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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Some people call it a "chicken hawk". But "kestrel" is prefered



The American kestrel is fairly common in north Texas. Not big - about the size of a common grackle.  It's primarily thought of as a swift predator of backyard songbirds – occasionally picking them right off a feeder, like our area’s other hawks.  While true, the kestrel’s diet is largely insects and small rodents.

It’s identifiable by the black, vertical marks under each  eye. It's a “raptor” (a bird of prey), the smallest member of the falcon sub-group, within the hawk family. Falcons have very aerodynamic bodies and pointed wings, which enables them to fly and maneuver very well. 

They  used to be called a sparrow hawks, although it has no relation to sparrows, nor does it prey on chickens or sparrfows. Occasionally kestrels will catch and eat small birds of any species. (which is why we suggest you plant protective vegetation near a feeder).  You’ll often see them when driving, perched attentively atop a dead tree, phone wire or a street sign looking for prey.

Like hummingbirds, the kestrel has the ability to hover in flight (although for a shorter time), allowing it to spot prey (like a mouse) and swoop down on it.  In heavily-vegetated yards, however, kestrels aren’t much of a concern, however, since they prefer unobstructed areas.


  



1,140 QuArter-PounDErs anyone?

If an average person had a metabolism comparable to that of a hummingbird, he would have to eat 285 pounds of hamburger meat each and every day just to maintain his health & weight.





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 birdpoop@charter.net  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

I don't use nectar feeders any more, but I have plenty of Hummingbirds



I simply got tired of the mess, the mixing and the constant bother of nectar
feeders for Hummingbirds (I had four feeders).  Although the hummers loved them – I didn’t.

Instead I now have several large “masses” of flowering, native plants that do a remarkable job of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. All plants have nectar in varying amounts - the ones in my yard are Turk’s cap, lantana, flame acanthus, ironweed and mistflower. Others may do well too, particularly ones with a high nectar content and tube-shaped flowers. (incidentally a “mass” of flowers is at least 50 square feet. For lantana, that’s around 50 plants, depending on their spacing)  

Each flower species has a peak blooming period. Choose carefully, so there’s  flowers available all summer long.  The heat of the summer is the time to enjoy the flowers & Hummingbirds, however it’s definitely not the time to plant flowers. Most flowers in this area should be planted in late winter - for some woodier plants (like acanthus) plant right after the first frost – usually November.

Having a few mature trees around encourages Hummingbirds to nest nearby – always a plus.

You may not attract large throngs (like I did with four nectar feeders), but you can forget about mixing, spilling and re-filling all summer. Just feed 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 birdpoop@charter.net

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The water needs of north Texas birds


   Birds need water every minute of every day, all year long.  Especially when it’s hot or cold out! Since they also need to fly, they can’t store water in body fat like most animals. They must constantly get water either in its liquid form or as a component of the food they eat. Since birds live an active life, they lose water at a rapid rate. The smaller a bird is, the greater its daily water loss. 
Since a big part of water loss is due to the air temperature, north Texas birds need A LOT of clean water, all year long.    In the summer, a birdbath is essential.     

In warm weather, a small, inexpensive “dunk” floating in the birdbath kills mosquitoes, but won’t harm birds or pets at all.



If you’re planning to put out a birdbath, remember that birds frighten easily. They’re small and (except for a few species) swim poorly. They shy away from water that’s more than 2½-3 inches deep.  Birds also prefer a bath with a gradually sloping bottom, instead of a sudden drop to the birdbath’s full depth.



Birds want a quick ”escape route” in case a hawk or some other predator gets close. Putting the birdbath next to shrubs or overhanging tree limbs is good. Setting the bath in the middle of a plain lawn makes it doubtful that many birds will use it.




Dead trees  or  “snags”

Many kinds of Texas birds are ”cavity-nesters”, such as bluebirds, titmice, wrens, cave swallows and chickadees. They make their homes and raise young in the hollows of dead trees and limbs (often in old woodpecker hole). Insects in the dead bark are an important food source for nuthatches and chickadees.  So if you don’t like the looks of a dead tree (and it’s not in danger of falling on your house) think about just growing a vine on it.  In our “Cross Timbers” area, try a coral honeysuckle, passion vine or Virginia creeper.







       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 birdpoop@charter.net  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Landscaping newly-developed housing


In newly-developed housing areas, wild birds may not feel safe from predators (such as hawks, bigger birds and domesticated cats), and may not want to visit frequently, as they did before. This is largely because the old, familiar vegetation may be gone, and new trees and shrubs may not be big enough yet, and numerous enough, to provide good places to hide. Tall (over 3 ft.) native grasses may be the answer temporarily, until the trees and such in your yard get bigger.

Many birds (cardinals are one) prefer to nest in trees on the edge of a grassland.  An evenly spaced line of trees doesn’t accomplish this.  That’s why I recommend an informal “clump” of at least three trees (and maybe some shrubs too) which will provide a somewhat private place to build a nest.


 the Ultimate Bug Zapper       Just one common, ordinary bat will eat roughly 183 tons of insects in its lifetime. When you consider that a colony of bats can number in the millions, and what just one insect weighs, we’re talking about A LOT of dead bugs.



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 birdpoop@charter.net

Sunday, April 2, 2017

World’s best weed killer is probably in your garage


The most effective weed eradicator known to man is already in your garage. Or your tool shed. Or in your neighbor’s garage. Or whatever. It’s your lawn mower…. A convenient option to spending tons of money on chemical lawn treatments that may or may not work. But are definitely unsafe.

You see, almost all “weeds” (the name for any plants that grow where we don’t want them to grow), produces its seeds at a height that’s higher than the blade on your lawn mower – which is at most 2”. So obviously when you cut your grass, you eliminate weed seeds (although a few may blow in from neighboring yards). Cutting grass at least once a week should be sufficient – a little more often during spring’s growth.

However, if you still want to spend money on questionably-safe chemicals, go for it. Just ignore any potential damage to wildlife, pets, birds, small children or existing plants in your yard.

 
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 18, 2017

Get rid of Fire Ants safely, for a lot less $$


 

  As it warms up, birds eat anxiously, and hardly a thought is given to the weather. 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, not realizing that it also damages/kills pets, children and wildlife (including birds). It’s poison!!

Instead, I mix up a natural mixture - one that’s very effective, safe and inexpensive. I make a batch of the ”base” every year or so from ingredients at most hardware stores. The cost is about a tenth of the poisonous commercial stuff, and a lot safer.

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 ake half a cup of this “base” 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. It instantly dissolves insects’ exoskeletons. In about 5 minutes there’s no ant activity at all. Later I just rake the ground smooth - and you'll forget it was ever there. A few days later, I’ll add beneficial nematodes to the soil to control fire ants long term.

 

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

 

Friday, March 10, 2017

TEXAS BIRDS WANT NATURAL NESTS


 

Birds prefer familiar, native plants for nests.  More and more, however, the fields and forests where they used to get it are largely gone.

Much of the fault is our tendency to “clean up” yards.  We rake, sweep and weedeat until most natural nest material is in a plastic bag, headed to a landfill.

Recently a good 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, and stalks of native grasses. Only a very small part was artificial things like string or yarn.

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 Xmas tinsel) play a very small part.

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

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 isn’t found naturally anywhere on earth. Besides, an open, manicured lawn is a terrible place for a bird to build a nest They prefer privacy.

                Some favorite native grasses for nests are bluestem, muhly, threeawn and gramma (left standing through the winter). Also, birds often use thin strips of bark from many types of trees native to the Denton 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 bottoms of nests.

 

We’ve been invaded!!!!            Very soon, lawns through north Texas will be invaded by a small, purple-flowered weed that will make homeowners freak out, and give lots of money to lawn services and garden shops. There’s no need. It’s just Henbit, and it will disappear on its own in a week or two.
Henbit is an annual weed that grows in the late winter and early spring. It needs cool weather, but dies completely when the temperature gets warm, which it surely will.

The best way to control it is with your lawn mover.
It only reproduces by seed, and cutting your lawn regularly doesn’t let the plant make seed (although seeds for next year may blow in from elsewhere). Spending money on weed killers is pointless, since it will disappear by itself soon.

 

 

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 1, 2017

It’s the right time to fertilize – But not with Weed & Feed!


 
Why use something else? The heavily advertised and trendy "weed & feed" fertilizers usually contain atrazine, a toxic chemical herbicide that is effective at killing your trees and shrubs, in addition to weeds. A chemical like atrazine can’t tell the difference between plants you like and those you don’t.  
Another interesting point about these products is that non-organic people agree that these products should not be used together. Although the "chemicals are OK" people have no problem with synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, they do admit that the two ingredients in these products aren't suitable to be applied at the same time. The pre-emergent herbicide part of the products needs to be applied about 2 months earlier than the soluble fertilizer part of the products. That’s why it’s called pre-emergent.

 Plus, I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the poison atrazine should not be used on lawns at all, because the roots of trees cover the entire property of most lots. It can kill or weaken them.

This time of year, I suggest a cheaper, balanced fertilizer. Yes, your weeds will be fertilized too. But there are far more effective products for getting rid of them. The “weed” part of Weed & Feed is a total waste of your money.

 

 

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, February 18, 2017

Now is the time to get eggshells ready for birds


 

Spring is coming soon, and with it lots of bird-mothers and then baby birds. Though the exact time varies with the bird species, now is the time to start getting their  ”vitamin-supplements” ready. That means broken-up eggshells

 The females consume broken-up eggshells for the calcium they provide. During the egg-laying season, female birds need to replace calcium lost in egg production, and have a “craving”. Eggshells are a great source of this important mineral. However, don’t just give them “straight” eggshells, they’re not healthy. The broken eggshells should be heated in an oven for ½ hour at about 350 degrees to kill off nasty stuff that might make the birds sick.  When they cool, break them up into tiny pieces (no bigger than a dime), and put them out in some sort of small dish.


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, January 17, 2017

Skip raking "leaf litter" now. Wait about a month






Homeowners typically face the urge to rake up their yards during cold weather. They’re ”cleaning it up” they tell themselves.
 
However, they’re also endangering their vegetation (everything from grass to trees) by doing it now.   Except in unusual spots, let the leaf litter stay where it is. Only remove it if it piles up due to a building’s shape, or where it hinders travel (such as a walkway).
 
You see, this yearly accumulation of dead material is nature’s way of insulating the things in the ground – primarily roots. Remove it and the fragile plant roots can be damaged or killed by extreme cold (In a forest, nobody ever rakes the leaves; and plants there do just fine; most weeds are discouraged too).
 
Instead, you could run a lawn mower over the leaves, cutting them into tiny bits which will  fall down between the grass blades and still cover the roots. A bonus is that many kinds of birds like to poke through the shredded pieces for food. In north Texas, wait until late February (after the last frost, probably) to rake it all away.
 
 




Saturday, January 7, 2017

The seasonal water needs of north Texas birds


 

Birds need water every minute of every day, all year long.  Especially when it’s cold out! Since they also need to fly, they can’t store water in body fat like most animals. They must constantly get water either in its liquid form or as a component of the food they eat. Since birds live an active life, they lose water at a rapid rate. The smaller a bird is, the greater its daily water loss.  Since a big part of water loss is due to the air temperature, north Texas birds need A LOT of clean water, all year long.

They need water in the winter to keep warm, believe it or not. They need to bathe to stay alive (the actual bath takes just a few seconds). Clean feathers trap air efficiently and help insulate from the elements.  Only clean feathers! In freezing weather, I’ll keep baths unfrozen by adding boiling water every few hours.

 In warm weather, a small, inexpensive “dunk” floating in the birdbath kills mosquitoes, but won’t harm birds or pets at all.

 If you’re planning to put out a birdbath, remember that birds frighten easily. They’re small and (except for a few species) swim poorly. They shy away from water that’s more than 2½-3 inches deep.  They also prefer a gradually sloping bottom, instead of a sudden dropoff to the birdbath’s full depth.