Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Barred Owl

Here's my reply to a reader who found a barred owl in her backyard:

Yes, that's indeed a Barred Owl, a rather common owl where you live but not commonly seen because it occupies the temporal zone of the night when people are asleep.

I normally do several articles on owls, the last one was this past October and was about Great Horned Owls. You can read it at here.

Owls get unfairly blamed for the disappearance of small pets. It's really coyotes that are getting the pets. (Yes, our urban and suburban neighborhoods have coyotes.) For an owl to pick off a small pet, the pet would have to be the size of a rat or small rabbit. But pet owners should never leave a small pet or any pet outdoors by itself at night or during the day. Packs of wild dogs also roam neighborhoods, and larger feral cats roaming can harm defenseless house pets. Pet dogs and pet cats should be kept indoors and only let out on a leash for their safety and health. (It's a lesson I learned the hard way.)

Owls go after rats and other rodents, which is a good thing or else we'd be overrun with those vermin.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cardinal Sees His Reflection

Question from Tonie: We have a cardinal that keeps crashing into our front window then he flies to the back where he crashes into a glass sliding door! He must be knocking himself silly! What can I do for him? Why is he doing this?

The Cardinal sees his reflection and thinks it's an intruding male on his territory. For our birds here in Texas, breeding season in terms of staking out territories has already begun. The thing to do is to put up window decals of falcons, the natural predator of birds, or leaf decals that distract birds from windows. You can buy the decals online at any number of places (just type in "Window Decals for Birds" in a search engine like Google. Even Amazon.com has the decals. They're not expensive.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winter Hummingbirds in Texas

I received a number of emails from readers regarding my January 7th article about winter hummingbirds in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News. Here's a sample:

One reader wrote: "I read your article in today's paper. I too have two hummingbirds in my back yard in Clear Lake. This is the second year that I see some around. I always keep a feeder or two in the winter. In the fall I have 8 feeding stations that I refill twice a day. This is fun to watch them.
Now they have to share their feeder with bees and I do not know how to chase the bees away.
I am glade to see that I am not the only hummingbird feeder in the winter.
Thank you for your article."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Backyard Bird Feeding Tips

Question from reader: I am an avid reader of your nature column and an avid bird lover as well. I was wondering if you could tell me how to increase the species at my home bird feeders. I have several feeders in my back yard, two with standard millet/sunflower seed mix and a new one with finch mix. They are at this time about 6 feet apart on my patio. I attract thousands of house sparrows and different species of doves. I also get frequent visits from mockingbirds, cardinals, and blue jays. However, I never seem to attract any of the migratory thrushes and warblers described in your column. Could you give me any advice on how to get more diversity at my feeders?

Answer: It doesn't sound like your doing anything particularly wrong. Warblers and thrushes are insect eaters and only visit feeders in winter. The three warblers we routinely have in winter at our feeders are Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, and Pine. Hermit warblers spend the winter here and often hang around platform feeders. Warblers and thrushes are also attracted to suet cakes in almost any season. Come spring, you might want to put out orange slices to attract migratory orioles and resident woodpeckers.

Other suggestions: Use a "No-Mess Blend of Bird Seed" available at Wild Birds Unlimited Stores in Houston or online at http://www.shopwbu.com/products/. Also, get the "No Melt" variety of suet cakes from the same store. Both products should attract more varieties of birds to your yard, but there's no guarantee because many factors such as trees, bushes, and plantings are at play in attracting birds to a yard. I've seen "perfect" yards for birds, but the poor home owner gets few birds. We don't always no what's keeping birds away or what's attracting them. Obviously, if you have feral cats coming to your yard, that could be a deterrent. Still, backyard bird feeding is not a science. (By the way, I have no financial interest or reward in recommending Wild Birds Unlimited; I simply like their products and customer service.)

Hope this helps, and thanks for being an avid reader of the column.