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.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Do you harm migrating birds by feeding them?
About now, some folks put birdfeeders, birdbaths and such away until
spring. They've bought into the myth that all the birds leave here just before cool weather,
and feeding them interferes with their natural migrations.That’s simply not so!Many birds (Chickadees, Cardinals,
Woodpeckers, even Robins etc.) stay in the north Texas area all year. Some birds (Martins,
most Hummingbirds, Swallows etc.) fly to even warmer climates. Many others
migrate TO climates like ours for the winter. The result is that there
are at least as many birds here during the winter as there are in the summer.
The old myth that feeding birds right before
cool weather somehow makes them stay here, just won’t go away. The truth is that the
food in your feeders has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with birds’
natural migration schedules. Migration times are governed by day length, sun
angles, air temperatures, winds and the bird’s heredity. Migrating birds, often
embarking on a flight of hundreds and hundreds of miles (or pausing along the
way) will often seek out a “feedered” yard so they can stoke up for the trip.
Many uncommon birds are sighted this way.
Still others believe that feeding birds makes
them “lazy” and dependant on us. The scientific truth is that wild birds get
only about 10 to 20 percent of their total diet from feeders. The vast majority
of their food is still berries, seed, insects and other naturally-found stuff.
The food in backyard feeders is only an occasional convenience or a snack. In
an icestorm or snowstorm, however, a feeder can literally be a lifesaver. And
it's also an “instructional tool” for young birds and their parents.
Actually, the period after (roughly)
mid-October is when the wild birds probably need our help the most. The natural
food is harder and harder to find, but the birds still need to eat every day
just to stay alive. They still need to take baths to get clean, too.
What do the experts do? Noted ornithologists
Donald & Lillian Stokes say, “birds always need your help. The best time to
start feeding them is now…and never stop.” I can’t rank myself among the
“experts”, but I feed birds via my 10 (or so) birdfeeders every month of the
year - mainly because I enjoy watching them every month of the year. I leave my
birdbaths out too, knowing that birds need to fluff up clean
feathers to stay warm. (Sure,the water
freezes sometimes but the birds deserve our extra effort.) I also plan to put
out nectar for the dark-orange Rufous Hummingbird, which will winter here.
The year-round feeding of wild birds in Texas
has contributed to our being able to see several species that used to avoid
Texas, such as Towhees, several Warbler species, Nuthatches, Orioles and
Vireos. They’re spotted as they rest up along their migration routes. This is
perfectly natural “range expansion” that has occurred here over the last 30
years. (Some say that they were here naturally decades ago, but were driven
away by their natural feeding areas being turned into shopping centers and
subdivisions. So we’re just making amends by feeding them!)
In a recent publication from Cornell
University Laboratory of Ornithology, the author pointed out that “in winter…
the berry-laden vegetation has mostly withered or been consumed, and most
insects have died or become dormant. Finding food can be especially challenging
during cold weather.”While the winters
in north Texas
may not be as cold and snowy as most, our birds are certainly impacted by the
fact that natural foods and protective shelter are gone.
Whenever you feed the birds, it’s very
important to keep feeders clean, preventing the possibility of diseases.
Feeders should be cleaned at least twice a year by soaking them in a solution
of water and vinegar (or bleach) and thoroughly drying them. Your birds will
thank you, and even moreso when you take care of them through a Texas winter.
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 Yost87@charter.net in Denton.