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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Enticing butterflies to visit your north Texas yard


 
Black Swallowtail


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 butterfly tick”.

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 conditions.

This pathetic 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.


Red Admiral
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 to genetics.

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 that your yard will be as attractive is the Sahara Desert.
 
Monarch


 

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, May 31, 2015

Just an “old wives’ tale” that really means ”don’t get dirty”


 

 

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 human.

 

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.

Eastern Meadowlark
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.

Killdeer
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.