Written by an area Landscape Architect and birdwatcher with over 30 years of experience with landscaping in north Texas: what works and what doesn't. Emphasis on attracting birds to north Texas yards, and reducing required yard maintenance. Tips, trivia and proven advice for a natural, low-cost approach for this unique and sensitive part of the country.
you know is trying to spot “the first Robin of spring”, ask that he (or she)
keep an eye out for the Easter bunny at the same time. Truth is, Robins live
in Texas year ‘round. In addition to the native population, Robins from up north come down to the south (including Texas) when
snow and ice up there deprive them of food. They’re calm all winter and live away from human activity, but Robins tend to
get a lot more active now, as mating season approaches, territories are claimed
and insects re-appear. They’ll strip a berry-shrub clean in no time!
RAT POISON KILLS MORE THAN RATS Rat and mouse poison isn’t consumed just by
rodents. When we see a rodent the impulse is to visit your local
hardware store or big-box store and get some commercially-available poison (they’re all pretty much the same). But what most of them don't mention on the label is
that most of these poisons will kill owls, hawks, songbirds, pets and
other non-target wildlife too. Maybe even children (or make them very sick).
These common rodent poisons are called “second
generation anticoagulant rodenticides". They go under names like Hot Shot,
d-Con, Generation, Talon, Spectrum and Havoc. The E.P.A. has declared them too
dangerous for public use, and ordered them off the market. But many stores are
selling off their huge, existing stocks. Some manufacturers are even defying
the order and continuing to make it despite the EPA order (probably because they're making big profits).
There are rodent devices that are totally
efficient, but far less dangerous to non-target wildlife, pets and youngsters.
An internet search uncovers them. These, coupled with common-sense practices,
effectively reduce mouse and rat populations ONLY.Practices include putting tight lids on
trashcans, not leaving pet’s food outside all night and the liberal use of ammonia as a deterrent.
soon-to-be-dead Screech Owl
Of course, the best rodenticide by far is owls
(helped by coyotes, foxes, bobcats and hawks). Killing them off, along
with the rodents, means that when the prolific rodents repopulate, you’ll be
battling many more of them, but without natural allies.
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 the 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 Yost87@charter.net in Denton.
comment I hear a lot is the lack of visitors to a new feeder. Almost always, my
advice is to…
might take a week, or two, or even three before the birds in your area see a new feeder
and feel good about visiting it. Try tying a piece of brightly-colored ribbon
to it until the birds find it. Birds are curious about such things, but they're creatures of habit – slow to visit new
wild birds are attracted by fresh, nutritious seed, and are repelled by seed
that’s stale or dry (although it all looks the same to us). Seed starts to go stale the instant it's harvested. You may save a few
cents getting seed that’s been sitting on a shelf or in a warehouse for a
long time, but you won’t attract birds with it. Rats maybe!
Correct type of seed?
Birds in different regions of the country like
different things. So, if the seed you use was mixed for wild birds in Ohio, California
etc., the birds around here may prefer to try something else first.
North Texas birds also avoid “filler” such as milo, whose sole purpose is to make the bag weigh more, at less cost (it's inexpensive).
Some places might try to confuse buyers by calling it “canary seed” or
something else. Don't be suckered in!
Safety for birds?
Songbirds are part of the food chain and are often
hunted and killed (by hawks mainly). So it’s imperative that a feeder has a nearby
escape route for small birds, or they won’t visit. A feeder in the middle of a
big lawn will rarely be visited. A dense shrub or branch about 5 or 6 feet away
is ideal as an escape route.Just make
sure a birdfeeder isn’t within leaping range (about 3 feet) of a cat hiding in
This guideline’s simple to remember’ Don’t Use
Chemical Pesticides!All birds eat bugs
at one time or another. A bit in one location is OK if there's a stubborn bug problem, but NEVER use a pesticide or weed killer broadly (meaning, on everything). That includes a weed and feed fertilizer. 99.99% of all nestlings have to be fed insects
ONLY.If all the insects (including
worms) are killed, wild birds just won’t stay in your yard.
No water nearby.
Just like us, birds have to drink water regularly.
To fly well, they have to bathe often too. So a good feeder location should be
close to water - at least a birdbath. That applies all year ‘round whether it's zero degrees or 100.
Strange, exotic plants?
Put native plants in your yard. For thousands of
generations, wild birds here have learned when the plants in north Texas go to seed, when
they open pollen-rich flowers and so forth. So the birds’ are genetically
motivated to look for plants that grow here natively, and their activities are
synchronized with the plants. If they see plants from some other part of the
world, they’re confused. So plant natives!
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 Yost87@charter.net