Monday, February 28, 2011

Barred Owl: Questions from a reader

Your Barred Owls are behaving in classic fashion. They'll roost and nest in close proximity to people. Cherish them. They'll keep your rat population down.

1) is it normal for them to hang together like this during the day?—Yes. Mating pairs roost together.

2) how big is their territory (and is it just one pair to an area)?---Hard to say as evidence varies. Some estimates go to about 200 hectares per breeding pair, but the owls have a great deal of overlapping territories. The reason they call to each other is to declare their territory.

3) do they leave the area at all during the winter (we only heard one hooting during the winter while now they usually answer each other)?---Some disperse, but most stay within the breeding territory, although they're not as defensive as during nesting season.

4) if the female is going to nest, when will she start and will her first choice be the place she nested last year?---Barred Owls in Southeast Texas can begin nesting in December, although most will probably nest in March. Most males begin staking out territories in January. Many breeding pairs show fidelity to original nest site for several years in a row.

5) how far away will their offspring go when grown (and do they establish their own territory)?---Yes, they'll establish their own breeding territory. Some first year non-breeding birds may remain near their parents.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Twitchy Warbler

Question:I have a twitchy warbler that is light green in color. Can this be the pine warbler you were writing bout today a harbinger of spring?

Answer: Probably an Orange-crowned Warbler. Broken yellow eye-ring, diffuse streaking on the breast, yellow under the base of the tail (crissum), and lack of wingbars are indicative of Orange-crowned. Many of these warblers spend the winter here, so this is not likely a migrant. Its song is similar to the Pine Warbler, but the song is a steady trill that doesn't vary much in rhythm or pitch unlike the noticeably descending trill of a Pine Warbler.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Nature Festivals in Texas

Lots of good nature festivals in Texas this spring.

What: NatureFest

When: March 5; 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Where: Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, 20634 Kenswick Dr. in Humble

Activities: Family event with nature walks, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free, but register. I'll lead a beginning bird walk.

Information:; phone 281-446-8588.

What: Texas Wildlife and Woodland Expo

When: March 26; 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Where: Lone Star College – Montgomery, 3200 College Park Drive in Conroe.3200

Activities: Family educational event with bird walks, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free, but register. I'll lead a bird walk around the campus.

Information: or phone 936-273-2261

What: Galveston FeatherFest,

When: April 7-10.

Where: Old Galveston Square Building, 2221 The Strand in Galveston.

Activities: Birding, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Various fees---register. My wife, Kathy, will lead several photo workshops.

Information:, phone 888-425-4753

What: Migration Celebration

When: April 15-17

Where: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, near Lake Jackson.

Activities: Family event with birding tours, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Free

Information:, phone 866-403-5829.

What: Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival

When: April 29 - May 1

Where: Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Fredericksburg, Texas.

Activities: Family event with birding tours, exhibits, and workshops.

Fees: Various fees---register.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Goldfinches at thistle feeder

Question from reader: I thoroughly enjoy your column in the SA Express/News. I have 5 nyjer tube seed feeders (with fresh seed) in my yard and not one Goldfinch! I even put a small bit of yellow ribbon on the branches as decoys. Two years ago, I had flocks, but now cannot attract one! A friend several blocks away is swamped with Goldfinches! I have plenty of birds coming to mysunflower seed feeder, but no Goldfinches. Any ideas? Thanks!

Answer: We had the same problem about three years ago. So, we took down our nyjer feeder and put out extra shelled sunflower seed in the regular feeders. We then got swamped with goldfinches. Don't know if that will work for you, but it's worth a try.

I have mixed feelings about nyjer seed. On the one hand, it does resemble thistle seed goldfinches eat on breeding grounds. On the other hand, it's not really thistle seed. I sometimes think goldfinches know that. Ha! Also, nyjer seed goes rancid very, very quickly, and if it comes from a warehouse store like Walmart, it could be rancid to start with. If you use nyjer seed, buy it from a reputable feed store or bird supply store. If you buy good nyjer seed, buy enough to replace it three to four times a week and soon after it gets wet in a rain storm. Store it in a cool, dry place.