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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Praying mantises pose a threat to small birds worldwide

A praying mantis kills a hummingbird in San Juan Capistrano.  Photo by Kris Okamoto
Zoologist Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel, Switzerland contacted me after my story about praying mantises killing hummingbirds ran in the Orange County Register on February 15, 2014.  He was studying this problem and asked to contact the photographer, Kris Okamoto from San Juan Capistrano.  He received permission to use the photo as part of his scientific research published on July 4, 2017 in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
Original Source: 
Martin Nyffeler, Michael R. Maxwell, J. V. Remsen, Jr.
Bird predation by praying mantises: a global perspective
The Wilson Journal of Ornithology (2017) 129(2): 331-344 | DOI: 10.1676/16-100.1

 A study by zoologists from Switzerland and the United States shows: praying mantises all over the globe also include birds in their diet. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology has just published the results.
Praying mantises are carnivorous insects with powerful raptorial front legs that usually depend on arthropods such as insects or spiders as their primary prey. Rather infrequently, they have also been witnessed eating small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, salamanders or snakes. A new study by the zoologists Martin Nyffeler (University of Basel), Mike Maxwell (National University, La Jolla, California), and James Van Remsen (Louisiana State University) now shows that praying mantises all over the world also kill and eat small birds.

Feeding on birds is a global pattern

The researchers gathered and documented numerous examples of bird-eating mantises. In a systematic review, they were able to show that praying mantises from twelve species and nine genera have been observed preying on small birds in the wild. This remarkable feeding behavior has been documented in 13 different countries, on all continents except Antarctica. There is also great diversity in the victims: birds from 24 different species and 14 families were found to be the prey of mantises. “The fact that eating of birds is so widespread in praying mantises, both taxonomically as well as geographically speaking, is a spectacular discovery," comments Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel and lead author of the study.

Praying mantises pose a threat to small birds

The researchers assembled 147 documented cases of this feeding behavior from all over the world. However, more than 70 percent were reported in the US, where praying mantises often capture birds at hummingbird feeders or plants pollinated by hummingbirds in house gardens. Consequently, hummingbirds make up the vast majority of birds killed by praying mantises, with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) being a particularly frequent victim.

Decades ago, several alien species of large mantises (e.g., Mantis religiosa and Tenodera sinensis) were released across North America as biological pest control agents. These imported species now constitute a new potential threat to hummingbirds and small passerine birds. However, there are also large native mantises that prey on birds. “Our study shows the threat mantises pose to some bird populations. Thus, great caution is advised when releasing mantises for pest control,” says Nyffeler.

Further information
PD Dr. Martin Nyffeler, University of Basel, Department of Environmental Sciences, Tel. +41 61 702 07 03, email: martin.nyffeler@unibas.ch

Thursday, July 13, 2017

When birds take up residence in your yard

A mourning dove and its nestling on a window ledge in Mission Viejo.  Photo by J.J. Meyer 
Here's my latest column scheduled to run in the Orange County Register on Saturday. 

Summer is a busy time for birds. Many species are still nesting and raising their families.

Certain bird behaviors can be clues of a nest nearby. When birds are in the nest-building phase, you might see them gathering materials, such as twigs and dried grasses. You might witness them flying in and out of a particular spot in a bush or tree, often perching nearby first to watch for predators. The sound of noisy nestlings begging to be fed can also point to a nest.

So now that you’ve spotted it, what should you do?

“Keep your distance, use binoculars,” said Nancy Kenyon, local Sea and Sage Audubon chapter board member and newsletter editor. When birds are nesting near your house, the key is to minimize the disturbance, she said.

“The parents won’t feed the babies if you’re around. You’re keeping them from the nest.”

Being in close proximity to a nest can also tip predators to its location.

“Don’t draw any attention to it,” Kenyon said. “We have problems at the marsh with some photographers. They want to get that close shot of a nest, but when they leave, the crows come in and rob it.”

Depending upon the species, some birds will let you know when you’ve ventured too close. Some parents produce alarm calls, signaling to their young to remain quiet.

Killdeer, a shorebird found at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, display a broken-wing performance to lead predators away from their nest. “At first you may wonder what’s wrong with that poor bird, but it’s just an act to get a predator to follow it,” Kenyon said.

Other birds take a more direct approach to defending their nests.

“Brewer’s blackbirds are nesting in various shopping centers in Irvine now,” she said. “If you get too close, they will attack you.”

Raptors, such as owls and hawks, are particularly known for displaying aggressive behavior when defending their nests against perceived threats.

A nesting hawk at the Orange Tree Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, prompted course officials to post caution signs earlier this year.  Members carried umbrellas and altered their walking paths to avoid getting struck in the head with sharp talons.

A barred owl with a nasty disposition earned the name of “Owlcapone” for its repeated attacks on joggers in a Salem, Oregon, park two years ago. Several people received cuts and scrapes on their heads from the talons of the large owl.

Even hummingbirds are known to fly directly at the face of a person who gets too close to its nest.

Kenyon suggests keeping dogs and cats indoors during the nesting period and delaying tree trimming until September. Ask gardeners to avoid the area of an active nest. She also recommends leaving nests in place for the duration of the breeding season, since some species will reuse a previous nest.

Many birds return to the same area to nest year after year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The swallows are slowly returning to San Juan Capistrano

Cliff swallows are nesting in the East Corridor near the Serra Chapel entry, and rough-winged swallows have been spotted nesting in the ruins of the Great Stone Church.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is known around the world for the swallows.

The migratory birds are said to return to the area every March 19.

Mission specialist Megan Dukett said even though some of the swallow legend is based in myth, it has stuck around for nearly 100 years.

"Birds don't adhere to a human calendar, but they do tend to come back every spring," she said.

The famous birds are even the subject of the hit 1940s Bing Crosby song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano."

But even though visitors will find painted swallows on signs and buildings throughout the town, the swallow population has dwindled down to zero over the last 30 years.

"They've been in the area, just not nesting here," Dukett said.

So how do you lure the swallows back to the mission? Well you play their favorite song. For the last five years, researchers have been playing swallow songs on speakers to bring them back.

The mission folks have also built fake nests to help the swallows find a home instead of having to spend two to three weeks building a nest out of other materials.

There's been good news with the efforts. Dukett said she was walking the mission grounds and noticed one swallow and then found a mud nest.

The swallows have brought in the attention of tourists and if you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of baby swallows. For each nest, there can be up to four hatchlings.

The hatchlings could kick-start a cycle that can bring hundreds of swallows back to the mission.

See a video at ABC 7

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Your hummingbirds called, they want fresh nectar

Dish-style feeders are easy to clean.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

When temperatures are in the 90s, we need to clean and replace the nectar in our hummingbird feeders daily.  The sugar solution can ferment in a day when it's extremely hot, putting the tiny birds at risk for fungal infections.

Experts at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center ask homeowners to do it right, or please don't do it at all. Here's a link with instructions for cleaning feeders and making nectar: Orange County Register.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bird rehabilitator will migrate from Orange County

Susan Doggett
I had the opportunity to interview Doggett about crows in 2013, find In Defense of Crows in my list of stories to the right. 

 This story ran in the O.C. Register on June 5, 2017. By

After nearly four decades spent rehabilitating hundreds of injured birds a year in her Orange home, the city’s “bird lady,” Susan Doggett, is migrating to Twentynine Palms.

Since her husband of 23 years, Brett Doggett died in October 2014, Doggett said she has struggled financially and the time has come to move.

The house she’ll soon be leaving has seen some interesting times – Doggett said she has had loons in her bathtub, pelicans in her pool and a peregrine falcon in the garage. Even as she scrambles to prepare for her upcoming move, Doggett is still attending to dozens of birds, including four baby crows in her bathroom.

The remaining birds, including elderly education birds she uses for talks at schools and wildlife facilities about once a month, will be tagging along to her new digs – a ranch miles away from civilization.

Chirps and talking birds can be heard from her doorstep, both from aviaries in her back yard and from birds sharing space through the home.

Doggett studied biology for seven years before leaving medical school to work with animals through the Department of Fish and Wildlife, starting her down her path as a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

All day long, a landline phone rings. Doggett  is one of a few wildlife rehabilitation volunteers in Orange County listed on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Most of the calls are people looking for advice, but when someone has a bird they’re certain is injured, Doggett stands ready to receive it. Over the years, she’s tended to owls, ravens, crows, hawks, falcons, vultures and much more.

When she takes in a new bird, Doggett said she can tell from their eyes if they’ve given up on life or if they’re desperate to survive. If the bird is willing to fight, she said she is as well.
When nursing her birds, Doggett takes a no-nonsense approach – they aren’t pets and she doesn’t name them.

“You don’t interact with them, you don’t scratch them on the head, you don’t say ‘Hi, how are you,’” Dogget said. “I’m not their friend. I’m the biggest predator they’ll ever meet. I don’t want them to trust me, I want them to trust each other.”

Moving on
Doggett is set say goodbye to Orange County on June 15. By then, she needs to pack up her home and prepare the dozens of birds she’s still watching over for the trip. She’s hoping to get help.
The world just isn’t the same without her husband around, Doggett said. She keeps a good sense of humor about life, but she said she’s been through some rough times.

Even so, Doggett said she has no regrets about the path she’s walked.
She’s kept caring for injured birds through her heartbreak and financial struggles for the moment when they are set free, she said, knowing a bird is going back to nature when it may well have otherwise died.
Sometimes a bird will squawk what sounds like a “thank you,” she said. Sometimes they’ll circle her head before taking off, and sometimes they’ll just poop on her shoulder. Sometimes Doggett beams a smile, and sometimes she cries.

“Life is up and down for all of us. If it were all up, it’d be boring as heck. If it was all down, you probably wouldn’t even want to be here,” she said. “For most of us, it’s kind of a roller coaster ride.
“The animals keep me focused on the bigger picture of what’s more important than the issues I might have. They don’t have an advocate, they can’t speak for themselves. They need someone who cares about them and is willing to sacrifice for them.”

What to do if you find an injured bird
Susan Doggett, who is among the wildlife rehabilitators the state Fish and Wildlife department lists for Orange County, offers the following tips if you discover an injured bird:

1. Make sure the bird is actually injured. Is something drooping or bleeding? Is anything out of alignment? Is the bird laying on its side or its back? Is the bird in harm’s way? If not, taking the bird could cause more harm than good.
2. If the bird is definitely injured, place it in a box with a soft towel or T-shirt to keep it safe and contact a facility that can care for it. A list of local rehabilitaters can be found at wildlife.ca.gov.
3. Poke air holes in a box before you put the bird inside.
4. Don’t give the bird any food or water, and don’t trust the Internet for advice on nutrition. Always ask an expert first.
5. If the bird appears to be young and healthy, you should probably leave it be. Baby birds can take hours to weeks to learn to fly, depending on the species. While learning, a baby might hide in a bush near their nest. About half of birds will give up on living, refuse to eat and die from the stress of captivity and being removed from their family.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary celebrates Summerfest this weekend

A tufted titmouse at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon is one of my favorite birding spots. For a species list, go to Birds at Tucker Wildlife. 

The nature center will kick off summer next weekend with Summerfest: two days of nature, art, food, wine and music. Artists, photographers and other vendors including my friends from Wild Birds Unlimited from Mission Viejo, will be there selling nature-related items. While you're there, you can also purchase bird-friendly California Native Plants. 

Summerfest runs Saturday and Sunday, June 3 & 4, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For directions, go to Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mourning doves aren't picky with nest sites

A bicycle helmet worked well as a make-shift nest.
Thank you to reader Diane M. who shared her photo and story about a mourning dove:

"After observing this mama dove flying desperately around our yard looking for a place to lay her egg, my husband decided to help her out.  He took an old bike helmet and strapped it to a plant holder about 6 feet up.  He had noticed she was attempting to make a nest in this area but in a very small flower pot.  We were surprised when she actually used the helmet!! It only took her a couple days to find it and use it!!  Very smart!  She filled it with her own twigs and nesting materials.  It's a good size - big enough for mom and baby!"

Mourning doves are prolific nesters, producing up to six broods a year. The female generally lays two eggs per clutch. The male assists with nest building, incubation and feeding the young.

The nest is a flimsy assembly of pine needles, twigs and grass stems. The nest is unlined with little insulation for the young. Over 2 to 4 days, the male carries twigs to the female, passing them to her while standing on her back.  The female weaves them into a nest about 8 inches across. These birds often reuse their own or other species’ nests.

Mourning doves are seemingly unbothered by people and often nest in gutters, eaves or hanging baskets on porches and patios.

Happy Birding!