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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Do you have enough space for a bird habitat?


Birds don’t really care if you own ten acres or ten square feet. To them, lot lines and ownership of land is meaningless. Birds might forage in a utility easement, hunt food in a nearby field, cavort in a distant park, get a sip of water from a puddle in a parking lot, and eat from a feeder on your balcony. A lot of their routine is up to you.

As people are living closer together, more and more products are being made for small spaces like balconies, patios and “postage stamp” courtyards.  Sure, there are big things like Ray Roberts Park, Clear Creek, Lewisville Lake Environmental Center and the Elm Fork Greenbelt – all great big habitats that attract birds by the thousands.  All birds care about, however, is a good habitat.

 Individual chunks of habitat of any size are absolutely vital. Especially in established neighborhoods with mature vegetation and nearby water.  The National Audubon Society even says the “smaller” places, mostly private lands such as backyards, are just as important and vital. These are habitats for local birds (whose territory may be a quarter-acre or so) or “waystations” for many kinds of migrating birds.

The main concerns for birds seeking proper habitat are: 1. clean, fresh food   2. clean, fresh water    3. nesting places and   4. places to hide from predators.  Size is not a factor!

These can be provided on even a single yard. It could be as simple as using native plants, providing tall, native grasses and shrubs, and putting out some birdfeeders and birdbaths.  Of course, avoiding the use of artificial weed-killers and pesticides is a must. (Native Texas plants are important because they leaf out, set fruit and go to seed in synchronization with local birds’ needs. Birds will seek out familiar, native plants before they resort to perching on or munching on imported, alien species. After all, their ancestors (probably going back thousands of years) have learned to exist on whatever grew natively in this area.  Certain birds, however, are especially attracted to certain native plants and certain environments. Knowing bird species’ likes and dislikes helps you fine-tune a habitat and attract birds in a more effective way.

 One thing that very few birds are drawn to, however, is a big lawn. Lawns offer almost no good food source and no place to hide from predators (like cats). A big lawn has no place in a truly “birdscaped” habitat.

There is no one kind of yard that will attract all kinds of birds. (Just like no one yard is suitable for all plant species.) So my advice is to concentrate on the kinds of native birds that already favor your area.

Putting out the welcome mat for wild birds is simple, especially in a one-lot habitat.  Just provide the four basic elements that local birds look for, starting with plenty of fresh, nutritious food.

 

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, August 3, 2014

Ugly birds?? That'll go away by itself.


In the process of researching “bird mites” I was amazed at the number of companies that wanted to sell you something to kill bird mites. Unless you keep indoor birds (like in cage) don’t waste your money. The first frost will kill bird mites on wild birds.  But, since it won’t kill their eggs, it’s a recurring annoyance.

Blue Jay w/mites
Wild birds sometimes look shaggy and diseased toward the end of the summer. Usually, birds control mites by themselves – by preening with their beaks. But, since they can’t preen their heads, they may lose feathers there.  They’ll grow back!

Bird mites are very rarely a problem on humans. On wild birds it’s not much of a problem, either.  The chemical, or chemicals, used to kill them can become a problem however. Mites are just one of the drawbacks to living outside all the time.



 
That old fable about red food coloring

 

Hummingbirds and butterflies love nectar. However, food coloring (red or any other color) has never, in all this time, been proven to be effective. In fact it’s genetically harmful, having been proven to cause DNA damage. Nectar is naturally clear anyway. On hot days, food coloring probably will introduce some tiny bits of mold or bacteria, which will rapidly multiply in our Texas heat and affect your whole batch of nectar.

Why is it marketed?  It sells better than the clear stuff and boosts profits, even though it hasn't been proven to work, and it might harm Hummingbirds.


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.