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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Band-tailed pigeons are large but not in charge

A chunky body, white ring on nape and yellow bill and feet help distinguish the band-tailed pigeon from other species. Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you missed my story in today's Orange County Register, here it is:

             Roger DuPlessis has recorded 53 different bird species that have visited his back yard since he began birding about 22 years ago. 
             “Not bad for a little 30-by-30 foot yard in residential Irvine,” DuPlessis said.
            Of all his avian visitors, his favorite is the band-tailed pigeon. It’s also one of the largest birds that have visited his yard.  Though they’ve been scarce lately, he said “five came like clockwork every morning and evening last spring and summer.”  The group included three adults and two juveniles.
He still tosses seed on the ground for them daily in hope they’ll return.
Though band-tailed pigeons are larger than most feeder birds and often travel in flocks, they’re not recognized as a threat so the smaller birds are not scared off, he said.
These large pigeons can measure up to 15.7 inches in length, which is slightly larger than a rock pigeon, but smaller than an American crow. They have stocky bodies with small heads; long, rounded tails with a wide pale band at the tip; pointed wings; a dark-tipped yellow bill and yellow feet and legs.  Though their plumage is pale gray overall, a purplish sheen is noticeable on the head and breast. A narrow, white band on its neck is absent in juveniles. They resemble rock pigeons in flight.
Though related, band-tailed pigeons are easy to distinguish from mourning doves because of their size.  Band-tailed pigeons are from the family Columbidae, which includes doves and pigeons.  They are strong, fast fliers, and tend to travel in large flocks in search of nuts, fruits, and seeds on the ground and in trees.  Their call is a slow one- or two-syllable coo, which can sound somewhat like an owl.
These birds can be found in oak or oak-conifer woodlands in the Southwest, but are becoming increasingly common in suburban residential areas.  They are year-round residents in California. Band-tailed pigeons that breed along the northern Pacific coast usually migrate to central California or farther south in the fall, while most individuals from the Southwest move south of the Mexican border.
Band-tailed pigeons are occasionally referred to as the “blue rock,” because of the blue-gray hue of its back and its resemblance to the closely related rock pigeon. The two species are similar in size, posture, movements and behavior. While the rock pigeon is a widespread introduced species, the band-tailed pigeon is native to western North America.
Band-tailed pigeons are attracted to berry bushes and fruit trees.  You can attract them to your yard by tossing white millet or sunflower chips on the ground. These birds can be somewhat skittish around people. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rare bird alert: Olive-backed Pipit

In the news from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology today:

This Olive-backed Pipit, the 2nd for California, has delighted hundreds of birders at Yorba Regional Park, Orange Co., CA, on Nov. 2. This photograph was taken by BJ Stacey.  

To see more photos and bird list go to eBird checklist.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Serve millet to attract ground feeders

White-crowned sparrow   Photo by J.J. Meyer

Millet eaters have moved back to Southern California for the winter.  If you're not offering millet, you may miss out on some wonderful visitors, such as white-crowned sparrows.

White millet is an easy-to-open, small round seed packed with carbohydrates. It's the preferred seed for many ground-feeding birds, including juncos, doves, quail, towhees and native sparrows.  Millet often comes in wild bird seed mixes. When placed in a feeder, perching birds tend to kick it to the ground while searching for their preferred seed: black oil sunflower. But the ground-feeders are happy to clean it up.

You can purchase bags of millet at nature and pet stores to use in a tray feeder or spread on the ground. Choose white proso millet over the red or golden millet.  But don't confuse white millet with spray millet, which is seed still on the stalk generally sold for caged birds.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Steller's jays, Northern flickers and mountain quail

Steller's jays and Northern flickers are common around Lake Tahoe. Photos by J.J. Meyer

My husband and I traveled to Lake Tahoe for a wedding last weekend. We didn't have much time for birding, but I managed to get a few shots of Steller's jays and mountain quail from the balcony of our hotel which looked out at the woods. The Northern flicker happened to be poking around in the grass in front of the clubhouse where the wedding was held.

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Whooo has owl sounds for Halloween?

What a hoot!

You can download eight owl calls for Halloween from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. Just log on and sign in to download the vocalizations of the great horned owl, Eastern screech-owl, Western screech-owl, long-eared owl, short-eared owl, snowy owl, barn owl and barred owl. Listening to these calls can help birders recognize these species that are often heard but not seen.

My personal favorite is the great horned owl duet! 

The owl sounds can also be used as ringtones if your device accepts MP3s (although you must download them to your computer before you can play them on your phone).

To download, go to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
Look for the above banner.

Happy Birding!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Plant natives in the fall

Photo from Back to Natives Restoration
Back to Natives Restoration, a local Orange County non-profit group, suggests drought-tolerant plants for local gardens. Many attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

The Penstemon spectabilis, or showy Penstemon, shown above, is a perennial native to coastal Southern California. Hummingbirds love its iridescent purple-blue flowers that bloom in the spring. Plant it in full sun and water as little as 4-inches a year once it's established. 

Plant natives in the fall or winter so they become acclimated. During the summer give the plant a little water in the early morning to encourage blooming and to keep natives from going dormant.

For more native plant selections, go to Back to Natives Restoration.

Happy Birding!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gone bird: A story of how 5 billion passenger pigeons vanished

   In case you missed my column in Saturday's O.C. Register, here it is: 

     The story of the demise of the passenger pigeon reads like fiction. How could a species that once existed in the billions with flocks that blackened the skies across North America in the beginning of the 19th century be gone from the wild by the century’s end?
     “The Passenger Pigeon” by Errol Fuller (Princeton University Press; $29.95) tells the story. It’s been 100 years since the species became extinct. The timing of the book’s release last month marked the anniversary of the death of Martha, the last surviving passenger pigeon, who lived alone in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo until her death on Sept. 1, 1914. Her remains are on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
     Fuller, a leading extinctions scholar, writes that his book was not intended as a textbook but rather as a memorial to a species that once was important to the ecology of North America and to bring awareness to just how fragile nature can be.
    “The Passenger Pigeon” details the species, its biology and its demise using illustrations, photographs, ornithological journals and historical accounts. According to the author, the passenger pigeon was a superb long-distance flier with strong muscles and aerodynamic wings built for speed.
They were nomadic birds in constant search of food. While the passenger pigeon resembled the much smaller mourning dove, DNA analysis suggests that its nearest relatives are within the genus of pigeons that includes the band-tailed pigeon.
     The book describes shocking tales of shooting and trapping thousands of birds daily over decades.  Overhunting the pigeons for their meat and feathers, along with the destruction of the forests the birds relied on for food and nesting, were among the contributing factors that led to extinction of the species.
      Fuller includes quotes about passenger pigeons from Mark Twain and John James Audubon.
      Beautifully illustrated, this easy-to-read book will appeal to anyone who wishes to understand the concept of extinction.