birdfeeders  for fear of "trapping" birds for the winter, remember that the earth tilting and revolving on its axis, making days shorter or longer, is the one and only cause.

An example in north Texas is the Robin.  Due to Texas' slightly longer day-length and relatively mild winters, Robins (and several other birds) think of this area as "the South".  So the Robins from up north migrate here for the winter.  And local Robins stay right here. As a result we have more Robins in north Texas in the winter than the summer. Thanks mainly to photoperiodism.