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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Native plants & beautiful video on bird migration

Birds, and their ancestors going back thousands and thousands of years have
depended on the area’s plants.  These natural, native plants are what they’re used to.  Planting native plants in your yard is a great way to attract north Texas birds.   It’s also a great way to help them get through their daily lives.

WHY?    The plants that grow here naturally have synchronized with the entire environment, including our birds. The plants do all the things they do (flower, go to seed, make nectar, wither etc.) at exactly the right times for our native birds to make use of them. (Or maybe the birds have adapted to the plants’ timing.) Whatever it is, it took many, many centuries for the plants and birds to evolve and get synchronized.

A non-native plant may look nice to you and me, but to a north Texas bird it may as well be a chunk of concrete – of almost no value in his daily life. So he may just fly off to another yard.

My advice, if you like birds, is to ask if a plant is "native" before putting it in your yard.  (There are thousands of native plant species)

 

A friend sent me a beautiful. informative video on birds' migration across the Gulf of Mexico. I've put the web address here:  http://gulfcrossingmovie.com   It's not short, but well worth the time spent watching.

If that address doesn't work on your computer, try the youtube version at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e20qNjdcSUk

 

 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Birds prefer NATURAL nest material

 
Texas birds are attracted to places where they can easily get materials for making nests.  More and more, however, the fields and forests where they used to find it have turned into shopping centers and parking lots. So offering good nest material is almost as important as putting out fresh food.

The materials that birds use for nest-building can be almost anything that’s somewhat small, stringy and lightweight. Also, many nests are cemented together with mud, so it’s a good idea to have water and/or mud nearby. (It doesn’t have to be very conspicuous, or even in your own yard – birds will find it!) It’s not uncommon for a bird to make over a thousand trips with beaks-full of mud, twigs, grasses, leaves or whatever, just before nesting season (which varies with species, but is typically in spring).

One of the most popular natural materials is fur. We have two large dogs that seem to shed 365 days a year. Often we’ll comb them and save the fur. Then we put it in a container, such as a wire suet basket, and hang it from a branch.

Over the next few days we’ll see chickadees, cardinals, titmice, jays and many others pull out strands of the dog fur to take to their nests in nearby trees. Weeks later, if we’re lucky enough spot a nest, we’ll carefully inspect it and find several tiny eggs nestled in the dogs' fur. In the wild, this might be fur from foxes, bobcats, coyotes, goats, raccoons, cougars or even bears – but it’s 100% natural.  

Given a choice, however, wild birds often choose natural nesting material from plants. Most Texas birds look for tall, native grasses for nesting material. If you really want birds to nest in your yard, leave an area in tall grass (at least a foot), letting it stand through the winter. Robins, mockingbirds, several kinds of sparrows, meadowlarks, wrens, flycatchers and bluebirds use grasses enthusiastically. Some favorites are bluestem, indiangrass, muhly and gramma.  I’m certainly not talking about a typical north Texas lawn (usually bermudagrass or St. Augustine mowed to less than 2 inches). This type of lawn is a very uninviting and sterile habitat for almost all birds, who need tall, dense vegetation that they can flee to quickly when a predator appears.

Many lawns are also “treated” with pesticides, weed killers and chemical fertilizers, which can end up harming wildlife – or at least causing birds to go elsewhere.  (Remember DDT ?) Birds' nests are usually composed of bits of dead leaves and lots of small twigs, too.  So if you clean up your yard too meticulously, you may be depriving nearby birds of the natural nest material they seek and prefer.

Wild birds often use other plant items for nesting, too. Thin strips of bark from many types of trees native to the Denton area often end up in nests.  Young trees (like redbud, red cedar, eve’s necklace, roughleaf dogwood or cedar elm) are preferred by birds. Small chips of bark (from almost any tree, but oaks are a favorite) are often used to cushion the bottom of nests.

I’ve tried to put together a list of possible nesting material. It turns out, however, that almost anything is a candidate. And since birds were here in north Texas thousands of years before humans, the more natural a material is, the more likely it is to be recognized by the area’s birds and used in a nest.

 

 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bringing the Passenger Pigeon back from extinction ?!


 
Once, not so long ago, the Passenger Pigeon was one of the most abundant birds in North America. There were billions of them. Now they're gone. Extinct.  Due to rampant hunting, and development of its habitat, the only people who have ever seen a live one are now over 90.


However, science has reached the point where it’s (theoretically) possible

Passenger Pigeon
to bring extinct species back from the finality of extinction. In the Passenger Pigeon’s case, it involves identifying the genetic “bits” that make it a real Passenger Pigeon - creating a “genome” from DNA found in museum specimens. Next, synthesize the DNA fragments that make the bird unique. Then the modified DNA fragments are exchanged, in place of the corresponding fragments, in the genome of the common Rock Pigeon (a close cousin). The new “stem cells”, converted into “germ cells” are put into the eggs of a Rock Pigeon (I apologize in advance to all true scientists, who may see this explanation as vastly oversimplified). Then breed the result(s).


Then, the result is a true Passenger Pigeon.  Or is it?


Assuming that it can be done, should it be done? Several scientists think that, if the specie’s extinction was caused mostly by mankind, we have the responsibility to “re-create” it. That’s good for the Passenger Pigeon, but bad for things like the sabre-toothed tiger.

 Would we want a 'Jurassic Park' of Wooly Mammoths and flesh-eating birds, anyway? 
 
Are you paying for weeds!?      A recent university study examined ten popular brands of birdseed and found that half of them contained seeds of at least six species of weeds. SO, not only are you paying good money for the weed seeds, but they’re likely to sprout and spread in your yard; and wild birds rarely eat them. Personally I have no absolute proof of the following opinion, but I'd bet good money that the cheaper birdseed brands contain the most weed seeds.