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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We need more owls around here



     North Texans are often surprised to learn that they have owls as neighbors. It's true, but there are fewer owls around than a decade ago. Our common owls range from the ±10” Screech Owl, through the mid-sized Barn Owl, to the large Great-horned Owl.

 

Barn Owl
Owls hunt at night, and feed on animals also active at night, including large insects and many species of rodents. An owl is one of the best rodent-control creatures on earth. One adult Barn Owl eats about 90g. of food a night – the equivalent of two rats.  A breeding pair and their chicks can eat about 3000 rats per year. Where rodents have been displaced by recent construction, owls (particularly Barn Owls) eat well.

     Unfortunately, the large, dead trees they like to nest in are frequently cut down and natural tree cavities are filled in, so good nesting sites can be hard to find.  Man-made nest boxes can help alleviate the problem. They can be put almost anywhere – even on the wall of a house. It should be in shade most of the day and, especially in Texas, shouldn’t face the hot, west sun.

Believe it or not I've been asked if owl droppings (“pellets”) carry disease. These are the undigestible bits and pieces of its prey, such as bones. According to the CDC, they transmit no known disease. Consequently there is no health reason for any preventive sanitation.
There's no 100% sure way to attract owls to your yard. Providing a good habitat, nest material and a nesting place are the best things you can do.
Since owls fly quietly at night, you may never know that they’re around, so they’re very good neighbors.
Great horned Owl (western)
 

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, June 22, 2014

Instead of raking it all up, a little plant debris attracts birds to your yard

 
Brown Thrasher



Birds like picking through plant debris

Most folks just rake it all up (dead weeds, dead leaves and twigs etc.) Among all that plant debris however, are thousands of tiny, totally harmless bugs. Many north Texas birds love to thrash and pick through this plant debris to dine on the bugs, or find nest material.
     You’ll see this behavior in most warblers, Juncos, Thrashers, the true sparrows and such – and sometimes Cardinals, Titmice and Chickadees (any bird that eats insects - which is over 90% of them). If the plant debris is totally raked up, however, they’ll quickly go elsewhere. Sure, I clean it up where it's unsightly or in the way, but I leave patches of natural debris where birds are apt to find it and go through it .                                                                           

 

A “pond” and a “wetland” aren’t the same

There once was a natural wetland in Southlake that was a favorite of birdwatchers. Birds too – around 21 species of duck visited it yearly, and many lived there. They visited the wetland because it had a natural shoreline, natural vegetation and such. A recent development filled it in (some thought it was “unsightly”) and it was replaced with a man-made pond. It held the same amount of water, but gone were the things that attracted birds, including migratory birds. This past year, just four species of duck came by (a natural wetland in a neighboring town still had throngs of birds, plus lots of birdwatchers and hikers).

 

 

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.