Bird Notes from West Houston

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Birdfeeding Tips - Habitat

"Why can't I get woodpeckers in my yard?" is a question we sometimes hear. I usually follow that question with a question of my own - "Do you have large trees in your yard and in your neighborhood?" If the customer answers, "No," then I know the problem immediately. Woodpeckers are usually found in areas with large trees. Understanding habitat is key to knowing which birds to expect in your backyard.

There are five different birdfeeding habitats. Within those habitats, there are microhabitats, but for the most part, five covers them. Listed below are the habitats, a description of the habitat, the Houston-area birds you could expect and what to feed them.

Woodland - In a woodland habitat, you will have mature trees standing 50+ feet tall. There will be some understory plants that provide cover. Not many grasses grow due to the lack of sunlight. The types of birds you could expect to find in a woodland habitat are woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, Blue Jays, warblers, grosbeaks and wrens. Seed like oil sunflower, safflower and peanuts are popular with these birds. Suet will provide non-seed eating birds something at your feeders.

Forest Edge - Smaller trees than a woodland habitat and more understory such as bayberry, yaupon and blackberry vines characterize a forest edge habitat. Birds to be expected in this habitat are cardinals, Blue Jays, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, blackbirds, sparrows and doves. Oil sunflower, safflower and millet will work well in this habitat. Peanuts and suet may be less successful than in a woodland habitat.

Grassland/Pasture - Grassland is a habitat virtually void of trees. In unmowed pasture, the grasses will grow about eight to twelve inches high and wildflowers usually bloom in the spring and summer. Birds that you can find in a grassland habitat at feeders are doves, sparrows, blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds. Seed that has a lot of millet and is offered on the ground works well in this habitat.

Urban - The urban habitat is what you will find around shopping malls, strip centers or many office buildings. There is a lot of concrete and the trees are usually small. Birds that would visit feeders in an urban habitat are pigeons, doves, grackles, blackbirds, grackles and House Sparrows. Seeds like oil sunflower and millet will draw many of the birds listed above.

Suburban - The suburban habitat is one of the harder ones to define. It can range from a newly created neighborhood where the trees are very small to more established neighborhood with older, more mature trees. Since the birds will be different in both, we will look at both habitats here. Those living in a new neighborhood can expect doves, grackles, blackbirds, House Sparrows and native sparrows. Seed with oil sunflower and millet will work well. Those in more established neighborhoods with larger trees can expect the birds mentioned above as well as cardinals, Blue Jays, chickadees and Downy Woodpecker. Oil sunflower, safflower and suet can be utilized to feed the birds in this habitat.

One bird that is not mentioned above is the American Goldfinch. From December through April, the goldfinch can be found in virtually any habitat. Feed goldfinches nyjer (thistle) in feeders designed specifically for nyjer.

The habitats and birds listed above are not absolutes in those habitats. Birds have wings and are able to move from one habitat to another. If you live between habitats, you may have birds that are not typically from your habitat. I live on grassland and forest edge, but have woodlands about 200 yards from me. I will get woodland birds flying from that habitat to the forest edge at my feeders. Take notice of your habitat. Also look at the habitats that surround you as well.

Unfortunately, birds are not usually enticed by certain foods if they are not in the proper habitat. If you live in a new neighborhood with little trees, putting suet out will probably not attract woodpeckers. Identify your habitat and learn about the birds living there. Know which seeds will provide you with the greatest chance to attract those birds to your feeders.


At 8:46 AM, Blogger Paige Robins said...

Hey guys! I just thought I'd let you know that I had about 7 or 8 goldfinches on my feeder even though I didn't put out any thistle. I bet I'd have a bunch more if I did actually give them the seed they like. :-D


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