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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dickcissels - meet "progress"

Dickcissel (male)

The colorful, melodious Dickcissel (pronounced "dik-sizzle") lives from central Texas all the way north through Minnesota and North Dakota.  But not in Denton, although it used to be abundant here. Ten or fifteen years ago the birds were abundant in the Denton area. The epicenter seemed to be the Rayzor Ranch, at University & I-35, where thousands of them lived in the tall grass, amid the Longhorns. That's all gone now, and the only Dickcissels are a few found in fields on the outskirts of town.

They are late migrators, arriving (if at all) in late April from their winter homes in Central and northern South America.  Here, during breeding season, they feed on both insects and seeds, and make nests amid tall prairie grasses (over a dozen grass species are suitable, bluestem and indiangrass among them).

Dickcissel (male)
The male looks a bit like a small Meadowlark. If you've seen one, remember the moment and think about the price of progress.

If you control insects with ladybugs (and lots of us do) I recommend that you release them in your yard at dusk.  Why? The domestic varieties want, instinctively, to return to their place of birth - often the foothills of the Rockies. They don't fly at night, so by releasing them at dusk, they'll stay around long enough to lay lots of eggs; and they won't get eaten by hungry birds.

Asian ladybugs began to be imported several years ago. They want to get in your house, and can be a nuisance. I recommend you not buy them! If the merchant where you shop doesn't know where they're from, shop elsewhere.

This past October 9th I ran a pucture of a brownish native plant asking "is this plant really dead?" It wasn't.  It had gone into dormancy in August, due to our extreme heat. It's a Wafer Ash, and it greened up just fine about two weeks ago.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Believe it or not, Hummingbird nests can expand as they grow

Hummingbird nests expand in size to snugly fit the occupants. Of course, the nest never gets "large" since the occupants themselves never get very large.  The nest starts out quite tiny, as shown in the picture to the left. 

The nests are built largely with strands from spider webs, which stretch. The Hummingbirds avoid getting it stuck all over themselves by selecting only certain strands. Specific strands of the web, those that are structural, are non-sticky (unlike most of the web). Hummingbirds know which is which.

They do use the sticky strands for the outside of the nest. To this they can stick tiny bits of lichen or bark to camouflage the nest.

Unwanted animals, including neighborhood dogs, often get into storage bins, bird nests, trash cans and so on. A low-cost remedy is plain old household ammonia.    Inexpensive!

Just soak a rag in some ordinary ammonia and fasten it nearby. Raccoons, dogs, squirrels, cats, rats etc. hate the smell and won't stick around. Birds, which have a very, very poor sense of smell, have no idea it's there.