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Friday, January 6, 2012

Double-scratching is a winter eating technique

Fox Sparrow
When there is leaf litter on the ground, birds that can (like sparrows, towhees, juncos and most blackbirds) will still search for food successfully. They do it by double-scratching the leaf litter, usually  uncovering tiny insects, eggs or forgotten seed.

Watch closely because it happens fast: The bird hops forward a tiny bit with both legs, then hops backward a little. He may have uncovered food!

Of course, if all the leaf litter has been removed ("the manicured lawn") forget about birds.

Downy Woodpecker

Woodpeckers have many tiny barbs on the end of his (or her) long, narrow tongue. So the tongue has sort of a bottle-brush shape. When the bird sticks his tongue into a suet cake, the barbs catch on the suet and, when bringing the tongue back, break off tiny pieces of it. Several of north Texas' birds peck, but only woodpeckers are adapted like this.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Look closely, it may be a Harris' Sparrow

Harris' Sparrow
Harris' Sparrow
Among the throngs of Juncos in north Texas this winter, there is likely to be a Harris' Sparrow or two. They're the same size as Juncos, they have the same feeding habits and they have similar colors (though in different areas of the body).

Both Harris' Sparrows and Juncos are in the sparrow family, but look closely. While a Junco's back is gray, the Harris' Sparrow back is not. It's finely striped like other native sparrows - tan and white. Nor is its entire head dark gray.

In Texas, astoundingly, NOW is the best time of year to plant native prairie grasses. They don't need fertilizer, They need very little water, and grasses require only once-a-year maintenance. They're also mostly free of pests and diseases.

There are several kinds to choose from, such as Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Gulf Muhly and Windmill Grass. Just be very sure it's a native prairie grass or it could be a problem.