Written by an area Landscape Architect and birdwatcher with over 30 years of experience with landscaping in north Texas: what works and what doesn't. Emphasis on attracting birds to north Texas yards, and reducing required yard maintenance. Tips, trivia and proven advice for a natural, low-cost approach for this unique and sensitive part of the country.
Lots of people still buy into the old belief that providing wild birds with food gets them "hooked" on seed/suet from birdfeeders. Not true!
The reality is this; food that wild birds get from feeders is less than 10% of their diet. Seed from feeders is not only convenient, it's often a matter of life or death - especially in bad weather when natural food is scarce.
Birds always prefer the absolute freshest food around. That's certainly seed from native plants growing in their vicinity.The seed these plants produce is totally fresh, of course, when birds get it. That's why the vast majority of a bird's diet is from live, healthy plants. It's also why I recommend that you plant "birdscape" plants in your yard right now. In north Texas, now is the very best time to plant, even though you won't see any above-ground growth until spring. (For a list of "birdscape" plants native to this area, email me at Birdpoop@charter.net )
WHERE DO THEY CARRY PASSPORTS? The fall migration of Monarch butterflies is underway. Every fall they travel southward to fir forests in the Oyamel Mountains of central Mexico, funneling through north Texas. One particular butterfly may make it all the way from start to finish, but it's almost impossible for one particular Monarch to go on two migrations. They have short life spans, so when a Monarch dies during migratory flight, newborn ones (from eggs laid along the way) continue the flight - instinctively knowing where to go. These children, or the childrens' descendants will take part in the next annual migration.
Everything in nature is affected to some degree by everything else in nature. Perhaps the naturalist John Muir said it best back in 1890-something: "There is a common thread winding through every part of nature. Fiddle with one part and all the other parts are troubled".
Humans are a big part of nature. Bird migration is another good example. When it gets cold where birds are, and the snow or frozen ground cuts off the normal food supply, birds fly to wherever they can find food. It's a matter of survival - affected by a changing climate. Maybe that means flying all the way to South America or to north Texas (depending largely on their diet) from a place that has no food available, like Canada or Minnesota.
Diet is important not just for a plant's yield, but for timing. Our native plants go to seed or make berries precisely when our native or migrating birds are looking for these things (exotic plants may look nice to you and me, but they produce food when our native birds aren't "in the market". Also, our native trees drop their leaves on schedule each fall, providing millions of protected hiding places for tiny bugs, which birds eat.
Also, all those fallen leaves, as they decompose they loosen the soil and add nutrients; making for more fruit/seed production in the following season.
See how every piece of nature works together with every other piece!
There are Robins ("American Robins" technically) in north Texas all year long. But their population center is gradually shifting northward as the weather up north warms up and food is available all winter long.
Robins are so widespread that most of us haven't noticed, but Cornell's Lab of Ornithology has. In a 40-year study they proved that the center of the robin population is now in southern Kansas. The center 40 years ago was north of Gainesville - on the banks of the Red River.
So the Robins' reputation as the "first harbinger of spring" only applies, now, to northern states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and the Dakotas. In Texas, Robins are here all year; just more active and likely to be seen in the spring mating season.
PIGEONS AND DOVES ARE BIRDS OF A FEATHER. They're pretty much the same; both members of the Columbida family. But the label "dove" implies a more refined, better mannered and less germy bird. Doves are also more slender. In common usage, the farther the bird is removed, genetically, from the pigeons we've all seen in parking lots, around dumpsters and on street lights, the more apt it is to be called a "dove".
Ages and ages ago, the wild pigeon was primarily dark blue and/or dark gray. Much of this coloration has been "bred away" in doves - the Mourning Dove, for example, is beige and light gray.