HabiChat: Winter 2019

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Happy holidays HabiChat fans!

While I am not a big fan of wintertime, I am excited to see new visitors to my backyard.

Since winter is a great time for bird watching, much of this HabiChat is dedicated to projects and plants that will help local bird species. Learn about local research on native plants and how they help native birds, read up on evening grosbeaks and why their return to Maryland is special, learn about our native silky dogwood, and finally, keep an eye out for finch eye disease.

Winter is also a time for maintenance projects, so don’t forget to clean out and repair nest boxes and prune your shrubs and trees. Remember, water is crucial to many species this time of year. Consider adding a heated bird bath or pet water bowl to your landscape to help local wildlife. If you are looking for fun projects to do with the kids, try a winter safari or making seed wreaths.

In addition, the University of Maryland Extension’s Woodland Stewardship Education has several upcoming events that may be of interest to backyard enthusiasts. Registration for the spring session of The Woods in Your Backyard online course will be open soon. This self-paced, non-credit course runs 10 weeks from March 5-May 21, 2019, helping landowners convert lawn to natural areas and to enhance stewardship of existing natural areas.

As a final note, the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas is now available, containing information on more than 80 reptile and amphibian species. Data was collected by local biologists and nearly 1,000 community scientists. Each species is given a detailed account of identification characters, life history information, and where it was found across the state.

Happy habitats,
Kerry Wixted

Photo of white dogwood flower

Native Plant Profile: Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood is a host plant for the spring azure butterfly. It has also been found to support several specialist bee species in the Andrena genus. The berries’ high fat content makes them a favored food among migrating songbirds.

Deer also love to browse silky dogwood, so it is best not to plant this in areas with high deer densities.

Photo of birds at feeder

Native Animal Profile: Evening Grosbeak

Evening grosbeaks are primarily found in the southern parts of Canada throughout the year. Their winter range, however, includes much of the U.S. They are considered irregular migrants, venturing south during years when food is scarce.

In Maryland, they have been spotted around the state in 2018, delighting birders across our landscapes.

Photo of bird eating berry

Native Birds Need Native Plants

Research has shown a clear relationship between native plants and birds, linking the importance of native plants for supporting insects like caterpillars.

Native oaks can support more than 530 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars while an invasive butterfly bush supports only one species. 


Photo of sick bird

Loving Birds to Death and the Importance of Cleaning Feeders

In 1994, a group of Project FeederWatchers in Washington, D.C. noticed house finches showing up to their feeders with red, swollen, crusty eyes. The ailments were soon found to be linked to house finch eye disease, or mycoplasmal conjunctivitis.

Some birds can kick the disease on their own while others pass away from starvation or predation.

Wild Acres is a voluntary program that encourages residents to create backyard wildlife habitat. For more winter tips and tricks, check out the HabiChat archives.

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