Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Managing songbird habitat

Casey and I have managed our land in the Texas Hill Country for four years now with the goal of providing a habitat for songbirds, including the two species below. We strive to conserve the natural resources and preserve wildlife and native environments.  This means every project we do and every plan we put together factors in the long term self-sustainability of the eco-system.

Male Painted Bunting

Male Summer Tanager

In the spring and fall, birdwatchers from all over the country "flock" to the Texas Hill Country to see some of the most interesting songbirds, some are indigenous (native to the area) and some are migratory (just passing through). The Summer Tanager and the Painted Bunting (shown above) nest in the area and can be spotted almost year around. We have seen them at feeders and near the pond, and they are just as beautiful as they look in these photos. Unfortunately, both species above, like many others in the area, have declined in numbers in recent years due to urban sprawl and lack of preferred habitat.

We want to see them nesting and foraging here for many years to come; so we are dedicated to restoring and preserving various native environments on our land to meet a variety of songbird preferences.

It is one thing to say, "We want to continue building systems and environments that enable us actively participate in the growing interest to conserve native songbird habitats and stop the decline of indigenous songbird populations", and it is quite another thing to get involved.  For us, that meant learning all we could about the local songbirds. 

There is no substitute for a good field guide or a book on bird behavior to start learning, but to understand local issues such as declining populations, predator problems, competing wildlife, and parasite nesters, we joined a local birding club with lots of people that really care about these issues. 

Birds of Texas Field GuideWe bought some binoculars and field guides and set out at sunrise to watch birds with a group of the nicest folks you could ever meet.  We were, in all honesty, the most inexperienced birdwatchers ever, but the group leader and the other members took us "under their wing" and showed us how to use the binoculars, where to look, and what sounds to hear. 

We learned so much just by visiting with other people that had similiar concerns about the environment.  Combined with our research, this hands-on approach helped us understand what goals we wanted to set for ourselves.

Since we started learning about the local birds, we have done a great deal of research, along with trial and error, to determine what can be done to make a difference.  There are many options, some provide solutions for a few seasons and some provide long term solutions - years or even decades.  These options factor in the harsh weather, scorching sun, and competing wildlife (which we found to be much more difficult in the Texas Hill Country than in the Houston area). 

Our goals are to provide long term solutions that are self-sustaining, so some of the solutions we have chosen cost more upfront, but will save money and effort in the long run because they will last for many years and require very little maintenance.  In other cases, we have chosen solutions that cost less, are low-tech, and require some sweat equity to maintain.  There are many options, these are the ones that we can sustain.

One example of a solution that we implemented is our rain barn (see previous post: Rainbarn). We built it to provide supplemental water for the wildlife and for automatic irrigation for trees and the prairie area we are currently restoring to its natural state.

Managing 30 acres for songbird habitat takes research, dedication, and hard work. It is not for everyone.  Birdwatching may not be for you either. That's okay though; there are many other ways to contribute to the environment.