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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark-eyed Juncos have arrived from the "Boreal Forest"

Junco
The Junco that has just arrived in north Texas for the winter was probably born in the Boreal Forest. The "Boreal Forest" is a big chunk of southern Canada (and a tiny bit of the U.S.). Unfortunately there's a lot of "tar sand" there too,  which is being excavated. The forest is the birthplace of 3 to 5 billion birds each year - many spending fall and winter in Texas, like Juncos.

There are several regional kinds of Junco. But by far the most common, and the only one abundant in north Texas, is the Dark-eyed Junco (it has black around the eyes, of course).  All kinds are botanically identical.

Bad weather (whether rain, cold, wind or ice) means that birds seek shelter - a place to "roost".  Birds roost at night too, whatever the weather. Ground-feeding birds such as Juncos, roost temporarily in tall prairie grasses or low shrubs.  Shrub-nesting species like Cardinals and Mockingbirds, roost in dense, evergreen shrubs.  Cavity-nesters like Titmice and Chickadees may roost in an old nest or unused birdhouse Almost all birds like to roost in a brushpile* (old tree limbs and branches) you've built. 

 *If you want to find out more about brushpiles, and how to build one,
 just send me an e-mail

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Barn Owls are common in north Texas

Barn Owls
Since Barn Owls are nocturnal, however, you may not see them. Interesting trivia:  A researcher with too much time on his hands tracked a Barn Owl as it moved around during an 11-day period. The owl (mainly in pursuit of food), travelled 827 miles, but ended up just 162 miles from where he started.  All owls stay roughly near where they were born, for their entire lives.

Building a nestbox for Barn Owls isn't hard. Just make sure there's enough room inside for lots of nestlings. A good plan is at http://fw.ky.gov/pdf/barnowlboxes2010.pdf   The Barn Owl (along with the Great-horned Owl) feasts on rodents - up to 5 per night.
Barn Owl

A group of owls is called a "parliament".  Also, owls have roughly twice as many bones in their necks as humans, so they can rotate their heads 270 degrees, a valuable tool when hunting. A typical adult Barn Owl can eat about 1500 rats a year, in exchange for very inexpensive housing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chickadees sometimes have an identity problem

Carolina Chickadee
The species of chickadee we see here in north Texas certainly has a black "cap". But it isn't called a Black-capped Chickadee. Ours is the Carolina Chickadee, a year long resident.

It's a small bird, but one of the bravest I've seen (it's almost always the first to try out a new feeder or roosting area). Our Carolina Chickadee looks pretty much the same as the Black-capped Chickadee, but I'd wager they can tell the difference (a major difference is the songs).
Carolina Chickadee


Common Loon
Did you know there are Loons in Texas?  The Common Loon, normally associated with Canada and northern U.S., winters near large lakes, where the water stays unfrozen, so it can get to its diet of small fish. Loons can dive about 240 feet underwater, and swim on one breath for about half a mile.