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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lots of birds are in north Texas during cool weather

Some people are surprised to find out that there are more birds here during cool weather, than in the warm months. Many birds (like Chickadees and Wrens)  stay in north Texas all year long.  Also, lots of birds (such as Flickers and native Sparrows) come to Texas for the fall and winter - escaping the bitter cold and frozen ground up north. After all, this is the South!

Here's a short video I created showing some of the birds you might see in your north Texas yard during cooler weather.

Good birding attire should be durable, of course. The color is also very important. It should not be white, brightly-colored or dramatically patterned. In my yard the birds don't seem to mind earthtones, dark blue or dark green.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why some birds are now singing BEFORE the crack of dawn

In a word (actually two); light pollution. It's the widespread use of intense artificial light when there should be darkness.
American Robin
According to a recent study, American Robins may start to sing 30-minutes to 3 hours earlier than they did in the past. The birds, quite simply, are confused. It's also evident in Mockingbirds, Wrens...all species. We can't see stars (or comets, meteor showers - all that neat stuff) in the night sky for the same reason - light pollution.

The Eastern Screech Owl is fairly common here in north Texas, and it "nests" throughout cooler weather - starting now. However, Screech Owls don't actually build nests. They simply find a safe place (unused birdhouse, old woodpecker hole, rotted-out tree trunk etc.) and lay eggs there.  The criteria are that it be hidden (so the owls can sleep during the day), the entry is at least 3 inches in diameter and the eggs won't just roll away.

In extreme weather the smallish owls may seek shelter in such a place (called "roosting"). If so, they're inclined to lay eggs there too.

The Eastern Phoebe's right at home in north Texas

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
The north Texas area is at the southern extent of the Eastern Phoebe's "summer range", and also at the northern limit of its "winter range".  Which means that the Eastern Phoebe (despite its name) lives here year 'round - many of them anyway. Phoebes are very dependant on human-made structures such as bridges, roof overhangs, sheds and unused birdhouses, where they often roost at night or in bad weather.

Incidentally, the word "eastern" in a bird's name almost always means east of the Rocky Mountains.

Carolina Chickadee

Are you like me - sometimes forgetting where you put the car keys and so on? Maybe we sometimes share a trait with Chickadees. In a study of Black-capped Chickadees, the area of the brain used to process spacial information like where we left things  (the hippocampus) varies in size during a typical year.  It enlarges in the fall and winter, coinciding with the birds' seed-caching and -finding activity.  It shrinks in the spring, when feats of memory are no longer crucial.

By the way, the species of Chickadee found here in north Texas is the Carolina Chickadee.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Feed birds in your yard without a birdfeeder!

Log: about 1 foot long by 2 in. diam.

It's not difficult at all, and it's incredibly inexpensive!  Just slather some peanut butter on a small area of a tree's bark  (I use the Crunchy kind - the cheaper the better).  You can spread it on a part of an existing tree, or do what I've done:  cut a log section and outfit it with an eye-hook, to hang where flowering baskets were last summer .

Sometimes these "spreads" are marketed by some specialty stores. Don't waste your money!  Instead, save money by avoiding paying for others' marketing and pointless 'secret ingredients'.

Common Nighthawk
Sandhill Crane
Researchers with too much time on their hands discovered that most birds spend more flying time with their wings moving downward than with their wings moving up.  The downward motion (probably counteracting gravity) is a power stroke, and takes a tiny bit longer than the "recovery" stroke.
E. Meadowlark
N. Mockingbird