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Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to attract Indigo Buntings to your north Texas yard

Indigo Bunting (male)

Before long, the Indigo Bunting will arrive in north Texas (early April), having spent fall and winter in southern Central America and Cuba.  Unlike most songbirds, the male Indigo Bunting often carols at mid-day. He's proclaiming his territory. He will sing his way from the bottom of a tree to the top, going up branch-by-branch until reaching the top.

Since all buntings eat insects primarily, they avoid yards that use insecticides liberally. Actually, the influx of "yards" helps the population grow.

Painted Bunting (male)
They prefer the edges of landscaped areas (thick vegetation on one side, open area on the other). Since a "yard" has four edges, buntings have more habitat to live in. (Of course this doesn't apply if there's a huge concentration of contiguous yards, or a busy thorofare in front). So there are certainly more buntings around now than in pre-Columbian days, even the colorful Painted Bunting.

To attract them, make sure you have at least one birdbath. In warm weather, a birdbath is a must!  Also, a mass of seed-laden native prairie grasses (like bluestem, or muhlygrass) should be planted. Since buntings occasionally eat seed, have at least one feeder available. And don't overdo the insecticides!

A key reason why birds prefer native plants Many birds eat bugs. Also, almost all birds feed bugs to their babies. Without bugs around, birds will simply go elsewhere, or starve. (They normally keep insect populations in control naturally). Many of the non-native “bug-free” plants sold are impossible for our insects to digest. (That's why they're insect-free). So no birds, in search of bugs, will hang around them. These include privet, Bradford pear, nandina and English ivy. Don't buy them! They have other "downsides" too. If you want to attract birds to your yard – plant native plants. Only! Birds will then be around to chow down on any bug overpopulation.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Give yourself the best chance to spot north Texas birds

 Time of Day.  A myth that still hangs around is that you have to get up at the crack of dawn to spot birds. While there is no doubt that the hour following sunrise has the most bird activity, you can still spot many, many birds at other times of day. (But mid-afternoon is usually the low point.)  I like the hour just before sunset.
       Bird activity depends on species, weather, food availability, cloud conditions, season, and humidity. It’s also affected greatly by other activities going on in the birds’ life, such as nesting, feeding and migrating. In north Texas, keep in mind that birds want to stay out of the heat just like humans do, so birdwatching at a relatively cool time of day is wise.

       Search the Edges. The edges, like where a grassy meadow turns into a forest, or the shoreline of a pond or stream, are where birds are most active and plentiful. These edges are almost always busier than (for example) the middle of a meadow.

Birds like a nearby source of food and water, but they also like the safety of nearby foliage to hide in. So I like to focus patiently on a small clearing of about 10 or 20 square feet, waiting for a bird to dart in for a scrap of food or sip of water.

Search the Shadows.  Almost all birds like to hide themselves in the shadows of foliage. They are trying not to be visible to predators like hawks and cats. Look carefully in shadows, focusing on any movement or flash of color. Good binoculars will help a lot, since the optical quality lets you see things well in low lights.

       Check out Bare Branches.  Sometimes, birds aren’t very worried about predators. Instead they perch on a bare branch (where their view is unobstructed by leaves) waiting for their turn to bathe in a puddle or for an open perch on a feeder. Some species like to sit on a bare branch or utility wire, and scan the adjacent area for something tasty to eat.

Look near moving water. Birds need water every day, so they are drawn to it    like kids are drawn to ice cream. When the water is making noise (gurgling, splashing, dripping, misting) it’s even more compelling. I’m not talking about mighty rivers and dramatic waterfalls, birds just want fountains, birdbaths, sprinklers, even leaky water faucets.
            We set up a water pipe in our yard to drip regularly into a shallow birdbath. Even that tiny sound draws birds like flies to roadkill.

Fill feeders with fresh seed. Birds hate stale, dried out seed.  Some seed is even stale at the moment you buy it, but it looks just fine to humans. Birds know instantly however - so be certain the seed you use is totally fresh. That usually means not getting it at a big-box store or grocery store.

Wear a boring color of clothes.   If you really want to blend in with the surroundings, wear clothes that aren’t the least bit flashy. Hawaiian shirts are out! Solid tan, dark blue or dark green is good. Camouflage is extreme! Even white will spook birds (the undersides of most hawks are white) because you’ll look like a huge predator.

Be part of their world.   Remember all the things your mother told you:  be quiet, don’t make sudden moves, and be very patient. Become a part of nature, not an intruder.