Give the Birds a Helping Hand
Updated: Sep 4, 2022
By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider
My desk (Debbie) faces the backyard and has a view of the garden pond which has a large tree over it. Watching the birds come in for a drink and flitting around during dreary days can lift my spirits. West Texas is home to many types of birds. I live in the county and the last several years a Blue Jay has visited my garden area. A woodpecker comes and goes, along with a large group of quail.
Winter Storm Uri and the extreme drought we are in has affected both resident and migrant birds in our urban and rural areas. However, there is much that a homeowner in the county or in the city can do to support our native birds. You can provide food, water, and shelter; the requirements for all life.
It is important to grow plants that have seed heads through the winter months. Don’t cut back the perennials until early February to give the birds a place to shelter and eat seeds left on the seed heads. Choose native plants if you can. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), sunflowers, asters, native grasses and coneflowers will all provide seeds. Plant them and the birds will come. Lantanas, sumacs, beautyberries and coralberries will provide berries.
Supplement the natural food source by providing seed in bird feeders. The greater variety of feeders you have the more variety of birds you will have. But remember that feeders should be cleaned weekly and the areas under the feeders should be raked to prevent the spread of disease.
Water is especially important in wintertime. There are many ways to provide a water source. In addition to small fishponds, garden ponds, or fountains, you can set out a clean dish of shallow water each morning.
Shelter provides both warmth and protection in winter. Planting shrubs, especially native shrubs provide both. Our tall native grasses and vines are also great places for birds to hide.
Many books and websites are available to make your winter birdwatching fun and educational. Websites to check out are www.allaboutbirds.org and https://feederwatch.org/, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Project Feeder Watch data, collected by citizens across the United States has been analyzed by scientists since 2005 and it is available online and can be accessed by region or state.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.