Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Use dead leaves the way nature intended; Don’t rake


Before long, you’ll get tired of moving fallen leaves from one place in your yard to another. Maybe you end up stuffing them into plastic bags or you decide to call a mound of leaves a "compost pile." Here’s an idea: instead of using a rake, use your lawn mower to improve your soil and get fallen leaves out of sight.

The easiest and most environmentally sensible thing to do is leave the leaves where they fall, and shred them up with your mower. That’s what I do, once or twice during the winter.  No special mower or blade is necessary; just do it like you’re cutting the lawn. By far the worst thing you can do is rake up all the fallen leaves, leaving bare ground exposed to the elements. Raking just encourages unwanted vegetation and erosion. A thin carpet of shredded, dead leaves protects the soil from compaction and erosion; and it’s free!  It also loosens the soil so it holds water better.

 After the leaves are shredded into tiny bits, the next rain will make them disappear. They’ll filter down between the grass blades and become part of the soil as they decompose, just as nature intended.

Most of the trees in north Texas are oak trees. All spring and summer, the leaves store up nutrients gathered from the soil. These nutrients are roughly equivalent to the nutrients in store-bought compost, which we'll gladly pay good money for! About now, however, leaves are dying and falling to the ground. Then they start decomposing naturally, releasing the nutrients and strengthening plants’ roots.  They’re also composting as they’re releasing all of that naturally stored nutrition.


Shredding them up with a mower simply increases their surface area, so they decompose a lot faster. (It's a natural, yearly cycle.) This coming winter, the dead leaves will protect fragile roots (which are usually near the surface) from the cold, and plants will green up faster come spring with the extra nutrition. 




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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Squirrels dominating your birdfeeder?


DISTRACTING SQUIRRELS

There are some highly squirrel-resistant bird feeders around that work 99% of the time. We use several styles. But there is no such thing as an absolutely Squirrel-Proof feeder, and there probably won’t ever be one. The best bet is to place a feeder on a baffled pole (not a tree branch) away from any vegetation, railing or roof that squirrels could use as a launch pad. And never trap or kill squirrels - that just makes the problem worse after a couple of days. 

Also, offer squirrels their own food (corn, for instance) far from the bird feeder and out of sight, so they have something else to go for. Since they’re territorial, it’s unlikely you’ll attract more squirrels competing for the territory.

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 in Denton at northwestern68@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why do Houses Finches seem to be everywhere?


 

House finches are small, often red-headed birds. Despite their great numbers in Texas, however, this region is not their natural home. They are native to the dry regions of the west. Because of the males’ red coloring, they used to be trapped and sold in the New York area as “Hollywood finches”. Being illegal and not wanting to get caught, the dealers released them around 1940, all in the Long Island area.  The House Finches liked it and adapted quickly! 

Within two decades, the species expanded to the Carolinas. Eventually, Texas. The rest is history. As you can see in the picture, the males are red & gray;  females are gray & black.


 
 Cut down the right tree.  Now is the time to mark those trees that need removing this winter; due to its death, disease or location. Winter is easily the best time; for one, you have far less chance of damaging neighboring trees.

I mark trees with bands of brightly-colored "flagging tape" which is used by surveyors. But you can use anything handy. That way, I'm not afraid of cutting down the wrong tree by mistake. 



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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Monday, September 19, 2016

Molting birds aren’t sick or in pain…it’s natural




 
Around this time of year, lots of birds look shopworn, unkempt and raggedy. Don‘t worry about it! 

Birds lose some or all of their feathers on a regular basis. It’s called “molting”, and the regularity of it depends on the species. New totally-normal feathers grow back.

Feathers are NOT alive, but are keratin much like hair or fingernails on humans. When they get too worn, the birds’ bodies slough them off and new ones grow. This helps them stay warm when needed. Usually it’s simply due to the ravages of time, and our climate, that wear out feathers. But other causes may be at fault.


A common reason is microscopic mites which occur on all birds. Normally, a bird preens them off using his beak. But in areas that the bird can’t reach (like the neck or head) the mites may overpopulate and ruin a lot of feathers.  Winter weather will take care of mites, but the birds look bad for a time.

There’s no need for you to worry about it. There’s nothing for you to do but wait for cooler weather to solve the problem naturally.


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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Privet and Ligustrum: plants to NEVER plant


 

 Privet invades a landscape quickly, growing into thickets that crowd out native plants and change the very ecology of an area. Even if the shrub can be removed effectively, it’s tough for a landscape to return to its previous condition.

Actually, privet and ligustrum are two names for the very same plant. First introduced into the U.S. in 1852, Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) escaped cultivation by the 1930s and spread across the Southeast.  “Chinese privet is the primary cause of the decline in diversity of native herbaceous plants and tree seedlings in the areas it infests.” said research entomologist Jim Hanula.

Results from a five-year study published by U.S. Forest Service researchers showed that not only can a thorough removal of privet last at least five years without a follow-up, but also that native plant and animal communities steadily return to areas cleared of the invasive shrub. Hanula and Horn began investigating how privet removal affected the recovery of plant and animal communities by comparing the treated plots to reference areas that had never been invaded by privet and control plots that were invaded and not treated. The results were dramatic,” said Horn. “The hardwood forests we’re working on are some of the most beautiful places in the South when they’re not choked with privet. We saw the return of native plant species in all of the treated plots.”

Results from their studies on pollinators were even more dramatic. “After only two years, there were four to five times more bee species in privet-free areas, 40 or 50 compared to the 10 on control plots infested with privet,” said Hanula. “We caught three times as many butterfly species on the mulched plots and nearly seven times as many individuals.”  “Overall, these results are encouraging, since we expected to have to re-treat the privet more frequently to preserve the integrity of the removal plots,” said Horn. “These results show that control following one removal event lasts at least five years.”

Ligustrums are notorious water guzzlers, pilfering water from more desirable plants. Around homes, fall is a great time to pull them out of the ground (they’re extremely shallow-rooted). Large plants can simply be cut at the base with pruning shears. Then, plant a few native plants, or let the natives re-fill naturally.

 

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

 


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Maybe we'll see more locally grown produce at farmers' markets?


     The Denton City Council approved a change allowing beekeeping in the city, It allows residents to keep honeybee hives if they meet certain criteria.

     The city also has applied for a Bee City USA designation that would help promote healthy bee habitats and overall knowledge about bees.

     To be able to keep honeybees, residents must inform their adjacent neighbors, have a source of water within 20 feet of all hives and register with the city. The size of a person’s land also can limit how many hives they can keep.

     Before, most beekeepers followed the nuisance ordinance, which said Denton residents couldn’t keep bees if they endangered their neighbors’ health or welfare. Some, however, took this to mean that beekeeping wasn’t allowed at all.

     With the addition of beekeeping to the city code, Christina Beck, president of the Denton County Beekeepers Association, said she hopes this will encourage more people to keep honeybees. Because bees are such good pollinators, it could result in more local food sources.

     Beck also said the ordinance could help curtail the spread of Africanized bees, a type of aggressive bee that is often called a “killer bee.” Because our honeybees travel in larger colonies, they could possibly overpower other bees.   “Hopefully, we’ll see more produce in our community market,” she also said.

 

A sparrow by any other name…   The familiar and often pesky House Sparrow isn’t actually in the same biological family as our native Sparrows. Imported from Europe in 1851, it’s actually a weaver-finch. The common name came about because the small birds look similar to our native Sparrows. House Sparrows (sometimes called English Sparrows) are in north Texas all year long. The real sparrows migrate north for the winter. Our native sparrows belong to the Emberizidae family, but House Sparrows are in the Passeridae family (if it really matters!).

  Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, who‘s 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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Friday, July 22, 2016

Put nectar feeders away, and still attract hummingbirds

Yippee!! My experiment is working quite well. No longer do I have to deal with messy, sticky nectar feeders for hummingbirds on a regular basis. But I still have lots of hummingbirds dropping by and/or living in nearby vegetation.

Instead of regularly handling messy nectar feeders, I planted large masses of colorful, native flowers. Their nectar is what hummingbirds eat naturally, attracted by the brightly-colored flowers. In my yard, I use lantana, Turks cap and flame acanthus. But you could use any native
Texas flower. Hummingbirds will love you for it, and visit often. And I’m able to put my nectar feeders away.

I’ll only use my feeders twice a year – when hummingbirds arrive and when they “pork up” to leave (late September).

You can put away your nectar feeders too. But please forego the planting until late winter or early spring, when plants are starting to grow. My advice to anyone wanting to plant in our summer is to throw the plants you buy directly into the trash, saving one step.  :)

Move along, Mr. Wasp       Wasps (primarily “paper wasps”) tend to build nests in the worst places.  If they’re prone to building nests on the underside of your roof eaves or the platform of your birdfeeder, try rubbing some bar soap there first. The soap prevents them from attaching the wasp nest.   (I’m told foil works too, but you may not like how it looks)

  

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 Denton design office is at northwestern68@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I'm trying an alternative to messy, troublesome nectar feeders


I am gradually removing myself from feeding Hummingbirds via nectar feeders. I've had it with sticky counters, boiling pots, hungry ants, and artificial nectar that gets stale quickly in the Texas heat.

The artificial nectar does the job just fine. It's just too much mess and trouble. Besides, I'd rather feed Hummingbirds the natural way - the way nature has been doing it for thousands of years. With flowers.
In the last few years I've planted and encouraged several "masses" of colorful, native flowers. They're chock full of natural nectar which continuously refreshes itself. The nectar they produce has evolved to be in the perfect proportions. All I have to do is water it and fertilize it when it needs it (which is hardly ever). Hummingbirds love ‘em, and an added benefit is the bunches of butterflies.

For the record; my nectar masses (each at least 20 square feet) are Turks cap, Lantana and Mistflower. (Each mass is composed only of one species, except one has a tree in the middle). There are also Flame Acanthus, Spiderwort, Butterfly weed and Roughleaf Dogwood randomly growing in the yard. Being native, they all do fine in Texas' radical climate.

There are just two times when I’ll augment my flower masses with nectar feeders. One is early spring when Hummingbirds arrive in this area after an arduous migration. The other is late September, when Hummingbirds throng feeders to ”bulk up” for the long migration trip ahead.


 
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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 26, 2016

North Texas' night owls


Great-horned Owl


Owl’s ears are not at the same level on its head, and they face forward not to the side. This helps him (or her) locate prey easily at night (usually an unfortunate rodent). Also, those tufts on an owl’s head are not ears – just feathers. The Great-horned Owl is the largest in this area, but north Texas has many Screech Owls (which don’t make the familiar “hoot-hoot” sound) and are somewhat smaller.

The Barn Owl is another area owl. An adult Barn Owl kills and eats, on average, about five rats/mice each evening.

  
 

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How do hummingbirds get the energy for their high-octane lifestyle?.



 
Hummingbirds’ “fighter-jet” acrobatics are as dazzling as their plumage, but the same physics that sets them apart exacts a steep price.

As the world's smallest birds, hummingbirds have a high surface-area-to-volume ratio. That means they lose a lot of heat through their skin. The problem is compounded by a lack of downy feathers, the fluffy insulation that keeps most birds warm. Skipping the down shaves weight, but the birds must compensate by refueling constantly, consuming two or three times their body weight every day. 

That's also why hummingbirds love nectar. They will visit multiple flowers in a short time, lapping up three to seven calories daily. That may seem like a trivial amount, but when scaled to the size of a human, it translates to about 155,000 calories a day. If the birds were any smaller, it would be physically impossible for them to eat enough to stay alive. As a result, hummingbirds are territorial. They stake out flowers and feeders, defending a food source at all costs—even at the cost of having a social life.
Unlike many other birds, hummers don’t gather in flocks (except when they concentrate near food); males and females don’t even raise their families together. Mating takes about half a second, after which the female zooms off to build a nest, lay eggs, incubate them, and raise the eggs/chicks by herself.

Because hummingbirds have such high metabolism, even sleep could prove fatal. Going for several hours without refueling could cause them to starve. Luckily, the birds have evolved an extreme solution: At night they enter a state of controlled hypothermia, slowing their breathing and heart rate and drastically lowering their body temperature to save energy. On a particularly frigid night, a hummingbird’s metabolism can drop as much as 95 percent.
Because the birds have few natural enemies, life expectancy is mostly determined by their own biology. Hummers age about 10 times faster than humans. They seem to have a high rate of heart attacks, ruptures, and strokes—not all that surprising given the fast pace of their lifestyle (up to 6.2 beats per second). If a hummingbird slows down, it dies; its existence leaves no room for laziness. You can help prolong their lives by having multiple feeders, full of fresh, clear nectar. Also, lots of native flowers such as cherry sage, turks cap, lantana and mistflower.  But, in the end, these birds essentially blow themselves out. 

CAN A MACHINE GET RID OF MOSQUITOES? The simple answer is “no”. That doesn’t stop manufacturers from making carefully-worded claims, however,

Bug zappers for instance. They use ultra-violet light to attract bugs, which are then electrocuted. They’ve been found to be totally ineffective in eliminating biting insects. Numerous studies show that less than one percent of the insects fried by zappers are biting insects. Many are “beneficial” bugs (which eat other bugs) like lacewings, ladybugs and dragonflies. It’s other things that attract biting insects such as mosquitoes, like carbon dioxide and ingredients in mammalian sweat.

We now have more elaborate and expensive machines, and fancier claims. New studies have shown these expensive machines are nearly as ineffective against mosquitoes as the old bug zappers. Much of what they destroy, in fact, are harmless insects that are food for insect-eating birds such as wrens, kinglets and swallows. Also, almost all birds need insects to feed to their young.
    The best mosquito defense that I know of (short of moving to the desert) is to have lots of birds and bats around. As I said, many birds eat mosquitoes (the purple martin is said to eat up to 2,000 a day!) The bats in the north Texas area (despite a horrible reputation thanks to Hollywood) can eat more than that!

  

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Discouraging “feeder hogs”


    Sometimes, certain bird species will dominate a feeder, crowding out or scaring away more desireable birds. So a frequent question is how to make the “hogs” go elsewhere while still feeding less aggressive birds.

Try removing the food the “feeder hogs” are looking for. To discourage Grackles, try feeding safflower. But to discourage House Finches, avoid safflower. To limit Crows and Doves, stop putting out cracked corn and bread. Discourage House Sparrows and Cowbirds with a seed mix containing no millet.  And in north Texas, never put any birdseed mix on ground, or use a mix containing milo; it’s rarely eaten – except by rodents. 
 
MOBS OF GRACKLES      Grackles are those large, ubiquitous, noisy, black birds that flock together by the hundreds in heavily-developed parts of this area. More accurately, they’re called Great-tailed Grackles; the huge flocks normally have other birds in them too – maybe Red-winged Blackbirds, Cowbirds or Common Grackles (other kinds of birds that aren’t put off by marginally-habitable or “urbanized” land).
It wasn’t always that way in Texas. Back in the early part of the 20th century, Great-tailed Grackles were only found in the south Texas brush country and coastal prairie. By the 1920s, however, they had crept northward and were frequently seen around Austin. Then, by the 1950s, they had followed the human‘s “food trail” and had become established in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area.

 
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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Have an edge when attracting hummingbirds


 

Hummingbirds will return to the same feeder year after year; hopefully that’s a feeder in your yard. So be sure to put a feeder in roughly the same location every year (you can add others elsewhere, of course).
 
Sometimes, giving your “feeder appeal” a little boost will help. Hang a colorful flower basket nearby! Fill it with vibrant red, orange and yellows. For the north Texas area, we recommend lantana or verbena. Or you could fasten about a foot of brightly-colored ribbon to the feeder itself.  Some feeders even have a hook for hanging a basket underneath. Once hummingbirds find your feeder -- they are hooked for years to come!

 LADYBUGS AND SO ON…    Just one domestic ladybug will eat as many as 50 aphids a day (aphids are small green bugs that can kill plants in a few days, and reproduce like crazy). Sometimes called lady-beetles, these beneficial insects control most bug problems (The Asian ladybug can sometimes be a nuisance, though).  Also beneficial, the larvae of the green lacewing devour thrips, spider mites, and whiteflies. We’ve used beneficial nematodes at home for years to control fleas in the dogs’ area. Put beneficial insects out at sunset so they can hide, and before hungry birds can get them.


 

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

They’re here, or on the way (Hummingbirds)


 

A few lucky people in north Texas have seen hummingbirds.  More people will see more hummingbirds soon. So get feeders and nectar ready. (The best nectar is clear, and made of one part dissolved table sugar and five parts water)  Change it every week or so, depending on the weather.

·      Hummingbirds are found only in this hemisphere. North and South America only – there are zero in Europe, Asia, Australia or Africa.

·      The ruby-throated hummingbird has the least feathers of any bird; only 940 on average.

·      Forget the fables!  Hummingbirds are genetically attracted to ALL bright colors, except green; so they can spot food sources (flowers) in the wild.

·      Red dye in nectar has been proven to cause genetic harm in the tiny ceatuires.

 

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The trifecta !! Fire Ant control that's effective, safe and inexpensive.

Butchered crape myrtles

   As I write this, birds eat anxiously, and hardly a thought is given to the regular spring happenings. Spring will be here very soon, however. It’ll bring the nice stuff like flowers and warm days. But it will also bring fire ants.

Fire ant mounds erupt in unexpected and inconvenient places each spring. So, many homeowners rush to a store and buy anything that promises to kill fire ants (ANYTHING!), not realizing that it also damages/kills pets, children and wildlife (including birds). It’s poison!!

Instead, I mix up a natural, homemade mixture - one that’s very effective, safe and inexpensive: it costs about a tenth of the brand-name stuff on store shelves. 
 
I make a batch of the ”base” every year or so from ingredients sold at most hardware stores. What's more, it works....safely!.

I suggest a mixture of about 40% compost tea, 30% orange oil and 30% liquid horticultural molasses (mixed thoroughly). You can mix up a batch of this “base” now and keep it ready. When the time comes to eradicate a mound I take half a cup of this mixture, mix it with one gallon of water, and saturate the fire ant mound with it. Pour slowly to saturate the mound, and let it soak in – not run off. (I use a stick to quickly break through the mound’s crust.)

This doesn’t poison anything. Instead it instantly dissolves insects’ exoskeletons. In about 5 minutes there’s no ant activity at all. A few days later, I’ll add beneficial nematodes to the soil to control fire ants long term.

 


Why would you pay somebody   Pay to make a mess of your car?  Slash the upholstery, pound dents in the metal etc.? Same for butchering your crape myrtles.
 
There is absolutely NO proof that it does any good. Just the opposite in fact. Butchering can weaken the plant (since a lot of nutrition goes to heal the wounds) so the plant may get infested with bugs, get some disease, or simply die. That's why dozens and dozens of horticultarists and botanical organizations don't recommend butchering. Typically they don't suggest cutting any growth that's thicker than a pencil.
 
The only people butchering benefits is the person doing the butchering.
 
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 northwestern68@yahoo.com


Saturday, March 12, 2016

It sounds like it'd hurt!


 

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Most woodpeckers have barbed-edged tips on their tongues. Until now, it was thought this was for spearing a favorite food – grubs. But researchers have shown that woodpeckers use their extremely sticky saliva and the barbed tongue in combination to “grab” grubs and other morsels without piercing the skin. (In north Texas we have Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, Pileated Woodpeckers, plus a few others)

         Nematodes arent always bad guys”  Beneficial nematodes are exactly as the name implies; beneficial to humans but the enemy of over 200 kinds of nasty things; insects with any part of its life-cycle underground.  That includes fleas, cutworms, sod webworms, fungal gnats and white grubs. Plus, the nematodes aren’t the least bit harmful to humans, pets or wildlife (including birds)

For years we’ve used the beneficial nematodes at our home to control fleas naturally where we have our dogs, and we’ve never had a problem with either fleas or sick birds. We know for sure, and they’re easy to apply.
         A “nematode” is actually a family of microscopic, naturally-occurring worms, containing well over 1000 species. Some are good; some are bad. Many stores sell the beneficial nematodes, along with domestic, insect-eating, bird-friendly ladybugs.

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Now's the time to be gathering natural nesting material


 


Texas birds seek material for making nests, and are attracted to places where they can easily get the nesting materials.  More and more, however, the fields and forests where they got it in past years have become shopping centers, parking lots and subdivisions. So offering nest material for the birds is almost as enticing to them as putting out fresh food.
        The materials that birds use for nest-building can be almost anything that’s somewhat small, stringy and lightweight. Also, most nests are cemented together with mud, so it’s a good idea to have water and/or mud nearby. (It doesn’t have to be very conspicuous, or even in your own yard – birds will find it!) It’s not uncommon for a bird to make over a thousand trips with beaks-full of mud, pine needles, grasses, leaves or whatever, just before nesting season.

      One of the most popular natural materials is fur. We have a golden retriever that sheds 365 days a year. Often we’ll comb her and save the fur. Then we put it in a container, such as a wire suet basket, hanging it from a branch. Over the next few days  chickadees, cardinals, titmice, jays and many others pull out strands of the golden fur to take to their nest sites in nearby trees. Weeks later, if we’re lucky enough spot a nest, we’ll carefully inspect it and find several tiny eggs nestled gently in golden fur.
       In the wild, this might be fur from deer, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, moose, raccoons or even bears – but it’s 100% natural. If you don’t have a long-haired dog, try horsehair or even hair clippings from hairdressers or barbers. Some ready-made items are sold in stores. One made from sheep’s wool has the advantage of being water repellant.

 Given a choice, however, wild birds often choose natural nesting material from plants. Many Texas birds look for dead, native grasses for nesting material. If you really want birds to nest in your yard, leave an area in tall grass (at least a foot), letting it stand through the winter. Robins, several kinds of sparrows, meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, flycatchers and bluebirds use grasses enthusiastically. Some favorites are bluestem, indiangrass, muhly and gramma.  I’m certainly not talking about a typical lawn (with bermudagrass or St. Augustine mowed to less than 2 inches.) This type of lawn is a very unattractive and sterile habitat for almost all birds, who need the safety of tall, dense vegetation that they can flee to quickly when a predator appears.
        Many lawns are also “treated” with pesticides, weed killers and chemical fertilizers, which can end up harming wildlife – or at least causing birds to go elsewhere.  (Remember DDT ?)

 Wild birds often use other plant items for nesting, too. Thin strips of bark from many types of trees native to north Texas often end up in birdnests.  Thin bark stripped from young trees (like redbud, red cedar, eve’s necklace, roughleaf dogwood or cedar elm) are preferred by birds. Small chips of bark (from almost any tree, but oaks are a favorite) are used to cushion the bottom of nests. Almost anything is a candidate. And since birds were here in north Texas thousands of years before humans, the more natural a material is, the more likely it is to be used in a bird’s nest.

  TEN PERCENT!!!!      On average, just about 10% of a bird’s diet is food from feeders. The bulk of their food is natural seed, berries, insects, fruit etc. Of course, there’s more activity at your feeders when food is scarce or hidden by snow or ice.  And, since birds weigh so little and have a high metabolism rate, they have to eat daily - particularly in cool or rainy weather.

 

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 northwestern68@yahoo.com