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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Easily creating a wren-yard in any size back yard

Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren
In this area, Wrens are the easiest bird to attract …they may already be in your yard in fact. I’m talking about the kinds of Wren native to north Texas, not the House Wren that’s inundated many other areas. Inviting Wrens into your landscape is relatively simple, because they’re often attracted by the way we live

            Our native Wrens are the Carolina Wren and the Bewick’s Wren. They look pretty much alike, but the Bewick’s (pronounced like “Buick”) is gray, not tan like the Carolina Wren. They’re both slightly huskier than other Wrens, and probably won’t be able to get in a “one-size-fits-all” birdhouse sold by many big-box stores, which are sized for a House Wren. Their tails tilt upward (unlike most birds) and they flit about nervously (as if they’ve had too much caffeine). They’re also very loud!

            Wrens have shared living space with humans for ages.  They’ve learned to use our houses, garages, vehicles and tools as homes and breeding places, although they prefer old woodpecker holes, birdhouses, or a dark, natural cavity. If nothing else is available, they’ll construct their own home – a globular cave of sticks, grasses and leaves with a small entry hole on the side.

            They’ll make their nests in unusual, unlikely places. Last year, a Wren built a nest in a hanging basket I had up. Until the nestlings fledged, we watered the basket with ice cubes...they melted slowly enough not to saturate the nest.

            It’s not just housing that attracts them; it’s also the countless spiders and other insects found in the exterior nooks and crannies of all homes. These insects are its food supply – Wrens rarely eat seed. The slender bill is slightly curved, enabling them to grab and retrieve food that’s beyond the reach of most other birds.

            Of course, some of us are better at attracting Wrens than others. For example: if you spend hours manicuring and weeding your yard and spraying for bugs (or having it done) you probably aren’t inviting Wrens. If, however, you let brush piles accumulate, and let vegetation grow naturally, you can almost be certain of attracting Wrens – no matter if your lot is big or small.

            That’s the first key to attracting Wrens; having plenty of nest-building material around.  Small twigs, long grasses; even fur from brushing a family pet. In this area, tall, native grasses (at least 1 ft.), coral honeysuckle and holly shrubs work nicely.

            The second key is a brushpile; just a random mound of branches with lots of “cubby holes” on the inside. In the winter, it’s a comparatively warm and sheltered place to “roost” during bad weather. All year ‘round, a brushpile provides safety from the many animals that would like to have a Wren for dinner. The brushpile encourages the growth of some insects, which Wrens keep under control as they dine.

            Water is essential year ‘round too. A shallow birdbath (2” at most) is ideal. Wrens like to poke around among the leaves at the edge of a shallow water body – that’s where the insects and tiny snails are. A bit of “messy” vegetation on the ground near a birdbath simulates this. Since most yards around here aren’t 100% debris-free 100% of the time, they make ideal homes for our native Wrens.
Carolina Wren
Carolina Wedn


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.






Sunday, January 5, 2014

Do your birdfeeders make it tough on visiting Cardinals to eat naturally?

Cardinals are among the prettiest of north Texas birds - especially in the winter, when there's a paucity of outside color. To achieve their natural color, they need to eat plenty of nutritious seed.

Cardinals, however, have a problem. They can't turn their heads easily. Their natural "eating position" is head/neck straight, and food in front of them. They can adjust somewhat to a traditional perch, but it's not easy for them. They also have a little trouble perching securely, whereas most other birds can clamp tightly onto a feeder or other perch.

So if you want your yard to become a Cardinal hangout (in our yard we usually have at least 6 at a time) I recommend having seed feeders that respond to their physical differences. Like a tray feeder or hopper feeder (pictured) or any of several other feeder types available that doesn't discriminate. 

What cutting down all dead trees means     It means that lots of birds will go homeless and will face the full brunt of winter. “Cavity-nesters” are kinds of birds that roost and nest primarily in old holes in trees. Usually, the holes were made originally by a Woodpecker. Examples locally are Chickadees, Titmice, Bluebirds and Wrens.  When dead and dying trees are totally removed (cut almost to the ground), it reduces the number of potential nesting sites…and eventually the number of birds.