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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The importance of creating small habitats for north Texas' wild birds

House Finch
Scarlet Tanager
Tiny, private spaces can easily be transformed into “bird magnets”.  It’s necessary since birds don’t really care if you own ten acres or ten square feet. To them, ownership of land is meaningless. Birds might choose to forage in a utility easement, cavort in a park a mile away, get a sip of water from a puddle in a parking lot, nest in your neighbor's yard and eat from a feeder on your balcony. A lot of their routine is up to you.
As people are living closer together, more and more products are being made or adapted for use in small spaces like balconies, patios and “postage stamp” courtyards. This is vital since bird habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Wood Thrush
If you have only a tiny patch of ground, consider a pole-mounted system. This lets you put several types of feeders on just one pole. The pole can be simply be stuck in as little as one square foot of ground.  And don't forget a birdbath! Also, at this time of year, one feeder could certainly feed nectar to the amazing little Hummingbirds. (Then, next fall, you can easily exchange it for a feeder for our “winter-only” Goldfinches.)

Many feeders can be mounted on windows, using heavy-duty suction cups. There is almost no danger of birds flying into a window with this type of feeder.   Reason: the bird is in a slow ”landing pattern” when he’s within two feet of a feeder, so he’s alert to the surroundings. The real danger zone is if a feeder is about 2 to 6 feet from a window. At this distance a bird, circling the feeder (and concentrating on its location) isn’t paying attention to a nearby window. To be extra-cautious, stick some sort of ribbon or decal on the glass.

Seed residue can be a problem. To avoid this entirely, use a variety of seed that has had the outside hull removed. Since the birds don’t have to remove the hull from the seed, there’s no hull to fall to the ground. Or to fall on your balcony. The goal, however, is to entice the birds to eat every last seed.

Of course, if a seed is fresh (even if the hull is left on), any that falls to the ground will likely be eaten by ground-feeding birds – like Cardinals. Thrashers and Doves. So, even if the price is a bit more, get the seed that’s freshest from the mill. More of it gets eaten and less of it winds up beneath the feeder. If you can clean up the hulls beneath a feeder, go ahead and buy the less-expensive seed with hulls.

Seed that’s blended especially for our Texas birds is best for small spaces too – more of it gets eaten. Some “cheap” seed blends are loaded with filler that Texas birds don’t eat; like milo and corn. You pay for it, but it just ends up on the ground.
Violet-crowned hummer

Of course, nectar feeders (for Hummingbirds) and nut feeders (for almost all birds) make hardly any mess, and are great for small spaces.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
 Feeding the birds isn’t complete without bird habitat – even if it's just a tiny bit! Several pots of flowers, even a few planted with shrubs, give birds personal places. They need some of these to wait for their turn at the feeder, crack open a seed or just sit and relax. A small space that’s nothing but a grille and lawn chairs isn’t appealing to birds. A tiny patch of vegetative habitat is!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

What it means when Cardinals are bright red

Cardinal  (male)

     A recent study found that, in rural areas, the bright red of Cardinals was a good indication of their health, including the abilities to resist disease and raise healthy young Cardinals. In urban areas, however, that wasn’t true.
         In urban areas (cities and towns) color didn’t indicate Cardinals’ general health or future reproductive success. In urban areas there are many plants that are “exotic” – derived from other countries or regions. Birds that eat these may get a lot of pigment, but are not necessarily in good health overall, because most exotic plants don’t contain much protein or fat. A good example is species of honeysuckle: the exotic Japanese (or Halls) Honeysuckle doesn’t do much for the health of local birds;  but the native Evergreen Honeysuckle (Lonicera Sempervirons) is avian “health food”.
     Urban Cardinals also have access to birdseed which is very nutrient-rich, but low in carotenoids (which produce pigments).
      Of course, other species, in addition to Cardinals, benefit from good food.  My advice, if you live in an urban area, is to continue to offer fresh birdseed and plant masses of native plants that are mostly red or yellow, such as Lantana, Turks Cap, Salvia Greggii and Cardinal Flower.

HOW DO YOU DO, MR. CROW       Just like people, American Crows can recognize specific human faces. Even years after the encounter.  Also, they can associate the humans with positive or negative feelings – such as “feeds good stuff” or “scares me”.
        Crow’s intelligence has long been known, but their brains aren’t unusually large. It’s just that they use their brain well. (Humans only use about 10-15% of the brain)
Pyrrhuloxia & Cardinal