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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Go natural when helping nesting birds

A colorful but deadly nest made from Easter grass. Photo by Sue Bulger
Here's my next column, scheduled to run on Saturday in the Orange County Register's Home & Garden section:

It’s nesting season, and birds are busy collecting building materials. Unfortunately, they sometimes find man-made objects, which they weave into their nests with deadly consequences.

One of the worst culprits is plastic Easter grass. The problem arises when birds’ legs or feet become tangled in the long, stringy plastic. With no way to escape, trapped birds die in the nest.

Sadly, Easter grass is only one of the many dangerous materials birds find.

Susan Bulger, who has been a nest monitor with the Southern California Bluebird Club for 17 years, has seen it all: discarded kite string, ribbon, fishing line, yarn, dental floss, shredded strips from baseballs, strings of frayed tarp and even streams of audiotape.

Bulger found silver Mylar ribbon in five of the 12 nest boxes she had been monitoring in a local cemetery. “I was surprised that the shiny strings were so attractive to the birds.” Removing it was very tedious and time-consuming, she said. “I had to wonder how many other species’ nests were dangerously decorated high up in the trees.”

Other bluebird nest monitors have reported rescuing adult females that were entangled in the nest while sitting on eggs. One monitor found a dead chick with a wad of Easter grass down its throat. Many others have found dead bluebird chicks trapped in the nest box by string or hanging from a box by a leg.

Well-meaning homeowners often put out items they think the birds can use for nesting such as strips of cloth, yarn and dryer lint. All of these hold moisture, keeping a nest too wet. In addition, yarn can unravel and the birds can easily get caught in even short strands that are woven into the nest. Dryer lint also holds moisture, and when it does dry out, it becomes hard and crumbly. It can also contain human hair, which acts like string or fishing line to trap birds.

If you want to help the birds, stick to natural materials, Bulger said. “Many of our yards are too well groomed,” she said. “Most of the natural materials such as twigs and grass clippings can be left on the ground, which is exactly what they need for nests.”

Starlyn Howard, a wildlife rehabilitator at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, was called out to rescue a young kingbird. Its nest mates had fledged and perched nearby with the parents in attendance. “But when this one fledging tried to fly out, he ended up hanging from his leg that was wrapped in string. We had to climb up, unwind the string from around his ankle and free him,” she said.

“So I guess the moral of the story is that I am not a big fan of putting out material for birds to use for nesting,” Howard said. “I don't think they need our help, they know what to use.”

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ban plastic Easter grass

Did you know that plastic Easter grass kills birds? Birds' legs and feet can become tangled in the long strips when it is woven into their nests. Many birds die each year by being trapped in the nest by this man-made material. 

This year, consider using recyclable tissue paper or strips of colored paper, such as the comic section of the newspaper, to line baskets. Colorful cloth napkins and dishtowels can be reused from year to year. Or go natural with hay, straw, leaves or sprigs from the garden.

Thank you.
And Happy Birding!

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.

Tweet this!
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!