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.
The life of a
butterfly is a perpetual gamble.In a
span of a week or two, a female will lay hundreds of eggs, but only a very few
will become adult butterflies. Most will die. Knowing the chacteristics of north Texas
butterflies will greatly increase your chances of having them visit your
landscape,i.e. know “what makes a
About 440 species
of butterflies have been reported in Texas. They are all vulnerable to
disease and predators during the larval (caterpillar) stage in the spring. Just
before this time, the mother looks for what are called “host plants” to lay
eggs on. The caterpillars must be able to find the correct host plants. The absence
of these plants affects the number of butterflies. Sometimes the host plant is considered
a “weed” and is destroyed by the gardener often with indiscriminate use of herbicides
or insectiodeds. Out of each 500 eggs a butterfly lays, fewer than five survive typical backyard
survival rate of under 1% is frustrating to landowners who try to attract the
beauties by planting the host plants necessary for laying eggs and feeding
larvae. Birds can be a small problem (because
they have been known to feed on butterflies) but toads, frogs, lizards,
rodents and snakes hunt butterflies too. By far the biggest problem, however,
is humans. It is also the problem that’s most easily solved.
The correct kinds
of host plants for north Texas butterflies include lantana, milkweed, yarrow,
parsley, mistflower, butterfly weed and all native grasses. (The term “weed” merely stems from an Old
English word of the 9th century meaning “uncultivated”) A main
criterion is that you need a ”mass” of the same plant species (at least a dozen), not just one or two.
Plants that are native to this area are spotted more easily by butterflies, due
If you’re serious
about attracting them nothing should liberally be sprayed or spread on your
landscape that’s poisonous or artificial. “Spot-spray” only in spots where there’s
a specific problem. Forget most weed-killers and pesticides (butterflies and caterpillars are insects
after all). Caterpillars are also often confused with more destructive
bugs. For example, a homeowner might squash a green, yellow & black
caterpillar on a parsley plant without realizing it will soon become a gorgeous
Eastern black Swallowtail.
If you want
to attract butterflies into your yard, it’s wise to remember the old saying
about not counting your chickens before they hatch. Even if you do all the
right things the butterflies may not come in throngs. Maybe some neighbors have
sprayed a whole lot of poisons or maybe a good piece of a forest in the
mountains of Mexico was cut down… it’s always a gamble! But if you don’t give it a good try it’s a
certainty thatyour yard will be as
attractive is the Sahara Desert.
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.
I was watching a kids’ cartoon show on TV the other day (yes, I have grandkids).
One of the fables that was taught by a supposedly-wise old owl (with an English
accent) was that humans’ shouldn’t touch or handle a bird’s eggs or babies.
Only another bird can so this. WRONG on so, many levels!
For one thing, most birds have little or no ability to smell, and
would have great difficulty smelling a human’s old fingerprint.This observation would also apply to to another
species of bird too (if a Cowbird touched a baby Bluebird, for instance). Also,
a parent bird would appreciate your moving a bird to safety, instead of
seeing it (for example) run over by a car. Sometimes it’s necesary and wise to
move a baby bird (“fledgling”) to a safe location. Just make sure the new location is nearby,
because a parent bird is almost certainly watching from a nearby perch,ready to feed or instruct if needed.
A fledgling bird should not be “kidnapped”, taken back to tour house for
instance. Very often, baby birds are on the ground and cannot fly for a few days
on purpose. The parents are teaching it to fly and seek food on their
own; it’s called “growing up”. And adult birds do a much, much better job of
teaching this than you or I.
The overall lesson is this:if
you spot a fledgling on the ground in a dangerous place (like in the road)
don’t hesitate to pick it up and move it to a nearby, safe location. Most of
the time, however, just leave it where it is, knowing that a parent bird is
close by watching for danger, which includes “kidnapping” by a well-meaning
Wall-to-wall rain, and how it affects our birds. For the most part, our constant and abundant rain has almost no affect on
birds. They adapt very well.
An extreme but infrequent example is ground-nesting birds such as meadowlarks
and killdeer. Particularly the ones who chose to nest in low areas probably got
washed away. Adult birds could just fly away but the fledglings and eggs met a
similar fate to having their nesting grounds bulldozed for a parking lot, housing
subdivision , shopping center and such.
Actually all the rain wakens dormant seeds, and translates into more and
bigger plants. Followed by more food and shelter. Temporarily however, most of
the natural nest material is wet and waterlogged. So I simply put small twigs
and pieces of string or yarn (no longer
than 3”) in shallow bowl, and put it outside, under an overhang.
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.