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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan 28; House Finches

House Finch
House Finch

One kind of bird that almost everyone in north Texas has seen, but few know by name, is the House Finch.

Its head and often part of the body are red (these are the males) so the House Finch is often erroneously called a "redbird". The females are not as colorful, having brown/tan markings that make them look sort of like a sparrow. The beak, however, is the same on both sexes.  It is black, thick and sturdy - ideal for cracking open seeds and small nuts.

The House Finch is not native to north Texas, but has spread into this area, and multiplied, to the point where it's extremely common year 'round. It's now plentiful in almost all parts of the country.

Originally, the species was found in northern California, but was trapped and shipped to Long Island, New York for re-sale under the more marketable name "Hollywood Finches". This was of course, illegal. So several retailers let their "Hollywood Finches" loose around 1940 to avoid prosecution. The birds, actually named House Finches, liked their new environment and spread and multiplied rapidly.

Easily make a "suet sandwich"
Ever noticed how a typical suet feeder for birds is just a little bigger than a slice of bread? Put that bit of trivia to work for you! In a pinch you can make an ordinary sandwich with two slices of bread (I use "heels") and a cheap brand of crunchy peanut butter. Slip the sandwich into an ordinary suet feeder; the birds will love it! As long as you don't feed peanut butter all the time, it won't do any harm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's time to start saving nest material

Nesting season for birds will be here soon. To attract nest-building birds to your yard, start collecting bits of thread, yarn, string and such. Any color will do, but remember that birds don't want their nest to be obvious, so they seem to avoid bright, vibrant colors. "Sheddings" from your pet are also ideal.

When collecting, make sure nothing is longer than 3 inches. Longer strands can tangle birds' feet, making moving (& flying) difficult.

In addition I like to make sure there's plenty of now-dead prairie grass around. In my yard there are lengths of last year's Bluestem Grass and Inland Sea Oats. Birds seek out this dead prairie grass for nest material just as their ancestors have done for ages.

When nesting season starts (late February for north Texas) you'll want to put the nesting material where it won't just blow away. I use an old suet cage, which allows easy access for birds. A pan with 2+" sides works too, unless wind gusts are really bad.