Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Feeding Birds in an Apartment

Red-bellied woodpecker
at a backyard feeder.
Question from Reader:  I live in an apartment.  Can I feed birds from my balcony?  Should I participate in Project Feeder Watch?

My Answer:  Long ago before I met Kathy and when I was a young man, I used to live on the third floor of a "luxury" apartment complex and had the same issue with rules you have. Basically, I just broke the rules. Fortunately, the apartment managers (all female!) thought I was a wonderful tenant, so I got away with breaking the rules---one of the privileges back then of being young and dashing.

But I did use cracked sunflower seed that left no hulls or mess on the balcony---Kathy and I use the same kind of seed in our yard. You can purchase it at any of the Wild Birds Unlimited stores in the Houston area, or you can order it online at http://www.shopwbu.com/products/. Get the "No-Mess Blend Bird Seed." They also sell suet cakes specially blended for warm climates---order the "No Melt" variety. (I have no financial interest in Wild Birds Unlimited; I simply like their products and customer service.)

We also travel quite a bit, so we record birds when we're home and leave it at that.

Project FeederWatch has no hard-and-fast rule that you have to count birds every week. If you sign up for the project, it will take about two weeks to receive the kit. But you can download the tally sheet on the website at www.FeederWatch.com and begin keeping tallies right away.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Strange bird at feeder

Baltimore oriole at water bath.
Copyright: Kathy Adams Clark 
Question from Reader:

Several weeks ago a very beautiful orange and yellow bird, about the size of a mocking bird, lit on one of my humming bird feeders.  I was mostly orange with yellow on the breast.  The closest thing I found in my Texas books was the Altamira Oriole.  I don’t remember the dark wings and tail, but I only saw it for a few seconds before it gave up on the feeder and flew off.  Any Ideas?


My Reply:

The orange bird at your hummingbird feeders was probably a winter plumaged Baltimore Oriole migrating to Southern Mexico or to Central or northern South America.  Altamira Orioles are a Mexican species that occur in the Rio Grande Valley, and I know of no records of that species showing up much farther north.  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Carolina Wren in the Backyard

Carolina wren with characteristic cocked tail.
Copyright: Kathy Adams Clark 
Carolina Wrens typically remain on or near breeding grounds throughout the year and return to the same location to breed throughout their lives.  Their offspring and even relatives generally reside in the same neighborhood but don't compete with each other for space.  

The Carolina's Wren's song, or I should say, songs are among my favorite bird vocalizations.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Trumpeter Swan in The Woodlands

The latest information I have about the Trumpeter Swan is that it was found on the Spring Creek Christmas Bird Count on Dec 20th.  I have no recent information about sightings.

Trumpeter swan photographed early December, 2014,
at Lakeside Park in The Woodlands.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Question

Question from a reader:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Clark,
    I am a kindergarten teacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  My class and I have raised Monarch butterflies from eggs that I've collected in a nearby meadow.
While feeding the caterpillars, I inadvertently brought in more eggs.  Two went through the five instar stages and made chrysalises.  They are due to emerge on the 29th of October.  One is still a fifth instal and about to make a chrysalis.  
    I know the migrating population of Monarchs that went through the Midwest had trouble finding sources of nectar due to the drought.  I saw on the internet that 
southeast Texas still had nectar-rich flowers in abundance in early October.  Do you think their will still be such flowers available in early to mid November? This is where my Monarchs would be passing through, if luck is on their side. I would appreciate your opinion.  
    The Durham Museum of LIfe and Sciences has a a Magic Wings Butterfly House and will take the Monarchs butterflies if I bring them in. I know this generation is programmed for Mexico.  The weather prediction is for a warming trend in this area next week.  My inclination is to send them on south if their is a source of food along the way.  If their isn't, I'll probably take the Monarchs to the museum.
     I would appreciate your considered opinions.  
     Thanks in advance,

My Answer:

Hello Patricia,
First, I deeply admire what you're doing.  The educational value to your young students will pay dividends for Monarch butterflies and for nature throughout the 21st century.  

I am not sure what I would do.  We do have plenty of milkweed along the Texas Coast.  I wrote a column urging people to plant milkweed in their yards.  I was swamped with emails from readers who asked where to get the milkweed or from people who had gone out and bought milkweed.  Most gratifying.  

You are correct that Monarchs are "hard-wired" to migrate to Mexico.  I'm sure they would do fine at Magic Wings Butterfly House; and, I am also sure that if kept in the facility, their progeny would migrate to Mexico next year.  What I can't be sure of is that they would make it to Michoachan this year.  It would depend on weather and supplies of milkweed.  They would certainly move down the Texas Coast as you know, and they should find mild weather and plenty of milkweed. But Chappell Hill to the Texas Coast might be a precarious journey. 

I've always been a proponent of letting nature take its course.  As you know from evolution, nature favors the most adaptable over the least adaptable. Which means, at least theoretically, if your Monarchs or at least some of them make it to Michoachan, their progeny might be more adaptable than if left in Chappell Hill.  

All that said, we humans have so disrupted the environment that my old saw about letting nature take its course may or may not allow traditional adaptabilities.  Nature will take its course, but that course may not be quite as predictable as it was a long time ago when I was young.  

So, after all my ranting, here's my advice.  Do what your brain tells you is best.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Leucistic Birds

Irv wrote:  I found your article in the Houston Chronicle on leucistic birds very interesting and informative.  We live in Conroe in Stewart’s Forest and fortunately still have lots of trees around us.  We feed the birds black oiler sunflower seeds and have bird baths  in our yard so we have a good variety of birds who visit our back yard.  One of the birds is a cardinal with a white head.  From the rest of the coloring I assume it is a female cardinal.  You stated in your article that some birds with luecism have a hard time attracting a mate due to lack of their specific species color.  I believe that this cardinal may have mated because on occasion I have seen one or two other cardinals with white plumage on their heads although their unusual coloring is not quite as obvious as the one we see more frequently.

My Answer:  Well, apparently your leucistic female cardinal has beat the odds and attracted a mate.  If she did mate, she would have passed on her defective genes and potentially produced the one or two other leucistic cardinals you've seen.  Hard to know for sure without genetic analysis , so we can only guess.  Be on the lookout for other leucistic species.  If you see more birds with leucism other than the one or two cardinals, that could indicate some contaminate in their environment (it would not be in your sunflower seed.) 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

December Travels to Texas

Tim wrote:  I am a Florida birder and I am bringing the family to the San Antonio area for a 4 day stay in mid December.  Might make a day trip to Corpus Christi.

We will be doing the usual tourist things as a family, but I can't resist to see if there are any potential lifebirds in the area.  Do you have any leads on: Yellow Rail, Mountain Plover, Sage Thrasher, Sprague's Pipit, Harris's sparrow, or any of the 3 Longspurs?  If I thought the chances were decent I would try to workin an outing or two to try and grab one or more.
Thanks in advance for any thoughts which you can share.

My answer:  All the birds can be found in winter in Texas, but in most cases you'd have to drive hundreds of miles to different parts of the state and have a lot of luck on your side.

Yellow rails are in the coastal marshes, but nigh to impossible to see unless you trudge through a cottonmouth invested marsh.  They don't normally call during winter.

Mountain Plovers can show up anywhere, but most likely in farm fields around Austin and west of Rockport.

Sage Thrashers are possible in the Hill Country  north of San Antonio in the Kerr Wildlife Management Area west of Kerrville.

Sprague's Pipits are a sure thing at the Atwater Prairie Chicken NWR near Sealy, TX.

Harris's Sparrows tend to show up in hedgerows along farm field roads between Houston and San Antonio; the farm roads of the Katy Prairie west of Houston is a good place to look.

(Smith's Longspur found in eastern Harris County, Texas in 2011)

Longspurs are reliably found in the Texas Panhandle north of Amarillo and especially around Dalhart in the grassy fields of ranches---but you have to do a lot of driving around those roads to spot them.  In fact, of all the birds you listed, the longspurs are the surest thing if you have the time and patience to look.  It can also be brutally cold and windy in the Panhandle during winter.