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

Friday, March 24, 2017

California towhees: will perch for food

An uncommon sight: A California towhee visits a feeder in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Towhees are no strangers to platform feeders, but they don't typically land on a perch. That's because towhees are ground feeders. They perform what I like to call the "towhee two-step," which involves a hop, scratch, scratch. So I was surprised to see one perched awkwardly at my seed feeder. Granted, it didn't stay long. 

California towhees have short, rounded wings, long tails, and short, conical bills. They're about nine inches from the tip of the bill to the end of its tail and are uniformly matte brown with a reddish patch under the tail. Males are indistinguishable from females.

They're common year-round residents throughout most of California. Entice them to your yard by sprinkling millet or sunflower seeds on the ground.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Are the swallows still returning to Mission San Juan Capistrano?

Cliff Swallows Presentations by Dr. Charles Brown
1:00 & 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 19, 2017

Get an up-to-date report on the cliff swallows from Dr. Charles Brown, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Tulsa. Dr. Brown has been the official consulting expert on the swallows for Mission San Juan Capistrano since 2010.

He will give two presentations at the Swallows Nest Reenactment Exhibit at 1:00 and 1:30 p.m.
The chance to meet Dr. Brown and book signing opportunities will be available at 2:00 p.m. at the Mission Store Outpost in the Sala Building.

Happy birding!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Bird activity means spring is coming

Mourning doves display courtship behaviors. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Here's my next column, scheduled to run Saturday in the Orange County Register's Home & Garden section. 

            It may still be winter according to the calendar, but birds are displaying signs that the season is changing.
            We often associate nesting with the springtime, but many species start the process earlier.
             “Resident species get a jump on migratory birds when it comes to the breeding cycle,” said naturalist and area bird specialist Kurt Miethke. The reason, he said, is that there will be more competition for food and nest sites when migratory birds arrive.
Many songbirds have started to sing to attract mates and establish territory.
One of the most distinguishable sounds comes from male mourning doves, which have recently begun to coo. Unmated males generally puff up their necks and coo from a conspicuous perch in an attempt to attract a female. The call, referred to as an “advertising call,” is a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos.
Mourning doves are prolific nesters, he said. Estimates of their population range from 100 to 475 million in North America.
            “The secret to their success is that they have a prolonged breeding season,” Miethke said. “They begin early and can have up to six broods a year.”
Other songbirds including house wrens and Western bluebirds have already been searching for nest sites.  Males generally scout for suitable locations with the female making the final choice.
When a male house wren finds a cavity or nest box, he’ll often place a small twig and other nesting materials inside to claim it. “He’s attempting to show females that he’s a good provider, then he sings like crazy and shows off,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a man flexing his muscles.”
Hummingbirds nest throughout the winter in Southern California, starting as early as the end of November. So a female hummingbird currently seen with spider webs in its bill could be building or repairing its nest for the second brood of the season.  
Our resident red-tailed hawks can be seen performing aerial displays for courtship and pair bonding. They typically begin laying eggs in late February, he said. Other raptor residents include barn owls and great horned owls, which also begin nesting during the winter months.
Visit some of our local ponds and you may see various species of waterfowl displaying interesting courtship behaviors. Ruddy ducks for example, engage in head bobbing while producing some amusing calls. “They puff and parade around, evidence that they’re coming into the season.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lecture: Hummingbirds in your garden -- March 4

Monique Rae feeds orphaned nestlings a special protein solution.
Hummingbird rehabilitation specialist Monique Rea will present "Jewels of Nature: Hummingbirds in Your Garden," 8:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday, March 4 at Wild Birds Unlimited, 24451 Alicia Parkway, Suite 9 B, Mission Viejo.

Rea will discuss hummingbird behavior, rescue techniques and how to attract these sparkling jewels to your garden.  She's busy this time of year caring for injured and orphaned hummingbirds. Since babies require feeding every 20 minutes, so she often brings them with her.

Reservations are required for the lecture, call 949-472-4928.

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Happy Birding!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Owls, hawks and falcons, oh my!


If you've ever wanted to get up close and personal with raptors, check out the falconry experience offered by Adam's Falconry Service on Groupon. For an hour, you'll learn about these incredible birds of prey, watch a demonstration and then glove up for a hands-on encounter.

A truly great experience for an owlaholic like myself. 

Here's the story from Groupon:

Adam's Falconry Service began as a way to use bred and trained raptors control wild-bird populations at beaches, vineyards, landfills, and other places where concentrated avian infestations proved hazardous to human heath. Of course, such a business model requires well-trained birds, and well-trained birds provide a unique opportunity for people to interact with the predators of the sky. During one-hour experiences, the master falconers help visitors learn more about falcons and hawks, hold the birds, and see the hunters in action.

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Great, Old Bird

Ten-year-old California Towhee banded at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County.

Reprinted from the Audubon California website:

You never know what you're going to find when you're banding birds.

Last week at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary, we came across a recaptured California Towhee that is at least 10 years old. This individual was originally banded in December 2008. It's a little battered, but for such an old bird, it is in fantastic shape. Let's hope it is getting ready to breed and perhaps we'll be lucky enough to catch it again next year.

The oldest California Towhee on record was just over 12 years old.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Create a haven for songbirds

Northern mockingbirds are attracted to berry-producing plants and shrubs. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Here's my next column, scheduled to appear in the Orange County Register on Saturday, Jan. 28. 

      Open spaces provide areas for certain species of birds to forage for food. But it can also spell danger. Layering tall, medium and low plants throughout the yard allows birds to take cover when they need it.
      “Planting trees, shrubs and vines in different heights will make your yard more attractive to birds,” said Toni Bancroft, assistant manager of Armstrong Garden Center in Laguna Niguel. “The plants provide food, shelter and places to nest.”
      Trees that invite birds include the Western Redbud, which produces vibrant magenta blossoms in the spring. Many species eat the seeds, while others tap the nectar of the flowers. Dense conifers provide hideaways for the birds, protecting them from wind and rain, as well as an escape from predators. Finches, pine siskins, chickadees and woodpeckers eat the seeds from the pine cones and glean insects from the bark. Oaks produce acorns, an important food source for California scrub jays and woodpeckers.
      California native plants are particularly important because they are closely tied to the needs of the birds in our area, Bancroft explained. Having a diversity of these plants in your backyard habitat will attract a diversity of birds.
      Penstemon, salvia, Lion’s Tail, cape honeysuckle, aloe and milkweed are just a few of the nectar-producing plants for hummingbirds, she said.
      If you’re trying to entice goldfinches, let flowering plants go to seed. The diet of American and lesser goldfinches consists almost entirely of seed. Some bird enthusiasts claim they’re attracted to the color yellow, so add sunflowers, black-eyed Susan and goldenrod if you want goldfinches to flock to your yard. Thistle, grasses and weedy plants are also a draw for these showy birds.
      Birds are beneficial to gardens. “They can be nature’s pest control,” she said.
Don’t be so quick to rake up every leaf in your yard. Insect-eaters, including California towhees and Bewick’s wrens scratch around in piles of leaves to forage for food.
      Fruit-producing natives that grow well in our climate include California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, wild strawberry, California coffeeberry, California grapes, Western serviceberry and toyon, a small evergreen shrub also known as Christmas berry or California holly.
      Winter berry-producing native shrubs provide sustenance for year-round species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers and Northern mockingbirds. Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings.
       If you plant blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and boysenberries for food, you’re likely to be sharing them with the birds. Mylar tape, similar to that used in vineyards, can be effective in scaring birds away from the berries until you’re ready to share the crop.
       Armstrong Garden Centers offers free garden classes at all of its Orange County locations, except the Irvine outlet. “Growing Your Own Berries” will be the next topic at 9 a.m. Feb. 4. Workshops on bird gardening are offered periodically. For a schedule of upcoming events, go to armstronggarden.com. No registration is needed.