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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ugly, desheviled birds? Nothing to worry about at this time of year.



Boy is that bird ugly!

About this time of year, many people see bald or scruffy-headed birds. It's  most obvious on Cardinals. They aren’t seriously sick, and it’s only temporary, so don't get worried. Since birds live outdoors they pick up tiny “feather mites”. Their normal beak-preening gets rid of almost all of them, but they can’t preen the mites from their own heads. Don’t worry - colder weather gets rid of the mites, and the feathers grow back just fine.

 

birds like a lawn that’s cut high    During our extremely hot, sunny weather, birds appreciate a lawn that’s mowed high (about 3” or more). It keeps the soil cooler and plants healthier. To paraphrase a friend, when Robins pull worms from the ground, they won’t need potholders.
As a licensed Landscape Architect I can also recommend mowing lawns high in hot weather because the grass will be healthier.  Reason: all those tall grass blades shade the soil, slowing evaporation, and cooling the roots of the grass plants. It also encourages the grass roots to go deeper into the soil, where there's probably ample moisture. Result; - less water usage.

 

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Are Texas birds different from birds that live somewhere else?

 They live in Texas, just like we do. And our geography, to a degree, influences birds' preferences, behavior, needs and so on. They must like it here, because our state can boast more species than any other state -- more than 600.
Crested Caracara

Orchard Oriole 


 Despite having the same Latin name, birds here in Texas can be a little different than birds in Illinois, New England, Geoirgia or California, etc. The differences are usually slight, but they make a world of difference to the bird in question. Example: Most of the country has wrens, and the vast majority of the time that means the "House Wren." Books recommend appropriately sized birdhouses, so most wren houses have an entrance hole of 1 1/4 inches in diameter. But the species of wren most often seen here is slightly stouter and chunkier. In spite of some interesting guesses, nobody knows for sure why. But in north Texas, our Bewick's and Carolina Wrens need an entrance hole 1 1/2 inches in diameter. They may not like a house bought at a "big-box" store.

 Texas birds often have different preferences in food. Just like you or I might like or hate grits, lutefisk or mayonnaise on our French fries, birds here often like things their relatives up north won't touch, and vice-versa. For example, no bird here likes milo. In the upper Midwest, they might. Some birds up north will eat corn even if it's old, but here, any birdseed blend containing corn is a waste of your money, and could just attract rodents.

Nesting and nestling-raising are different in Texas. Thanks to our mild-to-hot climate, and the length of the warm season, many bird species that live here may have three "clutches," which is a group of young, per year. The same species in the north, however, may only have two. Keep this in mind if you provide nest material or nest sites for our birds.
 
You'll spot birds at different times in north Texas. When birds migrate from "up north," it takes them some time before they get here. It can be even more regional -- some birds, such as hummingbirds, leave north Texas at a certain time and pass through south Texas a week or so later. Other species, like bluebirds and robins, live in north Texas all year long in spite of their la berl as seasonal birds. So look at any reference book you use; note the residence of the book's author, and take the references with a grain or two of salt.

The plants in your yard also are subject to birds' preferences. For centuries, Texas birds have become accustomed to seeing native Texas plants. Over the eons they've learned how to seek shelter in them, how to eat them, how to build nests in or from them. They've learned what's blooming or going to seed at what time of year; and where predators like to hide. Birds have passed this information on to succeeding generations. If they see a plant whose ancestors came from Madagascar, China, Italy or California, they get confused, and may move on to another yard.

 That's why, if you're serious about attracting birds here, your landscape plants should be native to Texas, or a genetic improvement of a native plant. After all, those are the plants the bird (and all his ancestors) is familiar with.

 I'm not saying that non-Texas plants will repel birds. Anything is better than nothing. Any plant will attract a few birds. But a plant that a Texas bird has learned to recognize will do a far better job of attracting birds. Native plants are used to our hot, dry summers, too. And our poor soil. They've adapted to them over the centuries. They'll still be attracting birds well into September -- when other plants may have died.

 So, if you're serious about attracting birds to your yard, adjust for the fact that you -- and the birds -- are Texans.