"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Storks of Solvang

Photo by J.J. Meyer

We recently visited Solvang with our Swedish relatives.  Many of the rooftops there have life-size wooden storks, replicas of the European white stork.  The Europeans encourage these birds to nest because they believe they bring good luck!  Here's a wonderful article about The Storks of Solvang.

We saw these huge nests on our trip to Sweden last year. 

European white storks nest at Flyinge Equestrian Center in Sweden. Photo by J.J. Meyer
 Happy Birding!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hummingbirds are unique to the Americas

A male Allen's hummingbird visits a feeder in Mission Viejo.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
When my relatives from Sweden stayed with us recently, they were amazed by the diversity of birds in our back yard.  But the hummingbirds were the most intriguing for them because they had never seen these birds in nature.  Hummingbirds are considered New World birds, meaning that they are only found naturally in the Americas.  You won't see these birds on other continents.

According to the National Geographic Field Guide, Allen's and Anna's hummingbirds are commonly found year-round in Southern California. There is also a small pocket along the coast where you can find Rufous hummingbirds all year, though many are migratory.  Other migratory species found in our area include the Black-chinned, Costa's and Calliope.

Attract these little jewels to your garden with native plants. 

Happy birding!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

National bird sighted in Bluebird Canyon

No. 32 is a juvenile bald eagle hatched two years ago on Catalina Island. Photo by Adrienne Helitzer
      Because I’m an avid birder, I’m often asked to identify backyard bird sightings. Most often, the avian visitor is an unusual songbird. So when a friend of mine sent me an email with “Is this a golden eagle?” in the subject line recently, I was more than intrigued.
      I immediately recognized the large raptor with brown plumage in the photos as a juvenile bald eagle, identifiable by its disproportionately large head and unmistakable huge bill. I could also see that it had a shorter tail than that of a golden eagle.
      My friend, Adrienne Helitzer, had spotted the bird perched in a tall pine tree next to her home near the top of Bluebird Canyon in Laguna Beach.
     “She seemed so content in that tree,” she said. “I’m sure she had a wonderful view of all wildlife below her.”
     The bird stared in the window as Helitzer, a professional photographer, snapped photos. “It stayed in my sight for two hours that morning until it flew off, gliding across the canyon.”
     Because the bird had a numbered wing marker, I knew that it would be possible to get information about it. I immediately thought about the eagle program only 26 miles away.
     “No. 32 is one of ours,” said Peter Sharpe, a wildlife ecologist for the Institute of Wildlife Studies, who oversees the bald eagle restoration program that started on Catalina Island in 1980. The goal of the program has been to return native bald eagles to the Channel Islands after they were wiped out in the 1960s from the effects of the pesticide DDT.
      From the number on the orange wing marker Sharpe determined that the eagle spotted in Laguna Beach was a female that had been named Shasta. It was one of two eaglets hatched at the Seal Rocks Nest on Catalina Island on March 21 and 22, 2013.
      At 2 years old, Shasta is still considered a juvenile. She will develop the distinctive adult white plumage on the head and tail at about age 4 or 5, he said.
      Sharpe, who personally banded Shasta as a nestling, said it was rewarding to see her in good condition. “She’s looking nice and healthy,” he said. “The first two years are the hardest, so she has a good chance of making it to adulthood.”
      Eagles can run into a host of problems, including hunters, poisoning, contact with power lines and territorial disputes with other eagles. There’s a 50 percent mortality rate in the first year. Those that make it to adulthood have an average life span of 15 years in the wild, he said.
     “The tags, called patagial wing markers provide valuable information on the survival rates, movement of the birds and even turn-over at nests,” he said. “The tags are light weight and treated like another feather. It doesn’t hurt them to have it.”
      Because of her wing marker, Sharpe has been able to track Shasta’s whereabouts after she was last seen on the island in August 2013. She was spotted a year later near Nisqually, Washington on Sept. 10, 2014. This year’s sightings have been recorded in Harrisburg, Oregon on Feb. 16 and Laguna Beach on April 17.
     “She’ll continue wandering for another year or two,” Sharpe said. And she will be old enough to breed about the same time she develops her adult plumage.
     “Eagles tend to return to breed about 100-200 miles from where they hatched,” he said. “So it’s likely she’ll return to the area.”
     Sharpe and his crew monitor the seven pairs of bald eagles on Catalina Island and about a dozen more pairs scattered across four of the other Channel Islands. Many of the nests currently have chicks and will be banded in the next 1-2 months. Two of the Catalina nests with chicks, and another from Humboldt Bay, can be viewed live on the Web at iws.org.
     To report additional sightings of Shasta or other banded birds, go to reportband.gov.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Northern mockingbirds are highly territorial

Northern mockingbirds often perch conspicuously on high branches to make their presence known. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Generally known for their singing abilities, Northern mockingbirds can also make fierce sounds in an attempt to run off competitors.  These highly territorial birds puff up to make themselves larger.  With their tails in the air, these medium-sized songbirds are not afraid to show aggressive behavior to other birds they consider a threat including scrub jays and crows. It's not unusual to see a mockingbird or a pair of  mockingbirds attack a crow that comes too close to their nest. 

Happy birding!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Showy birds breed in Orange County

A male black-headed grosbeak claims a territory along the Barano Walk Trail in Mission Viejo. Photo by Anthony Gliozzo

Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in Saturday's Orange County Register

     If you’ve seen a flash of black and orange at your bird feeder recently, it was probably a black-headed grosbeak. Adult males sport showy black, white and burnt orange plumage in the spring while females remain relatively drab in shades of buff and brown. Grosbeaks are easily distinguishable by their large triangular bills. 
     These stocky songbirds from the cardinal family migrate this time of year from their wintering areas in Mexico to the western part of the United States to breed. The males generally migrate first so they can begin claiming a territory, with females arriving a few weeks later. 
     “It’s typical of the grosbeaks and orioles during spring migration. Males benefit from an early arrival by potentially securing a better breeding territory from which to court a female and raise young,” said naturalist Kurt Miethke of Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. He logged his first grosbeak sighting in Modjeska Canyon on March 27. 
      “There’s even a hierarchy in arrival times by age of males,” he said. “Younger males arrive 12-16 days later than the older adult males, perhaps avoiding aggressive encounters with older, more experienced males.”
      Typically, a male black-headed grosbeak does not get its bright adult plumage until it is 2 years old, although first-year male plumage can vary.
     “Generally, only the young males with adult-looking plumage will have any chance of holding a territory and breeding that year,” Miethke said.
     The black-headed grosbeak is a fairly common breeder in Orange County, particularly in the oak-sycamore woodlands, with small numbers nesting in other habitats in the lowlands, he said.
     Highly territorial males spend time foraging for food and establishing and defending territories before the females arrive. Females build the nest while the males stand guard. She generally lays three to four eggs. During incubation, males and females share nest duties equally. Both parents tend the young for about 12 days.
     Their strong bills can easily crack seeds and crush hard-bodied insects or snails. Insects, especially beetles, spiders and other animals make up the majority of their diet during the breeding season. Fruits and seeds provide additional nutrients. Berries are particularly favored during migration.
     Watch for black-headed grosbeaks at bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, and fruit and nectar feeders typically meant for orioles.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lake Forest wants gaggle of geese to get going

Redesign of Village Pond Park in Lake Forest hopes to reduce the over population of geese.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
    A story that ran in Sunday's Orange County Register read: "The overpopulation of waterfowl have created an abundance of goose feces on the grounds, and have ruined the lake’s water quality, city documents state. In an attempt to solve the problems the geese created, the city is spending an estimated $2.25 million to renovate the park using a design that discourages the abundance of geese."
   Seriously? Did the geese really cause the problem? No, of course not. People did by feeding them.

   In fairness, the story did include this : "... even with all these design elements to deter the waterfowl, success may be determined by stopping people from feeding the geese. Our passive design can only do so much,” said Perry Cardoza (president of the architectural firm hired for the redesign). “The main factor is going to be education, if people are still going to insist on feeding the ducks, than it’s going to be a very hard thing to overcome.”

   Apparently, there is a proposed city ordinance that prohibits feeding wildlife at the park. A violation of the wildlife ordinance could be considered either a misdemeanor or an infraction.  The earliest date the ordinance could go into effect was today.  More on that later...

   Teaching Point: 
   Bread, crackers, chips and other processed foods are bad for birds and other wildlife because it offers little nutritional value and may interfere with normal foraging behaviors. 
   Ducks and geese are often the unfortunate recipients of bread handouts at local parks.  They are not biologically adapted to eating processed foods and may have problems digesting it.
   Remember that ducks and geese can be aggressive especially when nesting.

   Most naturalists would agree: It's best enjoy these beautiful birds from a distance.
Happy Birding!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Migrating white-crowned sparrows

Adult white-crowned sparrows are distinguishable by their bold black and white stripes.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
A flock of white-crowned sparrows winter in my back yard every year.  They arrived at the end of September and they officially left April 11th, the same date as last year.  According to Cornell Lab, these  tend to return to the same area every year, so hopefully I'll see them again this fall along with their juveniles, which sport reddish brown stripes on top of the head. 

Most white-crown sparrows migrate to their spring breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, traveling as far as 2,600 miles.  Scientists at Cornell have documented resident white-crowned sparrows along the Pacific Coast and parts of the West that do not migrate.  Please post any sightings on eBird.

Happy Birding!