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Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to frustrate large "bully birds" taking over your feeder

Most large “bully” birds, such as Crows and Grackles, can be discouraged by using a weight-sensitive feeder.  (We use two at our house.) Some “squirrel-resistant” birdfeeders can adjust. So when anything heavier than a few ounces sits in front of a seed port, the port closes. (Most “good” birds weigh less than 2 ounces.) Often, the feeder’s “tipping point” can be adjusted. If, for instance, you like Blue Jays – which weigh about 5 or 6 ounces, but don’t want Grackles, which are about 8 ounces you can set the tipping point at 7 oz. to exclude one species but not the other.

White-wing Doves
Another tip: Large birds (White-wing Doves come to mind) can be discouraged with a tube-type feeder. The perches should be no longer than 2 inches [1.5 inches is better]. That's because bigger birds can't sit on the small perch - they fall off and eventually give up!


“Really…how does a bag of chemicals know the difference?”     Be very, very wary of claims of certain chemical/fertilizers that say they “kill weeds, but not your grass”. Bulls**t!  The problem is that there’s absolutely no universal definition of a “weed”, unlike a “tree”, ”shrub” or “flower”. In plain language, absolutely nobody can tell you definitively what a "weed" is.  Certainly not a bag of fertilizer.

   A weed could actually be any plant that’s growing where you don’t want it to grow…such as a rose growing in your driveway. Each of us knows what a "weed" is to us, but That's probably different from you neighbor's definition. In my Landscape Architecture work, I’ve always wondered how a chemical can tell the difference between what you want and don’t want.



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Attracting birds to your north Texas backyard

Father Cardinal & juvenile

Mother Bluebird & juvenile

1. Put out short pieces of fur, string, and yarn. The majority of birds in north Texas build woven nests (Cardinals, Wrens, Mockingbirds, Robins, and others). Short pieces of material can be highly prized at building time.  Keep the pieces shorter than three inches so they’re manageable. Fur combed from a pet dog works great! I put it out in an old suet basket so it won’t blow away, and the birds pick out what they need.
2.  Put up bird houses:   All birds need places to raise their young – a place that’s safe and somewhat dry. This used to be done by nature with old tree stumps, natural piles of brush and native grasses. But with ever-increasing habitat-loss, nesting has become a major problem for birds. We humans can help (and attract them to our yard) simply by providing safe places to nest.

3. Don't be quick to mow meadows.  Many birds like to nest in tall vegetation. We keep much of our own yard unmowed and natural all summer long, mowing only the few areas that we actually need to be short. This means that many kinds of birds can nest in peace.

4. Delay trimming hedges and shrubs.   Lots of our local species choose shrubs for a place to nest. Most notably, Cardinals. If you see a bird building a nest in one of your shrubs, you've got a great excuse to avoid this bit of yard work for at least the next month or two.

5. Leave, or build, brushpiles.  Birds love to build nests in tangled piles of brush, so make one! A “brushpile” doesn’t need precise dimensions; use old tree branches and limbs, haphazardly piled so there are lots of nooks and crannies inside. Try to keep out the small stuff like leaves and grass clippings.

6. Don’t put poison on bird’s food. Steer clear of artificial pesticides as much as possible. The vast majority of bird-mothers only feed their young insects, which they can digest. But if all the insects in your yard have been killed, or are dieing, birds quickly choose to nest elsewhere.

7. Put out eggshells for birds. Producing eggs takes a lot out of female birds! Eggshells help replace the calcium lost during egg production and laying. Save your eggshells, dry them out in the oven (10 minutes at about 300 degrees), crumble them into small pieces, and just spread them on the ground or in an old plate. Start saving them now!

8. If you find a nest -- stay away. If you happen upon a nest, don't linger. We human beings leave scent trails wherever we go, and these scent trails can lead to an easy meal for a hungry raccoon, opossum, coyote, or other predator. (They follow scent trails)  For the birds' sake, don't advertise a nest's location by visiting it repeatedly.
9. Provide water for bathing and drinking. It’s important to provide water all year long. Your birdbath may be the first place an adult bird takes its offspring. Lots of family-style bathing takes place at birdbaths, and young birds can be dependent on the only water source they know; especially when they’ve just left the nest. So keep your bath filled and clean. Make sure the average water depth is less than two inches. Most birds are actually afraid of deep water.