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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hummingbirds need more than nectar, especially for migration.

Feeding clear nectar to hummingbirds is a given. It mimics the sugary nectar they'd naturally get from flowers. But diets of pure nectar lack much-needed protein, and most species regularly consume small insects in addition to nectar. So a yard with several nectar feeders, but no insects, might be avoided. It could lack the protein-rich insects that hummingbirds need to consume with nectar.
Sometimes, insects are feed to nestlings, which need the protein to grow. Now however, just prior to the long, arduous migratory flight, is when all hummers crave insects the most. It gives them the long-lasting energy they need.
Our hummingbirds eat various insects, from tiny mites and gnats, to small

spiders. They use many foraging techniques, including gleaning them from surfaces of the feeders themselves. Mostly, however, insects are plucked from the air, mid-flight by the agile, speedy birds.
Don’t look for one in Europe       Hummingbirds are found only in the western hemisphere; basically North, Central and South America. It excludes Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia (and Antarctica). They’ll leave here, migrating to Central America, about early September. When they’ve left, clean your nectar feeders thoroughly and put them away for next year. (One species, the Rufous Hummingbird, which migrates south from the Alaska area, could stay here all winter.) Just to be safe we leave one nectar feeder up for a few weeks, for any migrators from up north that may be passing through.

    OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus living and practicing in north Texas. He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aug.21;Attracting birds to your yard at little or no cost

 Birdwatching costs a bit – but not anywhere near as much as golf, sailing, skiing, French cooking, mountain climbing or almost any other hobby you can name. In recognition of our turbulent economy, however, we’re going to discuss ways you can attract birds, economically.

Prothonotary Warbler
By far, the most effective thing you can do is reduce the size of your lawn. Shrinking your lawn down to what you actually use attracts birds amazingly well. The lawn at our house is just big enough for playing catch, barbecues, and stargazing on clear nights.   That’s all the lawn we need; and that’s all the lawn we maintain. The rest is “birdscape”, which attracts birds magnificently.

Less lawn means less mowing, fertilizing, pulling weeds, watering and so on. Curiously, running a gas lawn mower for an hour releases the same amount of hydrocarbons as driving a car for almost 12 hours. So the less you run a mower (or edger) the better it is for the environment, including birds. 

To a bird a big, grassy lawn is like a desert – it has nothing to eat, no water, and no place to hide or nest. This item overlaps with the one below, since the result is more places in which to plant birdscape plants.

     In a birdscaped yard, native Texas plants supply plenty of food for our native birds. Plants provide safe cover too – places for them to find shade, nest, or hide from predators. Many plants native to north Texas are “birdscape” plants. However, plants whose descendants are from other parts of the world are a mystery to birds whose ancestors have lived here for ages. Remember - centuries ago wild birds had nothing BUT native plants for their diet. They did just fine !

 To my clients, I always recommend planting at least one large mass (100 sq.ft. or more) of nativre, flowering plants or prairie grasses. That way, birds have a nearby food source in case your feeders are empty.

Birds love suet, but constantly buying it takes money. And putting it in the metal suet cage can be messy. Nevertheless, we feed suet to our birds because it’s good for them - all year ‘round. But when we run out we give them the next best thing.  We slather some chunky peanut butter on some old slices of bread (usually the “heels”) and put it in the suet cage.  Birds love it! And as long as you don’t do it all the time, it doesn’t affect their health.

Summer Tanager
Every bird in the world needs water; both to drink and to bathe in. Particularly in a Texas summer! A full, clean birdbath will attract all the species that don’t ever eat seed - like Mockingbirds, Robins, Buntings and Bluebirds. In fact, a birdbath owner is likely to see the parents lead a group of awkward fledglings to a birdbath, and teach them how to bathe! Birdbaths come in a wide variety of styles – you may have something in your garage that’d work in a pinch. On super-hot days, we’ve put out just about anything that‘ll hold water.

At my home, one of the birdbaths is equipped with a ”dripper” attachment that drips into the basin about every half second.  Birds love it! Just be sure the birdbath in your yard is shallow enough for birds to use (2 or 2½ inches at most). If so, and it’s made well, birds will use a birdbath 12 months of the year.

          Brushpiles attract birds phenomenally, and costs you nothing!  We have four on our one-acre lot. A brushpile is, basically, just a random pile of 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. Above this, pile woody trimmings randomly leaving plenty of nooks and crannies for birds to find. It works best if you exclude small stuff like leaves and grass clippings.  Every yard should have a brushpile; it’ll prove to be a mini bird-sanctuary and is essential to a birdscaped yard.

Red-eyed Vireo
Clearly, if a feeder is full of fresh seed, it attracts birds. But if it's empty more than three or four days, it may never be looked at again. If a feeder
 is just temporarily empty, however, birds will come back often to see if there’s any of that good, fresh seed!   You decide when to fill a feeder, not the birds. Just because a feeder is empty it doesn't mean you have to fill it.

A wild bird receives, on average, only ten percent of its dietary intake from birdfeeders. So a feeder that goes empty for a few days isn’t critical, as long as there are other reasons for birds to be in your yard.




 OWEN YOST is a Landscape Architect emeritus and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA),  National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is in Denton.