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, November 20, 2013
The urban birds you may see every day
Eurasian Collared Dove
everywhere in north Texas, even highly-developed areas. They may not always be the prettiest, best-behaved
species. After all, different kinds of birds prefer different environments,
which explains what are often called “urban birds” in environments of concrete,
exhaust fumes, loud noises and garbage.
there are three species of grackles; but they all look pretty much the same,
and they don’t care what you call them.About 25 years ago, Denton
had no Grackles. They gradually expanded their range northward from the gulf
coast, adapting well to living in built-up urban areas as the natural
vegetation was covered by development.
Grackles are bigger than most other birds, they tend to frighten songbirds
away. They aren’t very picky about what they eat (stale fries, garbage etc.),
so they fit right in to an urban environment.
call pigeons are closely related to Mourning Doves. They’re correctly called
“rock pigeons” or “rock doves” and are a major food source for city-dwelling
hawks and falcons. According to fossil records their ancestors have been on
earth about 310,000 years, and were domesticated about 5000 years ago.The species was brought to this continent,
for some unknown reason, by European settlers in the early 1600s.
Their close relatives, White-winged
Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves, are also adept at fitting into the urban
environment. Until a few years ago, they were never seen in north Texas.
Kudzu vine and Dutch Elm disease, Starlings didn’t appear naturally in this
hemisphere. An eccentric Shakespeare enthusiast released about 100 Starlings in
New York in
the 1890s. He thought it was a clever idea to bring to the “New
World” every species mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings. Now we have
over 200 million of them.In
Europe, from whence they came, Starlings are
actually decreasing in number.
sparrows aren’t really sparrows. True sparrows migrate here each winter. What we call a house sparrow is really a
weaver-finch, and was imported from England in 1850, to combat a plague
of insects in Brooklyn.Galveston
also imported some in 1860. By 1880, they were everywhere in the city, and
their nests had clogged up that city’s water system.
North Texas hosts several species of true
sparrows (Chipping Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Harris’ Sparrow, White-throated
Sparrow etc.) which are actually quite attractive, and all migrate northward
for the summer.
bird is being slandered for adapting too well. Instead of building its own nest
and nurturing its own nestlings, Cowbirds lay eggs in nests of other species,
who incubate and raise them unknowingly.
Why?For centuries they followed nomadic herds of
buffalo (they attracted lots of insects) since that’s where the food was. They
simply couldn’t stay in one place (like on a nest) for very long since the buffalo moved continuously, so they
Crows & “blackbirds”;
In normal usage, any bird that’s
mostly black and somewhat aggressive is a “blackbird”. Often a large flock of
“blackbirds” may occupy a single roost, and wear out their welcome rapidly with
the noise and droppings. Actually such a flock may contain three or four kinds
of birds with one dominant species; mostly Grackles or mostly Cowbirds. But
there may be some Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds or Bob-o-links mixed
in. They’re all “icterids” and they’re “birds of a feather”.
may be a number of Crows too, although they aren’t technically icterids.(We’ve reached the point where you don’t
really care, haven’t we?)
vulture (most numerous here is the Turkey Vulture) has an awful reputation, but
it’s one of my favorite birds since they soar so gracefully on their 6-foot
wingspans; riding invisible air currents.Old movies incorrectly refer
to them as buzzards. Vultures clearly fill an ecological niche as they search
for “less-than-fresh” food such as roadkill.
of them usually roost together overnight, and spread their large wings out in the morning to catch the sun and warm up. If you’re lucky enough to see one up close, check out the
featherless head and neck.It’s evolved
that way so it doesn’t get ”food” on itself that can harbor bugs or weigh it
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 the recipient of a
Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and 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.