AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas sits in the ‘Central Flyaway’ during spring migration as thousands of birds return north from the warmer winter climates to our south. Not only are birds returning, but we’re also seeing Texas wintering birds flock further north as well.
As we prep for these birds to fill our sky, there are simple adjustments we can make in our yards to help our feathered friends make the journey. Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with the Executive Director of Travis Audubon, Nicole Netherton, to get tips on how we can make our yards favorable for spring migration.
Below is the transcript of their conversation. (Note: edits have been made for clarity)
Kristen Currie, KXAN News: We are gearing up for spring migration, a lot of us are excited for our bird friends to come back on through. Joining us to give us ideas on how we can prepare for spring migration is Nicole Netherton with Travis Audubon.
Nicole Netherton, Travis Audubon: Yea, so February is sort of a transitional time where are winter birds are still present, but as the days get longer and the weather is changing, the birds will start to move.
Early March is when we start to see a lot more movement of birds, so I thought we could talk just briefly about some of the ways that you can make your home and your yard as friendly as possible for some of those migrants coming through and birds who live here all the time.
You’ve heard me say this before, but if you’re going to choose to feed birds and put out feeders, it’s really important to keep them clean. So take them down every week, wash them with warm soap and water, and let them dry completely before you fill them again.
Putting out water for birds is another great way that you can help them out.
If you top out your bird feeder every day, then it can’t breed mosquitoes. So I refill my bird bath every day.
Planting native plants and plants that bloom for pollinators is super important in your backyard. A lawn doesn’t provide them very much to eat.
Think about flowers, think about plants that are really well adapted here. A really easy way to help birds is if you leave your leaves. Leaf litter provides a lot of hiding places for larva and all different insects. So if you see birds moving around leaf litter, or maybe some of the sticks and brush piles that you’ve had, they’re probably looking for food.
Late Winter Bird Forecast – Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer
The Rich Biodiversity of Texas and Two Unusual Probing Birds
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow www.facebook.com/travisaudubon
Six hundred and seventy species of birds have been observed in Texas and, of those, 423 have been recorded in Travis County. This incredible diversity of birds is partially due to the varied geography and resulting habitats in Texas. Think of a road trip across Texas where you will encounter arid and mountain areas of the trans-Pecos, the Panhandle plains, the Hill Country, blackland prairies stretching from Austin to Dallas and east towards Houston, the Gulf coastal plains with 367 miles of Gulf coastline, the Piney Woods and tropical south Texas scrub. The varied habitats provide niches for different species of birds to flourish. Because of factors like extreme cold up north, weather that blows birds off course, failure of food crops in birds’ typical winter range, and the fact that some birds just wander, out of range birds show up and cause excitement in the birding world.
One local example of a rarity that has been here since mid-December is a male Acorn Woodpecker at Pace Bend Park. It’s the first time this bird has been recorded in Travis County. In Texas this bird is easily seen in Big Bend, Fort Davis and the Guadalupe Mountains where it lives year round. (It is also found further west to California and south to Central America. Most populations are sedentary, but one near Huachuca, Arizona is migratory.) Its name reflects its primary food, and fortunately the oaks at Pace Bend, like Austin, have had an abundant acorn crop this year.
This clown-faced black and white bird with a red patch on its crown and white eyes was the inspiration for beloved cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. Why did it wander this year? Did the drought out west cause it to seek greener lands? Is it from the migratory population and should have flown south? The Acorn Woodpecker is typically a social bird living with others in a colony. They are known for their unique behavior of caching acorns in granary trees. The Pace Bend woodpecker has been seen stashing acorns in crevices in the bark. Whether it will make its way “back home” this spring is anyone’s guess. In any event, varied habitats in big enough landscapes, will give birds like this wanderer a chance at survival.
During the winter months Wilson’s Snipe and American Woodcock, two related rather chunky looking shorebirds, live here. For those folks who wondered if snipe were creatures made up by practical jokers at summer camp, in fact they are real. Both the snipe and woodcock have long straight bills. Their eyes are situated towards the tops of their heads so they can keep tabs on predators even from behind, while foraging head down.
Generally woodcock and snipe use different habitat niches. While they are here, you’ll find Wilson’s Snipe in open wet fields, ditches and other vegetated damp areas with soft soil. You might encounter them along rivers and ponds if there is some cover close by. They blend in with the scenery due to their cryptic coloration and the fact that they don’t move much while foraging. When startled they fly fast in a zigzag fashion making a raspy “scaip” sound. The term sniper comes from British soldiers in India who hunted snipe, which are challenging targets.
Wilson’s Snipe probe the mud often leaving their bills submerged when they swallow prey such as insect larvae and earthworms. Sometimes in good habitat small flocks of a dozen or more gather. The marshy areas of the ponds.at Hornsby Bend are the best places in Austin to see snipe. They will migrate north by the end of April.
Have you ever been on a winter walk in a damp woods when a bird bursts out from almost underfoot? After you recover from your shock, you wonder what it was and where it went. Chances are it was an American Woodcock. A few winter in Austin, in wooded areas with leaf litter, often close to streams and ponds. Woodcock like forest edges for foraging at dawn and dusk. They have superb camouflage with muted gray, buff and brown tones, and rely on this disguise to frustrate bird watchers and keep them safe from predators. Recent sightings have occurred at Commons Ford Ranch Metro Park and at Hornsby Bend. Before they migrate north in early spring woodcock males put on quite a display flight for the females, with a characteristic “peent” sound and twittering of wings. It is happening now at Commons Ford before dawn, and right around sunset. Count yourself fortunate if you get to witness this behavior –one that noted conservationist Aldo Leopold said was “a refutation of the theory that the utility of a game bird is to serve as a target, or to pose gracefully on a slice of toast.”
The American Woodcock has a most delightful walk. According to All About Birds “the bird … sometimes rocks its body back and forth, stepping heavily with its front foot.” Perhaps this motion causes worms to move around in the soil below making them easier to find. There are oodles of videos online if you want to enjoy more fancy footwork of the nicknamed Timberdoodle.
Upcoming Travis Audubon Events – Check the events calendar for upcoming events, field trips and classes. Most field trips are free and require reservations. Classes are fee based.