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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Get ready for Purple Martins' arrival in north Texas

Normally Purple Martins start arriving here in late February.

Purple Martin
If there's no suitable nesting site in your neighborhood when they arrive, they won't come back to your neighborhood 'til next February.  Their criteria for nesting sites are usually near some wetlands or water (or some other source of insects), and plenty of clean housing. The birds also need on open area (meadow?) around the nest with a 40 ft. radius circle - no big trees.

Purple Martins depend almost entirely on humans for housing. They are one of the few birds that prefer communal living. Since Martins are closely related to other swallows, their locational criteria are mostly the same, except...

They prefer man-made houses. In north Texas, white is by far the best color for a Purple Martin house.  They’re typically aluminum, and look like little apartments with round doors.  The dimensions of the holes, and the “apartments” themselves, are crucial in deterring predators. A caution; never buy a Martin house thinking you'll get a pole for it later. Poles are rarely sold separately and it's extremely difficult to securely fasten a Martin house to an 'ad lib" pole, particularly one that will raise and lower the house easily.

If you’re thinking about becoming a Martin landlord, remember that there’s some maintenance involved. Houses need to be cleared of old nests at least yearly, and you’ll need to monitor it so other birds don’t take over.

Last year over a million families put up Martin houses. Plan to put one up now, so as not to miss the early arrivals that scout possible nest locations. If you don't have enough open space around the location, try attracting another kind of bird. Several neighborhoods and communities in north Texas have become Purple Martin landlords as a group. These acrobatic, insect-eating birds depend on us!



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Start looking for birdhouse locations NOW

"bottle" house for Wrens
As winter in north Texas winds down, people should be scouting locations for bird houses. In so doing, remember that the number one criterion is that you, the homeowner, should be able to see it from inside the house. However, it shouldn't be "on display" too much for every bird and possible predator to see.
Usually, the best location for a bird house is an area facing, but not in the middle of, an open field.  Keep in mind, however, that many birds do not use birdhouses at all. They include Cardinals, Orioles, House Finches and Barn Swallows (which make their own nests out of mud). Many wild birds usually build nests in thickets or surrounded by small trees, where they have some degree of privacy but also access to open space for hunting food. (Incidentally, some marketers call birdhouses "nestboxes", to make them sound special. They're not!)

Locating a birdhouse near an activity hub, like a birdbath or feeder, is a poor idea. Birds want some privacy when nesting. Locating it where there is some shelter from rain, like under an eave or a healthy tree branch, is good idea. Now, before leaves (and the birds) appear, is a good time to choose sites.

Cherry Blossom blooming time is sooner and sooner each year          Bloom times, and other data, for more than 600 species of plants have been recorded for many years by the National Herbarium at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution.  One discovery: the blossoms on Washington DC's famous cherry trees are opening 6 to 9 days earlier than they had in the seventies.

The National Park Service recently revised its estimate of the peak bloom time for the Japanese Cherry trees from March 24-28 to March 20-23. (During WWII they were called "oriental" trees, not "japanese") .

The Cherry Blossom Festival officially began in 1912 with a gift of 1800 trees from Japan. Now, with additional gifts, and graftings from the original trees, there are about 8650. The plantings actually began in back in 1905 with a small trial, to see if they would prosper in that environment;   they did.