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Sunday, December 20, 2015

North Texas hosts more birds in cool weather than in warm months

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
American Robin

 What with all the talk of Hummingbirds leaving and other birds migrating to warmer climates, you may have gotten the impression that this area is empty of birds until spring. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and a look out your window may be enlightening. There are clearly more birds in north Texas in the fall and winter, than in the spring and summer.

True, some birds (like Hummingbirds, Buntings and Swallows) have left for their annual winter haunts in South and Central America. Other birds (like Goldfinches, true Sparrows, Juncos and Kinglets) are arriving in north Texas as we speak, after being up north  all summer.  To them, this IS south. Our comparatively mild winters agree with them.

Many, many other birds stay right here. These include Cardinals, Chickadees, Mockingbirds, Titmice and Woodpeckers. Of these, some are what’s called “partial migrators” – Robins for example. The ones that live here stay here. But the Robins that were in, for instance, Ohio last summer, come down here for the winter. So populations of some species actually swell, although they’re less active in cool weather.

In actuality, many of the cool weather birds are already arriving here. Even at this date, a few Juncos, Kinglets and Goldfinches have been seen. Cedar Waxwings and Flycatchers normally arrive here a week or so after that. The true Sparrows, like the White-throated Sparrows and Harris' Sparrows, are already here in throngs.

Sadly, wild birds have a high mortality in cool weather – it varies among species, but can be as high as 70% of the first-year birds. This is mainly from exposure to the winds and weather, coupled with a lack of fresh, energy-producing food.

Birds, like us, want to get out of the weather (especially at night) and conserve energy by staying relatively warm. They seek out “roosts” for the night. Roosts can be almost any warm, protective space. Some species, Chickadees are one, huddle together in a mass, sharing body heat.

In winter, birds need bathing water to stay warm too. At first, this seemed odd to me too, but not after discovering why they fluff up their feathers. The fluffing creates tiny air pockets, which insulate birds’ bodies quite well. Dirty feathers, however, won’t fluff up. So birds need to bathe in the winter (the actual bath takes only about a few seconds).

Bathing, warm roosts and fresh food are what birds need in cool weather. North Texans have been doing a good job of providing these basics, so we continue to have more birds here in cool weather, than the spring and summer.
Dark-eyed Junco
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Cardinal  (right)

Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at  

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