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Sunday, May 3, 2015


 Birds prefer familiar, native plants for nest material.  The fields and forests where they used to get it are disappearing, however.

A related problem is our tendency to “clean up” yards.  Humans tend to put most natural nest material in a plastic bag, destined for a landfill.

Recently a friend brought me some old nests (a strange but welcome gift) and I analyzed their contents. About 80% of it was small twigs and bits of leaves. Another 15% (approximately) was lichens, bits of cobwebs, or stalks of native grasses. Only a very small part was artificial things like string or yarn. (of course, this is species-specific)
These particular nests came from an area with lots of trees. Nests in meadows, conversely, will probably have a much higher percentage of native grasses. So, the local environment of the nest-builder is important, but unnatural materials (like old candy wrappers) play a very small part. Plus, used drier sheets are a no-no for nests due to the chemicals remaining in them.

When available, birds seem to like fur/hair (whether from a coyote or your pet lab – it doesn’t matter). Nor do they seem to care much about the origin of the cavity, box or platform they build their nests on. Swallows may seek out an exterior beam of your house, and a few “cavity-dwelling” birds actually prefer artificial boxes.

The nests themselves, however, are largely natural materials – probably because wild birds genetically recognize them.  The typical mowed lawn is a very unattractive and sterile habitat for most birds, and offers little if any nesting material. A lawn isn’t found naturally anywhere on earth.

Some favorite native grasses for nests are bluestem, muhly, threeawn and gramma (left standing through the winter). These are not lawn grasses ! Also, birds often use thin strips of bark from many types of trees native to the north Texas area.  Thin bark stripped from young trees (like eve’s necklace, Mexican plum, redbud, red cedar, roughleaf dogwood or cedar elm) are sought by birds. Also, small chips of bark (oaks are a favorite) are used to cushion the bottom of nests.

Dangerous flight!    During a long migration flight small birds can actually die from exhausted fat and protein reserves. Larger birds often succumb to dehydration, due to heat generation from all that activity, which leads to evaporation of the body’s essential water.


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 in Denton.



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