Society

Keep those bird feeders full all year

Texas is home to 634 bird species. Around 333 of them migrate either to the state, or through it, during the year. This is a large number of migratory birds, considering a total of 338 bird species migrate in all the United States.

Birds begin migrating south toward the end of August, and migrations continue through fall. Not all migrating birds leave Texas. Some come down to our state from up north to overwinter. Regardless of whether migrating birds are here to stay for the winter, or just passing through, they require habitat where they can rest and eat. Migrating birds need to eat a tremendous amount on each leg of their journey to replenish their fat reserves.

Take the Ruby-throated Hummingbird for example. It flies non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, maintaining a speed of 25 miles per hour. The trip takes close to 26 hours. The birds store up to five times the amount of fat they would normally carry in order to make it across the water.

Nectar is their main source of energy, so keep the hummingbird feeders full. Also, consider planting hummingbirdfriendly plants, like salvias, that are brightly colored (especially red), trumpet shaped, and long blooming.

It's cheap and easy to keep a hummingbird feeder full. The recipe is four parts water to one part sugar. Do not use red coloring or honey. Until the weather turns cool, clean your feeder every two to three days to prevent bacterial growth. Keep your feeders up year-round; as you may have Ruby-throated, as well as Blackchinned, hummingbirds that overwinter in your yard, instead of migrate.

Making a habit of maintaining your bird feeders is important not only for the birds heading south for the winter, but also for the birds who stick around, as food is scarce. Yearround birds are used to having the feeders handy, and it can make life extra difficult if the pantry goes bare.

Most birds will turn to the bird feeder for food in winter, even the insect-eaters. In my experience, black oil sunflower seed seems to sit well with most birds. You can also provide fruit, like apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, and grapes. Overripe fruit is perfect for the birds. And, don't forget to provide water!

Consider placing bird feeders on the south side of the house for protection from the north wind, and the east side to catch the morning sun.

One bird that stays yearround is the Eastern Bluebird. You may see even more of them in the winter because their cousins come down from the north to get away from the cold. They are insect-eating birds, but turn to berry-producing shrubs like the yaupon, American beautyberry, Virginia creeper, and pigeonberry in winter. Bluebirds rarely eat seed, so if you want to supplement their diet, put out mealworms and suet.

Bluebirds rely heavily on human-provided nest boxes, which are used all year. It is very easy to build bluebird boxes, which should be placed around an open, grassy area. Purple Martins also rely on humans for their housing. They begin their migration back to Brazil beginning late August. For those who maintain Purple Martin housing, make sure to keep it open through the end of August, as fledglings will be searching for next year's breeding sites.

It's very important to maintain these birds' habitat all year round. Also, consider putting up birdhouses for the bluebirds and purple martins. The websites below will point you in the right direction. • www.texasbluebirdsociety.org/ www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/ pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_ 0512.pdf • www.purplemartin.org www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/ pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_ 0254.pdf

walton.shawn@gmail.com

El Camino Real Master Naturalists: grovesite.com/tmn/ecrmn


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