Archive for the 'Birding' Category

Avoiding Woodpecker Damage

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
Redbellied Woodpecker

Redbellied Woodpecker

This is Passport to Texas

As a rule, woodpeckers excavate cavities in dead trees, called snags, which they then live in. The exception to the rule occurs when in their home building zeal, they mistake dark colored house siding, for a snag. When they do—homeowners have problems.

And it looks like cannon balls have been shot through the house. Maybe two or three; and we’ve seen some with fifteen, sixteen holes.

Cliff Shackelford is a non-game ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. He says woodpecker damage occurs most often in urban and suburban areas where homeowners removed dead wood from their property.

What we recommend people to do with problems with woodpeckers is to put a nest box. If you’re familiar with a bluebird box, it’s just a larger version of that custom made for woodpeckers.

Visit for a link to information and free blueprints to make your own woodpecker nest box.

People can build this in a couple of hours on the weekend, and put it up on the side of the house, and in all cases that we’ve done this – it’s worked. And the woodpecker stops chiseling on the home, and goes to this next box, and is very content.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.


Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

  • Floor – 6 inches by 6 inches
  • Depth – 12 inches
  • Entrance height above floor – 10 inches
  • Entrance diameter – 2 inches
  • Recommended height above ground – 10 to 20 feet


Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker
Photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service


Northern Flicker

  • Floor – 7 inches by 7 inches
  • Depth – 16 to 18 inches
  • Entrance height above floor – 14 to 16 inches
  • Entrance diameter – 2½ inches
  • Recommended height above ground – 6 to 20 feet



The Problem with Woodpeckers

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

This is Passport to Texas

If you live in East Texas, and have noticed strange holes in the wood siding of your home… don’t call the police; call an ornithologist.

08—There are fifteen species of woodpeckers in Texas, eight of which are in the eastern third of Texas. And that’s where we get most of our calls of woodpecker damage.

Non-game ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says the pileated and red bellied woodpeckers are among the culprits inflicting the damage to these homes.

15—What happens a lot of time is that they see these houses that might be painted brown, they might have cedar siding, and this is very attractive to the birds to try to excavate a cavity. So, they’re not looking for food when they’re doing this; they’re looking to make a cavity to call home.

The pileated woodpecker, about the size of a crow, can excavate holes as big as a man’s fist — and not just in the outside walls of your home, either.

11—That’s right. We’ve documented pileateds going through into the sheetrock and into the room of the house. Of course, they’re very lost when they do that, they quickly go out. They’re not looking to make a mess of the house.

Keeping woodpeckers from damaging your home…that’s tomorrow.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Secondary Cavity Nesting Birds

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015
Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds


This is Passport to Texas

My house is on land previously used for farming; except for a few young trees planted around my place, stands of large, mature trees are in short supply.

Despite the dearth of foliage, I do get bird visitors, including barn swallows, mockingbirds, scissor-tail fly-catchers, mourning doves, and sparrows. I even get the occasional visit from robins, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and killdeer, to name a few.

One bird I have not yet seen, but am told is in my area: the Eastern Bluebird. It is a small bird found in open woodlands and farmlands. I think it’s one of the prettiest little birds in Texas with its electric blue back and tail feathers and rusty orange breast.

Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, suggested how I might attract one to my yard.

16— They need a box to nest in. They’re birds that we call secondary cavity nesters that can’t build a cavity on their own in a dead tree, like a woodpecker. So, they use old woodpecker holes, or old rotten limbs.

They aren’t alone. Cliff says other species prefer a roof over their heads, too.

15— Bluebirds need it, titmice need it, and chickadees need it. So, you need to figure out first what birds are in your area, and which ones of those use boxes. And that’s when you can target which one to build and put up in your yard.

Find a link that will take you to nest box dimensions for various species at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Owl Nest Boxes

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
An owl waiting for his new home.

An owl waiting for his new home.

This is Passport to Texas

What would you call a wooden box intended for owls?

02- It would be called an owl box.

I really need to start making these questions harder. Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford says man-made owl boxes are a “stand in” for what nature provides.

07-What these owls would do is look for a cavity in a tree–a hollow in a tree–and that’s what this box is replacing.

The Barn Owl and Eastern Screech Owl are two wide-ranging owl species in Texas, with different needs.

15- They use different size boxes. The Barn Owl is much larger than the Eastern Screech Owl. And you can go online on the Parks and Wildlife website; we have blueprints on how to make these boxes for these birds. Or you can just go online [to other sites] and find other blueprints and make them [the nest boxes] to your

Owls make some people nervous because they are raptors and have strong hooked beaks and sharp talons, but Cliff Shackelford says, fear not.

14-The good thing about owls: they’re good neighbors to have because they eat a lot of rodents. Screech Owls eat a lot of roaches. The wood roaches. The big ones that are outside. So, it’s good to have owls, because they’re keeping these things that we consider pests in check.

Cliff says owl boxes work best in areas where you have good tree cover. I have a link where you can find the measurements for nest boxes and bird houses
appropriate for common species at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Dimensions for Owl Nest Boxes

Barn Owl

Baby owls in a nest box.

Baby Barn Owls.


Floor – 10 inches by 18 inches
Depth – 15 to 18 inches
Entrance height above floor – 4 inches
Entrance diameter – 6 inches
Recommended height above ground – 12 to 18 feet





Screech Owl

Screech Owl in a nest box hanging on tree.

Screech Owl in a nest box.


Floor – 8 inches by 8 inches
Depth – 12 to 15 inches
Entrance height above floor – 9 to 12 inches
Entrance diameter – 3 inches
Recommended height above ground – 10 to 30 feet

Whoopers Flying into Texas

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Whoopers in flight.

Whoopers in flight.

This is Passport to Texas

A flock of 308 endangered whooping cranes lives in Texas from October through April.

06- We fully expect to see the first of our migrating whoopers come into Texas in mid-to-late October.

The birds migrate from their summer breeding ground in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to their winter home at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
Texas Whooper Watch coordinator, Mark Klym, says the species has rebounded from a low of just 15 cranes in the 1940s to about 600 today worldwide.

21-There are also two other flocks in the US. One that migrates from Wisconsin to Florida, and a reintroduced flock in Louisiana. We really need at least one more flock before we can consider it relatively safe to start considering down-listing them. Or, we need a thousand birds in the Aransas to Wood Buffalo
National Park flock.

While the majority of Texas cranes spend the winter at the refuge, some end up in other parts of the state.

13-In recent years we’ve seen them moving up and down the coast, as well as inland–as far as Wichita Falls for the winter. So, it is possible to see whooping cranes during the winter almost anywhere in the eastern half of the state.

Be on the lookout for whoopers, and if you see them, add your observations to Texas Whooper Watch. Find details in the Texas Nature Tracker section of the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.