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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Plant a clump or two to feed birds in a pinch.


A clump or two of native grass is an ideal back-up food source for when you go on vacation, or any other time when your feeder might be empty.  (I’m talking about prairie grasses, not lawns)  There are many kinds of ornamental native prairie grasses to choose from such as little bluestem, sideoats grama, Lindheimer muhly, Indian grass, eastern gamagrass - heights from 4 inches to 7 feet.  Texas has more than 100 species. These native prairie grasses are almost maintenance free, and all kinds of birds will magically flock to them. 


In north Texas, between late September and early February is the best time to plant them. There’s no fertilizer or special soil amendments necessary- just plant them in our miserable native Texas soil, and water thoroughly once. After that, there's no need to water the native varieties ever again (unless we have a really severe, extended drought). There's no need to prune, mow, or divide ever again either, unless you do so to reduce fire danger, or share the grass with friends (although cutting the clump back to 3-4 inches every January helps it green up faster).



A typical bird has between 2000 and 4000 feathers. The feathers all start out as living tissue, complete with a blood supply. After they’re formed, however, the blood shuts off and the feathers remain, sort of like our hair or fingernails – basically dead structures.

Feathers are crucial to two very important attributes of birds; warm-bloodedness and flight. To a scientist, a bird’s feathers have all sorts of names such as “flight feathers”, “primary feathers” and things called “filoplumes”. Basically, however, all feathers fit into just two categories: “down feathers” and “contour feathers”.

Loosely arranged down feathers trap large amounts of air, which insulate the bird’s body well. This enables keeps the bird’s body warm and allows warm-bloodedness. Contour feathers help promote flight by smoothing the bird’s body, and making it aerodynamic, allowing flight.

That’s all good to know. But all most of us really care about is that birds’ feathers make them pretty and colorful. (There’s a science-based reason for that too!)

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.



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