Wintering Hummingbird Recap

The wintering season for hummingbirds is slowly winding to a close with many hummingbirds starting their migration westward to their breeding grounds so I wanted to recap what was seen this season. One of my goals prior to the season was to be more prepared by setting up more feeders as well as provide natural food sources through winter blooming plants. Overall I set up between 9-12 feeders spread throughout the backyard as well as planted 5 Shrimp plants.

The results were better than I could have imagined and through the end of September until February, I recorded visits from 8 different hummingbird species with 3 of those species being life birds. I also hosted 30-40 birders who either added a few species as life birds or the first time they observed them in Harris County.

The lessons learned through observation were the addition of more feeders allowed for more timid or submissive species to by-pass the constant chases and territory defenses and grab a drink which in turn continued their presence in the yard. I also believe that the constant chase calls and displays attracted nearby hummingbirds and helped boost the chances of seeing a rare species. The addition of the Shrimp plants was also vital to attracting different species as I observed that the Anna’s Hummingbird would never visit a feeder and preferred the plant nectar and the constant blooming flowers more than likely attracted other hummingbirds as well.

I’m hoping that I will have that same experience again as wintering hummingbird season is quickly becoming one of my favorite times to bird. I’ll be taking the observations and lessons learned this year and making improvements to the yard and can’t wait to see how next wintering season turns out.

January Recap

Birds:

36 Species of birds were observed for the month of January with the highlights being 7 different species of hummingbirds observed (Calliope, Buff-bellied, Rufous, Allen’s, Ruby-throated, Black-chinned and Broad-tailed). The Allen’s hummingbird that made its first appearance on September 29, 2020 departed for its western breeding grounds around January 24. The Calliope hummingbird became an every day visitor even securing feeder territory for the last two weeks of January and still continues today.

Plants/Yard up-keep:

With the arrival of spring less than two months away, I began working on improving existing habitat plots as well as creating two new wildflower plots in the yard. Major weeding and grass removal was completed to make it easier to see where and if additions should be planted. A lot of new growth due to the abnormally warm temperatures was seen as last year’s wildflowers and salvia began to grow in their respective plots. 6 yards of soil were added in plots that showed errosion as well as the new plots to replace the existing grass. Two new bottlebrush trees were added and a few blooming salvia plants were included to fill in places where last years seed did not seem to take hold.

Overall not a whole lot of activity but excitement is beginning to build for the arrival of spring and migrating birds!

How it all started

Hello! 

My name is Chris Bick and I am passionate about creating backyard habitats that resident, migrating and wintering species of birds can use for their benefit. 

I’ve spent the last two years attempting to develop my backyard into habitat that would attract birds, butterflies and bees. I’ve had so much fun learning and seeing the positive impacts that have happened during this journey. A friend recently encouraged me to create a blog to inform people of the impacts of landscaping for birds, to highlight species that visit my yard and to hopefully inspire others to do the same and give back to nature. I’d like to say I’m slightly introverted and normally it takes time for me to become comfortable speaking around others but if you mention you are a birder, we can talk for hours friend. Though to understand how and why I changed my backyard, I’ll need to give you the story of how it all started.

Two years ago my backyard was just your normal St. Augustine grass filled back yard with a single Crete Myrtle that was planted at least 25 years ago. I decided out of the blue around April that I wanted to make a raised vegetable garden bed so I could have fresh vegetables. I’ve always been intrigued of growing plants since I was a kid. There’s just something about watching plants grow and the continuous care necessary to reach the plants full potential that appealed to me.

After crafting my raised bed, filling it with two yards of vegetable soil and planting cucumbers, tomatoes and jalapeños, I felt accomplished. I would spend my mornings tending to my garden and keeping track of its growth before heading off to bed. Working night shifts started to become easier as I looked forward to my morning time in the garden.

During these mornings, I started becoming aware of nature around me. I would notice the carpenter bees pollinating the cucumber flowers. I quickly learned of tomato hornworms and worked diligently to find them and protect my plant. Though most of all, I would enjoy sitting in my lawn chair watching and listening to a little white and black bird (Carolina Chickadee). I became suspicious of my avian visitor and wanting to protect my vegetables, I started thinking that maybe if I fed them they would leave my garden alone. So I decided to hang up a lone tube feeder on an old shepherds hook I had and filled it with a bag of bird seed I bought at the grocery store.

One morning after a particularly stressful night, I sat in my chair and waited for my chickadee friend to come and keep me relaxed with their antics and song. I was surprised when I saw a much larger bird with a stunningly white body along with a brilliantly red chest. This bird was beautiful and it sat on the tube feeder a mere 6 feet away from me. Amazed at the sight of this bird, I started googling for what it was. 

The results came back with a picture of a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, a bird seen in the Houston area during migration. Never having once shown interest in birds, I had no concept of migration. I just assumed that the birds were always around and never even fathomed them as just traveling through.

After that experience, I was hooked. I thought that if my one small tube feeder could attract such a beautiful bird, I wonder what else I can do to see another or maybe even a different bird that I never knew existed. I read up on native landscaping, wild landscaping and landscaping for birds. I purchased a field guide and a small digital camera to save the moment if I was able to see a new bird as well as to be able to identify it later.

These spark moments had a much larger impact on me than just seeing different types of birds. I began to realize that those mornings spending time outdoors, as well as the hours spent learning about birds and beneficial habitat landscaping, were vital to my mental health. As a veteran who deployed to Iraq twice and has struggled at times with PTSD, those moments with birds and gardening began to heal my mind and bring closure to the past. I started to become aware that the number of times I would struggle with PTSD began to shrink and disappear because I had found something that gave me so much joy and passion. I was focused and decided to commit fully and create something that would better my small slice of Earth.

My friends who knew me before my garden transformation were stunned. Many believed I was just joking when I would tell them about my garden and watching birds. One was concerned that I was going through what he believed was “a mid-life crisis”. I don’t blame them. If three years ago you would have told me I’d become obsessed with building useable backyard habitat and watching birds, I would have laughed. It was just something that wasn’t even on my radar. My free time was spent playing video games or watching movies and never once thinking about what’s going on in the backyard much less birds.

Through all the trial and error, the sore muscles and calloused hands of hauling yards of dirt and the sweat drenched clothes from weeding in the summer heat, I am so happy and eternally grateful that Rose-breasted Grosbeak showed up that morning. It forever altered my life in such a positive way that my explanation of it through these words do not even begin to give it justice.

I will try to payback that gift by continuing to make my backyard a haven for birds as long as I can and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.