BY BARBARA STORZ
Want to attract birds to your yard? Then, focus on providing native food for adult birds and food for their young, along with water and shelter.
The Rio Grande Valley is a rich place for birds, but, if we don’t provide what they need, they will visit neighbors, or the local park. Birds require seeds, fruits, nectar (hummingbirds) and insects, especially for their young.
If all of your landscape is covered in a thick mat of turf grass, then, first, remove some of the grass to put in a habitat garden. This can be the size of a flower bed or a section of the yard where birds and their young can be safe.
Native trees provide important shelter, nesting sites and several provide food. The Texas Persimmon, Diospyros texana, produces prized fruits. This evergreen tree reaches heights of about 12 to 15 feet and is slow growing. Fruits appear on the female tree, so ask the nurseryman if they know if the plant is a male or female.
A fast growing tree, the Sugar Hackberry, Celtis laevigata, provides lots of fruits for adult birds, as well as, caterpillars for the young birds. It supports the snout-nose butterfly and other insects that serve as food. It is a short-lived tree (15 to 20 years) and is weak wooded and very shallow rooted. For these reasons, plant this valuable wildlife tree away from buildings and driveways.
The Brasil, Condalia hookeri, is a small, bright, lime-green tree that is an excellent source of fruit for birds, squirrels and other small animals. It reaches about 15 feet in height, is drought tolerant, and each branch ends in thorns. It requires full sun and well-drained soils. The lime-green leaves are a nice contrast against darker green foliage plants.
The Mexican Caesalpinia, Caesalpinia Mexicana, is a tall shrub that is trained as a small tree. It usually reaches heights of 12 to 15 feet and supports adult butterflies with its flowers and the leaves are enjoyed by the caterpillar of the Emesia Metalmark butterfly. Remember, baby birds need lots of soft caterpillars. The Mexican Caesalpinia has bright yellow flowers and is an excellent patio tree or specimen plant. It is a good start for small yards or flower beds.
Tamaulipan Fiddlewood, Citherexylum berlandieri, is another shrub that can be trimmed as a small tree. It reaches 10 to 12 feet and provides orange to black fruits enjoyed by birds. The thick foliage makes for nesting and cover and the clusters of tiny white flowers provide nectar for small beneficial insects. Keep away from patios and driveways to avoid falling fruits. Makes a lovely specimen plant in a flower bed, or cluster them for a “mini-forest.”
These are a few foundation plants that can help you get started in building a habitat garden. Check with local nurseries or birding centers for more recommendations. You can also visit with a Master Gardener for information on native plants to consider from 9 a.m. to noon today at the Growing Growers Farmers Market in Firemen’s Park on the corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.
Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her garden show from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.