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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Do what you can to attract insect-eating birds, too

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Carolina Wrens


Many north Texas birds eat insects exclusively.  These are birds that couldn't care less about  your birdfeeder. Avid birdwatchers try to attract these species too, instead of just writing them off as perennial no-shows. This group of birds isn’t just extremely rare and secretive birds that you’ve never heard of. It includes the Mockingbird which is the Texas state bird
(yes, every state has one). Also, there’s the Bluebird, Purple Martin, Flycatcher, Swallow, Robin, several Warblers and two types of Wren. 
            Also, almost all birds feed insects to their young since they’re easier on young, undeveloped digestive systems. If there are no insects around, they just won't nest in your yard.
Limit & localize use of pesticides
Think of it this way – imagine sitting down to a plateful of steak and potatoes.  But before your first bite, someone sprayed everything on the plate with bug killer. Suddenly you’re not hungry anymore! Lots of birds experience that every day. Having no insects to eat or to feed to their young, they go elsewhere.

            The point is – either stop using artificial, chemical pesticides entirely, or limit their use to “spot” treatment of only the infested areas. (There are natural pesticides that work better anyway)  Insect-eating birds should take care of most insects!
Create a brushpile
Brushpiles occur naturally in forests, as limbs fall off trees. Many birds, particularly insect-eaters, love to nest in them and seek shelter or hide there. But we humans tend to remove or burn brushpiles.  Since they’re comparatively cool and damp, insect-eating birds are always foraging in them. Creating one is a no-brainer.   
            A brushpile is, basically, just a pile of woody branches. Ideally, the first foot or so should be made of woody branches 3 to 6” in diameter, criss-crossed to leave lots of empty spaces inside. Above this, pile branches randomly, leaving plenty of nooks and crannies for birds to find. It attracts the most birds when you exclude small stuff like leaves and grass clippings.

Avoid cleaning your yard fastidiously.  Insect-eating birds love to pick through the leaf-litter on the ground, in search of small spiders and other edibles. If your yard is all lawn - completely free of things like tall grass and leaf-litter, birds won't hang around.  You may not want to leave your entire yard "natural", but maybe an unused corner can be left for insect eating birds.
Make water available. Every living thing, especially a bird living in Texas, needs water. I’ve often seen birds in my birdbath that I’d never see at my feeders. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes and Robins are a few insect-eating birds that like water, too. Frequently an entire family will take over a birdbath, the mother and father teaching fledglings the proper way to bathe.

Plant native plants. There are many, many native plants to select from, to attract insect-eating birds. From live oak to pecan, and from lantana to Turks cap, Blackfoot daisy and Indiangrass– all are natives. These are the plants that north Texas birds (and their past generations) are familiar with, whatever they eat. They understand how to use them for shelter, food, nesting material etc. They won’t adapt to the heavy influx of exotic imports for many more decades.

Please - do what you can to appeal to all the birds that don't care what's in your birdfeeder.
Purple Martins
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow


Sunday, May 5, 2013

How to repel (or attract) Grackles

Grackles love the seed called millet. Of course, they eat almost anything, but millet is their favorite. Millet is a very small, roundish seed often used in birdfood. Because millet has a comparatively low cost to retailers such as "big box" stores, it's very common in inexpensive seed blends. The problem is, there are two different kinds: red and white.  Birds clearly know the difference. Blends that use the cheap red millet, or a mixture of red and white, for marketing appeal and to minimize costs, should be avoided. Birds will actively select the white millet and ignore the bitter-tasting (though inexpensive) red millet.
       Grackles, on the other hand, readily eat them both.   So feeding millet invites Grackles to hang around your yard; not using a seed blend with millet discourages them.
From whence came Steller’s Jays?     In north Texas we have Blue Jays (much of the Midwest and East, too). In the Pacific Northwest, however, they have Steller’s Jays. The prevalent theory is that a population of Blue Jays was isolated there during the ice ages,
Steller's Jay
  contained by mountains and the ocean. Over the ages, this population evolved differently - into Steller's Jays.