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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Here's why we have so many Cardinals


Now we have Cardinals almost everywhere



In the 1800s, the Northern Cardinal (its full name) lived in North America only as far north as southern New York and west only to wooded portions of the Great Plains.  It could be seen only rarely in north Texas.

In the 21st century, the Cardinal is almost everywhere in this country (except chunks of the West). This is largely due to their adaptability, and the large number of people who feed birds and create habitat, so the birds can survive harsh winters and hot summers.  Today, their range extends north into southern Canada, into lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains, and east to the Atlantic coast.

Since their origin, Cardinals have only lived naturally along forest edges. However, as man cleared millions of small spaces for homesites, more and more “forest edge” was created. (Basically we created lot and lots of habitat islands within the bigger forests). We even grew and stored lots of Cardinal-food such as wheat and corn within each habitat.  If humans had set out to create habitat for Cardinals, we couldn’t have done much better.

Adult Cardinals escort fledglings (just-out-of-the-nest youngsters) to the vicinity of birdfeeders. The parents bring seeds from feeders to the fledglings, but the adults soon tire of this, and the clumsy fledglings (now knowing where the feeder is) will come by themselves. This occurs in all Cardinal habitats. This “teaching by example” happens often at backyard birdbaths too.  Any birdbath deeper than 2 or 3 inches, however, is too threatening for almost all birds. 

They eat a variety of seed and, sometimes, even suet; preferring a blend that’s heavy on fresh sunflower seeds. If their finely-tuned senses tell them a seed is stale or dry, they’ll just drop it and go to another yard.



 
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.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Calcium sason is coming up fast; how to get eggshells.ready.

In egg-laying season (coming up real soon!) female birds need extra calcium so their bodies can produce eggs, not robbing their own bodies' of calcium. Sometimes they get extra calcium from eating paint chips (particularly the light colors). Sometimes they get it when you put out egg shells (after making breakfast). Sometimes they get it from the extra calcium added to many types of suet. Some people add very small pieces to bird food, but it's a lot of extra work. If female birds don’t get the extra calcium they need at this time of year, their bodies take it from the birds’ own bones, weakening them.

We’ll save eggshells for the birds; chicken eggs are fine.  We break them into small flakes (no bigger than a dime), rinse, and cook them for about 10 minutes at 350 (to kill bacteria). Or you could microwave them on high for just under a minute. Then we just set them outside on an old plate.

 

Leave tree stumps for birds         About this time of year, dead trees all over north Texas are in the sights of chainsaws. They may be unsightly, but those dead trees are perfect homes for birds, as they have been for centuries.

Cavity-nesting birds in north Texas (such as woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Chickadees, Bluebirds and Wrens) need places to nest. Here’s what we do at our house:

If we cut down a tree, we’ll leave a tall stump, called a “snag” – anywhere between 6 ft. and 20 ft. tall.  This way, the tree is in much less danger of blowing over, and many bird species still have places to build homes. For instance, a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers is raising little ones, right now, in a snag we “made” last year.

Birds of all species (even a Cooper’s Hawk once) have a perch and can scan from atop the taller snags. Also, we have “posts” on which to fasten birdfeeders and such.

 

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.