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Saturday, February 1, 2014

The "first Robin of the spring" is a total myth in Texas


American Robin
If someone 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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Birds aren't coming to the birdfeeder I just put up. Why?"


 

Carolina Chickadee
One comment I hear a lot is the lack of visitors to a new feeder. Almost always, my advice is to…

 

Give it time.

It 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 things.

Freshness of seed?

Our 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 a shrub.

No pesticides?

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!






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 Yost87@charter.net in Denton.