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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Every bird counts -- Join FeederWatch

Grab your binoculars! Cornell Lab of Ornithology's FeederWatch starts Nov. 13 and lasts until April 8. If you have birdfeeders, you're watching the birds anyway. So why not count them for science?

Sign up at FeederWatch.org to support the scientific study and conservation of birds with your observations. Your reports help scientists understand population trends and movements of our backyard birds.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

USPS Birds in Winter stamps

These newly released USPS Forever stamps will look great on this year's Christmas cards!
Order online at Birds in Winter Stamp. You can also order note cards with matching stamps.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Changing with the seasons -- Winter birds are arriving

White-crowned sparrows are among the species that spend the winter in Southern California. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Here's my latest column scheduled to run the Home & Garden Section of The Orange County Register on Saturday.  The O.C. Register

September can be bittersweet, as we say goodbye to the migratory birds that spent the summer nesting and raising their young in Southern California backyards. Many species, including hooded and Bullock’s orioles, black-chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds, black-headed grosbeaks and cliff swallows, have already begun their journey to their winter grounds in Mexico and Central America. But soon our winter residents such as yellow-rumped warblers, dark-eyed juncos and flocks of white-crowned sparrows will be arriving.

For migrant songbirds, fall is all about moving on from their nesting grounds to their fall and winter feeding territories. Many birds are long-distance travelers, including several species of hummingbirds that travel thousands of miles from the Pacific Northwest and Canada to the southern region of Mexico.

September and October are the key months for songbird migration, said Trude Hurd, Project Director of Education for Sea and Sage Audubon.

“The decrease in daylight is the primary environmental cue that signals it’s time to migrate,” Hurd said.

Shorter days indicate that fall is on the way. “Birds are sensing the change,” she said.
“Decreasing daylight can trigger what’s called a ‘false spring. The birds confuse the change in daylight with spring and begin to sing to defend their territory, but it doesn’t last long. We get calls at the Audubon House this time of year from people asking why the mockingbirds are singing.

“The breeding season is over, but you may still see young birds learning to fend for themselves,” Hurd said. The presence of juveniles can also make bird identification tricky this time of year. Many species will not display their adult plumage until after their first year.

By the beginning of September, many songbirds have started to molt, a systematic process of replacing feathers. “Molting usually kicks in after breeding because it’s very calorie-intensive activity,” she said. Many species undergo a complete molt on or near their breeding grounds, which allows them to migrate south with a new set of feathers.

This time of year, giant flocks of crows form at dusk as they head to their roosting areas for the night. At daybreak the noisy corvids return to their respective territories to feed.

The fall arrival of sharp-shinned hawks presents an additional challenge for songbirds that already cope with Cooper’s hawks as year-round residents. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, studies indicate the presence of birdfeeders won’t greatly increase a bird’s chances of being taken by a sharp-shinned hawk — the hawks get the majority of their diet elsewhere. However, the Lab suggests taking feeders down for a couple of weeks if a hawk has been a regular visitor. The hawk will move on and the songbirds will return when the feeders are replaced.

In late fall, watch for cedar waxwings and American robins that often flock together in search of food. These nomads typically arrive when native berries are ripe.

Homeowners can help migrating birds in a number of ways. “First, provide fresh water,” Hurd said. “The weather will still be hot for the next month and the Santa Ana winds kick up this time of year, which dries out the vegetation.”

Other tips include turning off outdoor lights or directing them downward. The majority of birds migrate at night, navigating with the sky. They can become disoriented when flying over cities, where they crash into buildings.

Keep cats indoors. Roaming cats kill billions of birds every year.

Break up the reflecting surface of windows by applying decals, bird tape or other window coverings.

Fall is the best time to plant native trees and plants. Birds rely on native plants for food along their migration route. It’s also the best time to trim trees.

For a plant list and information on how to create a bird-friendly garden, go to seaandsageaudubon.org.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Seeing fewer birds at your feeders?

A Cooper's Hawk visits a back yard in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer

I recently heard an alarm call from the pair of black phoebes that frequent my yard. Their chirps reserved for accipiters, or hawks that prey on small birds, are the most shrill of the calls in their repertoire. I also noticed my feeders were empty. There had to be a hawk in the area. When I turned around, I saw the Cooper's hawk on the wall.

This accipiter is found year-round in Southern California. Their numbers have grown significantly since they've adapted to urban areas, where they've found it easy to snatch a meal at backyard birdfeeders. It's part of the circle of life. But if you want to protect your songbirds, hang your feeders where they can take cover for a quick escape. Songbirds may become scarce when a hawk has been visiting regularly.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Drink shade grown coffee for the birds

Trader Joe's shade grown coffee contains Arabica beans from Nicaragua.
One of the easiest ways to help migratory birds is to buy shade-grown coffee. Why? Because habitat loss, especially tropical rainforests, have caused a decline in migratory songbird populations. And sun coffee plantations have contributed to this loss. Basically shade grown coffee benefits birds because it provides far better habitat than sun-grown monoculture coffee plantations.

This espresso blend from Trader Joe's carries the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. For information, go to Rainforest Alliance. And buy the way, it brews a great cup of coffee. 

Happy Birding!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Nectar feeder draws hooded orioles

A male hood oriole sticks its tongue out after drinking nectar. Photo by J.J. Meyer
A juvenile hooded oriole, photo taken in Mission Viejo on 8/2 by J.J. Meyer

There's been a recent flurry of activity at my oriole feeder in the past few days. At one point, there were three on the feeder and one on the hook above. I believe I'm seeing a pair and their offspring.

Hooded orioles are very distinctive. Males are easy to spot with their flashy colors. Adult males tend to be bright yellow or orange over most of their body with black wings and white wingbars, a distinctive black face and throat with a hood of orange or yellow-orange. Females are less colorful with mostly dull yellow bodies and gray wings. 

Though it may look like a different species, the second photo is of a juvenile hooded oriole. It's definitely less sleek than an adult female and has a shorter bill.

Here's a description of plumage from Cornell Labs: Juvenile plumage similar to Definitive Basic (adult) female, except wing-bars buffy and plumage duller; generally olive-brown above and pale olive-yellow below with noticeable whitish belly (unlike adult female); and less contrast between grayish flanks and remaining underparts than adult female. Body-plumage without black feathers in face or throat, and flight feathers uniformly fresh. Sexes alike in coloration, although some black feathers can occur (occasionally) on throats of hatching-year males before or during migration.

Hooded orioles are migratory and return to their wintering grounds in Mexico, and Central and South America in early September. 

Happy birding!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Help birds beat the heat

A mourning dove visits a fountain in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer

             Southern California is heading into another heat wave with temperatures expected to be in the 90s for most of the week. People can crank up the air conditioner, but how do birds beat the heat?
              Birds have several physiological and behavioral adaptations to help them maintain a constant body temperature of 105 to 107 degrees. Scientists refer to this mechanism as thermoregulation.
Without sweat glands, birds can’t perspire like humans, nor do they pant like dogs. Instead, birds open their bills to expose their mucous membranes to the air, which sends cooler air into their air sacs. They also flutter their throats in a form of avian panting called “gular fluttering.” 
It’s also common to see birds sitting with open wings, which circulates air next to their bodies.  Some species are known to spread their wings to shade their nestlings from the sun. Female hummingbirds will beat their wings over their nests to cool their eggs or hatchlings. 
Birds sleek down their feathers to avoid trapping air next to their skin when the environment is too warm. And like many other species, birds become less active in the heat, retreating to the shade where they can hide and cool off. 
Help our fine feathered friends by keeping your birdbath filled with clean water. 
Happy birding!