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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