My Journey to Bird Friendly Backyard Habitat





Chris Bick, Houston Audubon Young Professionals Advisory Council 2021

Three years ago, I wanted to create a vegetable garden consisting of cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini. I created a small planting box in the center of my cookie-cutter backyard that was 100% St. Augustine grass. I would spend roughly an hour each day just checking on its progress and tending to it. It was something I found relaxing and stress-relieving, so it quickly became one of my prized possessions.

One day, as I was looking out the window, I noticed a bird hopping around my plants and I quickly surmised that it was trying to eat my garden. I decided to invest in a bird feeder as a deterrent and filled it up with sunflower seeds. With the peace restored and without knowing what type of birds they were, I began to enjoy sitting outside and watching the Northern Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees fly to the feeder. After finishing my morning gardening routine and plopping down on my lawn chair one April morning, I noticed a different bird visitor to the feeder. This bird, with a black head and back and a brilliant splotch of red in the middle of its white chest, was breathtaking. I sat in awe of how different it looked from the birds I was accustomed to and quickly turned to the all-knowing Google search to find out what it was, learning that it was a migrating adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I spent the next few hours reading about the different migrating birds along the Gulf Coast and how to view them. It was at that moment I decided that I would branch out from gardening and find ways to attract different birds to my backyard through altering its landscape, as well as the start of my plunge into birdwatching.

I started out small and removed the grass from 1/3 of my yard to create a wildflower habitat that would be beneficial to bees, butterflies, and birds. I also included a small bird bath and a bluebird nesting box in hopes of attracting them. The results were immediate–I began to see birds bathing and drinking and was astonished when I saw a male Eastern Bluebird inspecting the nesting box. As spring progressed and the plants grew and blossomed, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds would visit the flowers, which prompted another internet research session and more knowledge gained, and that cycle continued with each new bird. Today, nearly 2/3 of my yard has been transformed with native wildflowers, bushes, trees, and three different water sources. I’ve observed 178 species from my trusty lawn chair ever since that Rose-breasted Grosbeak sparked my interest, and have hosted numerous birders, from near and far, to see the birds that have been attracted to my yard.

Throughout all the trials and errors of maintaining my backyard habitat, the buckets of sweat from hauling soil in a wheelbarrow, and the many blisters and callouses on my hands from shoveling, I’ve enjoyed every minute of transforming my yard into something beneficial for the environment. In hindsight, I believe all that work and the connection made with nature was truly beneficial to my overall well-being. As a veteran who served two tours in Iraq and has struggled at times with PTSD, I began to see those difficult episodes fade away and become non-existent when I spent time in my garden and observed the nature around me. I felt and still feel a commitment to that Rose-breasted Grosbeak who gave me such a gift and showed me a new world that healed my mental wellbeing. As such, I will continue to maintain and improve the habitat created in my yard and share my experiences with other in hopes of inspiring them to do the same. I truly believe that if others begin to transform their yard spaces to benefit birds and nature, we can begin to repair the world we live in and bring back our connection with the environment around us.

“As a veteran who served two tours in Iraq and has struggled at times with PTSD, I began to see those difficult episodes fade away and become non-existent when I spent time in my garden and observed the nature around me.” – Chris Bick

List of native Texas plants in my yard are:

  • Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)
  • Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata)
  • Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
  • Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
  • Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arborea)
  • Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata)
  • Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora)
  • Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinia)
  • Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana)
  • Texas Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora)
  • Pipevine (Aristolochia sp)
  • Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Firebush (Hamelia patens)
  • Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)

List of native trees/bushes:

  • Mexican Plum Tree (Prunus mexicana)
  • Red Mulberry Tree (Morus rubra)
  • Red Oak Tree (Quercus rubra L)
  • Hackberry Tree (Celtis laevigata)
  • American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
  • Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

List of non-native/non-invasive/adapted plants:

  • Cigar Bush (Cuphea ignea)
  • Vitex/Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
  • Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana)
  • Crepe Myrtle, sterile (Lagerstroemia)
  • Purple Porterweed (Stachytarpheta frantzii)
  • Bottlebrush Tree (Callistemon sp)
  • Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)
  • Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
  • Firecracker (Russelia equisetiformis)
🌱 There are many easy ways to start being bird-friendly at home! From creating inviting habitat in your yard with native plants, bird feeders, and baths to limiting dangerous threats and advocating for birds, you can help make a difference. Learn more at www.birdfriendlyhouston.org. Ready to start planting natives? Visit www.houstonaudubon.org/nativesnursery to get started. 

Check out Chris’s Informal Guide to Creating Bird-Friendly Habitat!

3 thoughts on “My Journey to Bird Friendly Backyard Habitat

  1. I love what you did Chris Bick! Congrats!
    I live in the middle of Houston near the Galleria and tore out my nasty St Augustine also in my front & back yards. My neighbors mostly hate I did, yet take pictures of their kids in it for Xmas & Easter. My Front Yard:
    (this program will not allow me to paste a photo of my front yard here. Too bad!)

    Liked by 1 person

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