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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Leave Swallows' mud nests alone !

Barn Swallows
      Barn Swallows and Cliff Swallows make mud nests each spring in Texas, to lay eggs and raise a family. The nests are probably still in place, and often are used as a “home base” for the active, insect-eating birds. (Purple Martins are a species of swallow, too).  Inconveniently, sometimes the nests are built under the eaves of your house, so rain doesn't wash them away. Wherever they are, it is illegal according to the Migratory Bird Treaty
Cliff Swallow

Act to remove or disturb an active nest by any means - including washing it away with a hose. Best advice:  wait ‘til early September.


What to do with old coffee grounds        I recommend used coffee grounds as an organic fertilizer.   Not only are the grounds organic, but usually are free. The diluted coffee itself is an excellent organic fertilizer too, especially for orchids. The grounds also have another important use. Broadcast the grounds around troubled plants to control slugs, snails and pill bugs. To run off these pests, use anywhere from 2 to 5 lbs. of old coffee grounds per 100 square feet.
Coffee grounds contain vital trace minerals and stimulates the growth of beneficial microbes.  At the very least, save your own coffee grounds at home. Or just ask your local restaurants or coffee shops to put them in a container you provide.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Inviting Texas Wrens into your yard is simple

Carolina Wren

Bewick's Wren
    Wrens are easy birds to attract…they may already be in your yard, in fact, because they’re often attracted by the way we live.

          Our native Wrens are the Carolina Wren and the Bewick’s Wren. Bewick's are a little duskier than the sand-colored Carolina species. Both are slightly huskier than other Wrens, and probably won’t be able to get into a mass-produced, “one-size-fits-all” wrenhouse which are usually built for House Wrens (rarely seen in Texas). 

          Wrens have shared their living space with humans for ages.  They’ve learned to use our house exteriors, garages, etc. as homes, although they prefer old woodpecker holes, birdhouses, or dark, natural cavities. If nothing else is available, they’ll construct their own home – a globular cave of sticks, grasses and leaves with a small entry hole. They’ll make their nests in unusual places. (Last year, a Wren built a nest in a hanging basket. Until the nestlings fledged, we watered the basket with ice cubes...they melted slowly enough not to soak the nest.)

          It’s not just human housing that attracts them; it’s also the countless tiny insects found in the exterior nooks and crannies of all our houses. These insects are their food supply – Wrens rarely eat seed. The slender bill is slightly curved, enabling them to get at food that most other birds can’t reach.

          The first key to attracting Wrens is having plenty of nest-building material around.  Small twigs, long grasses; even fur from a family pet.

          The second key is a brushpile; it's just a random mound of branches and logs with lots of “cubby holes” on the inside. In bad weather, it’s a comparatively warm, protected and sheltered place to roost or build a nest. A brushpile also provides safety from animals that would like to have a Wren for dinner.

        Water is essential year ‘round too. A shallow birdbath (2” at most) is ideal. Wrens like to poke around in “messy” vegetation near water – that’s where the insects and tiny snails are.