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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

This winter has been hard on north Texas birds



Yellow-throated Warbler
A Texas winter is comparatively mild. But just think how difficult it would be if you weighed an ounce or two, and that nearby field that used to be full of plants for you to munch on, is now a concrete parking lot.

Many birds have stayed in north Texas all winter. Many others have migrated to this area. Unfortunately, many birds succumb to even our winter weather.  Without a doubt, birds need your help to make it through to the end of a Texas winter, and recover from it.

To see what kind of help they need, take stock of your backyard as it is. Do you offer birds a variety of foods, shelter from winds and rain, and a usable water source? Are your birdfeeders in need of repair and/or replacement? Do you give your birds the high-calorie foods that they need to survive? ...and recover from the winter?  I suggest you refurbish your yard’s “bird appeal” now, and don't leave it all to mother nature to do when it warms up. Especially since we humans have eliminated much of the birds' living and eating places; turning them into parking lots, antiseptic housing developments, shopping malls etc.
To help them make it to the end of winter, and to recover to a healthy status quickly in the spring...I suggest you; 

1       Feed ‘em

Trees, shrubs, and other plants that used to be full of fruit and seed in the summer and fall are now bare. Insects and worms are mostly gone. Finding food in the winter can be particularly challenging for birds.  In a perverse way, however, winter’s paucity is good news for bird watchers. When food is harder to find, birds will zero in on your feeders. If your feeders are stocked with high-energy foods, such as suet and oil-rich sunflower, your birds will thank you by visiting often.

When a bird eats fresh suet and seeds that are high in fat and oil content, they convert it to caloric energy. All birds absolutely need a steady, dependable supply of this to stay warm. And if our winter left some birds sickly, lots of good food is what they need most to recover quickly.


2      Water ‘em

Don’t forget that birds, like all animals, need water the whole year-. It’s crucial as the weather changes.  Not just for drinking!  Bathing helps them preserve body heat, which they do by “fluffing up” their feathers and trapping tiny pockets of air. They can’t do this with dirty feathers, so they have to bathe frequently. Offering water in all kinds of weather is certainly more important to birds than offering it in the summer only. Also, if you keep your birdbath open for business throughout the year, it will attract some birds that do not regularly come to your feeders


3      Shelter ‘em

Plenty of fresh food and water will go a long way to help birds survive bad weather. But wild birds also require a third ingredient to survive - shelter. This means several things;  a place to escape from the chilling winds, to get out of freezing rain, or a dry place to hide from predators like cats. Putting up roosting boxes or nests will help, since most yards don’t have an adequate variety of vegetation (particularly natives) or other natural shelter.  Birds will retreat to the boxes you give them and huddle together during bad weather, chilly nights and spring storms.


4      Give ‘em nest material

Birds need nesting material, like short pieces of yarn, dead plant stems etc. Make them available to entice birds to nest in your yard.
Before the need arises, put up a birdhouse or two. Besides giving shelter, birdhouses have an added benefit: by putting them up now, you increase the likelihood that birds will stay in your yard and raise families in the spring since they’ve seen your generosity and have developed a familiarity with the surroundings.  After all, they lived here in Texas long before we humans did.


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.


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