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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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