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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Attracting more than your share of Hummingbirds


Hummingbirds usually start appearing in north Texas in mid-March and leave around the end of September.  Here’s how to attract them to your yard. 


Put up more than one feeder – There should be several. Enough spots for Hummingbirds to sip nectar without waiting in line. Put feeders far enough apart so a “bully” Hummingbird can’t stand guard over several of them. Hummingbirds are attracted to all bright colors. Nectar feeders in your yard, if not colorful already, can be made more enticing simply by fastening a piece of bright ribbon to them.

Keep nectar fresh – Fresh nectar attracts them, and stale repels them. If they get a sip of stale nectar at your house, they won’t bring fledglings or friends by. Nectar gets stale quickly on a super-hot Texas day. We change nectar every 6 or 7 days normally. But when it’s really hot, we’ll go to every third day. And keep nectar clear - no red dye!

Plant large masses of hummer plants – Hummingbirds look for nectar from flowers in addition to feeders. Some plants have sweeter nectar than others. Birds know this, and are drawn to them (so are butterflies) and often encourage their youngsters to feed there. I strongly urge you to plant masses of plants (a clump of least a dozen) since hummers may not bother if all they see is just a plant or two.

Water source   Just like humans, Hummingbirds need something to drink with meals. Water from a dripper or mister on a birdbath is ideal (a dripping faucet works too). They’ll use it to drink, to bathe, and just to play in.         

 

Save your money for things that work        Things like fake owls and fake snakes don’t scare away nuisance birds – except for maybe the first half-an-hour after you put them up. It’s well known that birds quickly get accustomed to inanimate objects, whatever they’re shaped like. What an effective “shoo” device needs is a second component, in addition to the visual. Unpredictable motion! Balloons or old CDs hung on a string have movement when they blow in the wind, which makes birds nervous.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July10-W; Birdseed does NOT cause that bare spot in your lawn


Does birdseed cause a bare spot under feeders?

 

Probably  not. Birdseed accumulation prevents grass from growing – birdseed by itself does not.

Birds eating at feeders, when they eat a seed, simply drop the inedible seed hull on the ground, and grass doesn’t grow right there. So there is a widespread suspicion that the thin, woody hulls of sunflower seeds inhibit widespread plant growth. To be perfectly honest, I thought so too – until we did some research.

Lots of people with better brains and more college degrees studied this situation. They found that sunflower hulls (the most common seed) do not present a chemical barrier to germination and seedling development. Rather, an accumulation of seed hulls can function as a mulch. Sunlight can’t easily reach new growth or seeds through the mulch. Also, the empty hulls (as they get mashed into the soil by foot traffic, animals, even a good rain) reduce the amount of real soil available to any plant trying to grow there. Also, the empty hulls take nitrogen from the soil as they decompose, which all plants need to grow.

There is a scientific term for a plant’s producing a chemical that prevents other plants from growing nearby;  allelopathy. In north Texas one of the plants that is allelopathic is the walnut, which produces the chemical juglone that prevents other plants from growing (this is more than you want to know, isn’t it?). Sunlowers aren't allelopathic, however.
 
To prevent accumulation, I recommend that you clean the seed hulls from beneath feeders about once a week. A simple broom and dustpan works perfectly. I’d also rake the area lightly, dislodging any missed hulls. With no accumulated mulch of empty seed hulls, the area beneath your feeders will do just fine. Also, using fresh birdseed minimizes the amount that birds just let fall to the ground, uneaten. Dumping extra water on a bare spot in hopes that grass will grow, may actually have the opposite result - killing grass via root rot.

As an alternative, you can put a few large stones beneath your feeders, or a patch of gravel. I’d avoid putting ornamental plants directly under feeders however. They’re a hindrance to ground-feeding birds like doves, juncos, thrashers and true sparrows