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Texas Birds

Why our Texas birds aren’t just like all other birds.

They live in Texas, just like we do. And our geography, to a degree, influences birds’ preferences, birds’ behavior, birds’ needs and so on. They must like it here, because our state can boast of more species than any other state – over 600!

Despite having the same latin name, birds here in Texas can be a little different than birds in Illinois, New England, Florida or California…the differences are usually slight, but they make a world of difference to the bird in question.  Example; most of the country has wrens, and the vast majority of the time that means the “House Wren”. Books recommend appropriately sized birdhouses, so most wren houses have an entrance hole of 1+eighth inch diameter. But the species of wren most often seen here is slightly stouter and chunkier. In spite of some interesting guesses, nobody knows for sure why. But in north Texas, our Bewick’s and Carolina Wrens need a larger entrance hole.

Texas birds often have different preferences in food. Just like you or I might like or hate grits, lutefisk or mayonnaise on our french fries, depending largely on where we’re from  - birds here often like things their relatives up north won’t touch. And vice-versa. For example, no bird here likes milo. In the upper Midwest, they might. Some birds up north will eat old corn, but here any birdseed blend containing corn is a waste of your money, and could just attract rodents.

Nesting and nestling-raising are different in Texas. Thanks to our mild-to-hot climate (and the length of the warm season) many bird species that live here may have three “clutches” per year. The same species in the north, however, may only have two. Keep this in mind if you provide nest material or nest sites for our birds.

You’ll spot birds at different times in north Texas (you don’t want to be out there looking for something that visited two weeks ago, do you?). When birds migrate from ”up north”, it takes them some time before they get here. It can be even more regional – some birds (like Hummingbirds) that leave north Texas at a certain time, pass through south Texas a week or so later. Other species, like Bluebirds and Robins, that are thought of as seasonal birds, live in north Texas all year long. So look at any reference book you use; note the residence of the book’s author, and take the references with a grain or two of salt.

The plants in your yard are subject to birds’ preferences too. For centuries, Texas birds have become accustomed to seeing the plants that grow naturally in Texas. Over the eons they’ve learned how to seek shelter in them, how to eat them, how to build nests in or from them. They’ve learned what’s blooming or going to seed at what time of year. Where predators like to hide. – and birds have passed this information on to succeeding generations.  If they see a plant whose ancestors came from China, or Italy, or California…they are confused, and may move on to another yard. Also, if you put chemical pesticides on your landscape, you can forget about attracting any birds or seeing any butterflies!

That’s why, if you’re serious about attracting birds here, your landscape plants will be native to Texas, or a genetic improvement of a native plant. After all, those are the plants the bird (and all his ancestors) is familiar with.

I’m not saying that non-Texas plants will repel birds. Anything is better than nothing. Any plants will attract a few birds. But a plant that a Texas bird has learned to recognize will do a far better job of attracting birds. Native plants are used to our hot, dry summers too. And our poor soil. They’ve adapted to them over the centuries. So they’ll still be attracting birds well into September – when other plants may have died.

So, if you’re serious about attracting birds to your yard, adjust for the fact that you – and the birds – are Texans.

G. Owen Yost  &  Nancy Collins   (940/484-2473)

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