ANITA STONE: Birds of Prey Flock to Backyard
I have always been intrigued with birds of prey and their contribution to our backyard territories.
These raptors, as they are called, are not what we expect to see in our urban yards. And yet several birds of prey are quite common in cities and towns. Looking up into the sky we can always spot a large bird. Or when a flock circles, we know they are ready to feast.
It was more than thrilling when I caught a glimpse of an owl high in a pine next to the driveway. He blended in so well with the landscape that his camouflage kept him safe from other aggressive birds.
We can create the type of yard that will attract hawks, owls and peregrine falcons if we get serious about protecting natural plant communities.
Plants provide habitats for these large species as well as shelter. Raptors need larger vegetation, such as trees, for nesting. Some smaller species lay their eggs in old woodpecker holes or where branches have broken off.
Typically, these bird nests are made of branches piled in the tops of trees, which we have all seen at one time or another. Some species don't build their own nests, but take over pre-built nests constructed by other large birds. Dead trees, if you wish to leave them standing on your property, work well for these birds.
The next step is to learn to identify hawks and owls, which are the most likely birds to appear in your yard. They feed on rodents, insects, snakes and have extremely sharp eyesight, sharp talons and hooked beaks.
Hawks can be seen during daylight hours, but owls prowl at night and locate their prey in the dark.
Some of the great birds that have visited my yard have been the screech owls who nest in tree cavities, a red-tailed hawk that hopefully will take care of the voles invading my landscape every year, and the great horned owl. Each of these birds uses the same nests but avoid competition by laying their eggs at different times of the year.
We don't give much thought to these large birds because we normally don't see, feed or deal with them as we do cardinals, finches, robins and other small birds. But they are just as important to the garden landscape and perform jobs that we are unfamiliar with because we haven't thought about them.
The next time you are sitting outside, listen carefully for the sounds of the birds. There will probably be a "hoot" in the symphonic cacophony. After all, they have a repertoire of their own. And I'm willing to agree that they want us to know of their presence and how they make our lives better.
They certainly protect us from many insects and feast on things we get squeamish about. Nevertheless, they are a necessary part of our horticultural landscapes and we should learn to appreciate them.
- Pot up chives, parsley and other herbs and bring them inside to extend the growing season.
- Take cuttings of bedding geraniums, rosemary and sage and grow them in 6-inch containers in a sunny place.
- Plant beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, spinach, turnip and radish.
- Plant onion sets any time this month.
- Plant fall blooming bulbs such as autumn crocus. Plant Madonna lily and lily bulbs. Prepare beds for spring flowering bulbs.
- Water regularly with conservation in mind. Aphids and spider mites may be active. Use a water wand on a weekly basis to wash mites off plants.
- Consider ornamental grasses for fall and winter with flower plumes and shiny leaves.
- Dig, divide and replant daylilies, Shasta daisies, beebalm and astilbe. Allow perennials to go dormant.
- Set out baits for snails and slugs.
- Hoe or hand pull weeds this time of year. Clean up fallen leaves that may harbor disease.
- Plant trees within the next two months to establish roots.
- Take care of water gardens before freezing weather arrives. Do not fertilize. Maintain pond water levels.
Contact Anita Stone at email@example.com.
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