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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter grass kills birds

      Plastic grass sold for Easter baskets can be dangerous for wild birds and pets. Birds may pick up remnants left on the lawn after Easter egg hunts for their nests.  It can strangle young birds or get tangled on legs and wings.
     Dogs and cats may require surgery if they decide to eat it.
     So please choose other alternatives such as cotton batting, feathers, or leaves and twigs from your garden.  Or simply line baskets with colorful tissue paper. 
     Tweet this!
     Happy birding!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Missing my white-crowned sparrows

Adult white-crowned sparrows are easily distinguished by the bold black and white stripes.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
A flock of white-crowned sparrows winter in my back yard every year.  They arrived last year at the end of September and they officially left yesterday.  I took this photo on the last day of their visit.  According to Cornell Lab, they tend to return to the same area every year, so hopefully I'll see them again this fall. 

Most white-crown sparrows migrate to their spring breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, traveling as far as 2,600 miles.  Scientists at Cornell have documented resident white-crowned sparrows along the Pacific Coast and parts of the West that do not migrate.  Post any sightings on eBird.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Black-headed grosbeaks are back!

A female black-headed grosbeak was spotted in South Orange County.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
It must be spring!  Black-headed grosbeaks showed up in my back yard yesterday.
These beautiful songbirds breed in the spring and summer in the western United States and into the southern part of Canada.  Breeding males have a bright orange collar and underparts. Its head is black with a large gray bill. It has black wings with white patches.  The females are less colorful with dull orange underparts.  They also have a distinct white eyebrow and chin stripe, as shown above.

The males are sometimes confused with spotted towhees, which also have a black head and bright orange body.  To tell them apart, look for the grosbeaks' large triangular bill, that gives them the name.  They use those large bills to crack seeds and crush large insects such as beetles. You'll find them visiting feeders and hopping around near the brush foraging for insects.  Grosbeaks also love fruit, so don't be surprised if they visit your oriole feeder.

To attract them, offer fresh black oil sunflower seeds, millet and cracked corn. 

Happy birding!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

New books for birders arrive in time for spring

The second edition of "Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds" is a detailed reference for 670 bird species.

The newly released "Rare Birds of North America" is an illustrated guide to vagrant birds. 

In case you missed my column in yesterday's Orange County Register, here it is:

            It’s the perfect time of year to pick up a copy of “Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds,” by Paul J. Baicich & Colin J. O. Harrison.  Princeton University Press just released the second edition of this detailed reference on the breeding behavior and biology of the nesting birds on our continent.  
            If you’ve ever had a question about the type of nest built by a certain species, the number of eggs laid, or how long the babies will remain in the nest, this book will give you the answer.
            Even casual birders may find this book handy. Say you’ve seen a pair of California towhees hopping around your back yard and you’re wondering if they might nest in your shrubs.  According to Baicich and Harrison, this species begins breeding in mid-April.  The female builds a loosely constructed nest using twigs, weeds, grasses and hair in dense shrubs or small trees.  
The authors say that the female generally lays four bluish, creamy white eggs and incubates them for 14 days without help from the male.  They also state that both parents tend the young as nestlings, and that babies fledge at about 10 days but stay with the parents for 4-6 weeks.
            The book covers such details for 670 bird species and includes color illustrations of the eggs and selected nestlings.
            Serious birders who would like to understand migration and vagrancy (birds outside of their typical boundaries) might appreciate another new reference from Princeton University Press.  “Rare Birds of North America,” by Steve N.G. Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell is being touted as the first comprehensive illustrated guide to the vagrant birds that occur throughout the United States and Canada. 
It describes 262 detailed species accounts, including the Xantus's Hummingbird, a vagrant to Southern California.  The book includes color plates of each species, along with tips for identification.
            These books are available at nathist.princeton.edu and amazon.com. 

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Orioles have returned!

Hooded orioles at a feeder in Mission Viejo.  Photo by Ken Carrier
       They're back! Customers at the local Wild Birds Unlimited have reported seeing them for several weeks.
       Hooded and Bullock's orioles are the two most common species of orioles that breed in Southern California.  Both are medium-sized songbirds, about 8-inches long with slender bodies, long tail and a long, curved beak. They belong to the same family as blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds.
       Orioles nest in California during the spring and summer, then return to their winter grounds in Mexico, and Central and South America in the fall. 

Here's some tips for attracting orioles to your yard from the experts at Birds and Bloom:

  • Start early. Your best chance of attracting orioles is when they first arrive in early spring.
  • Use the same nectar recipe for orioles as you do for hummingbirds-four parts boiled water to one part sugar. Keep nectar fresh, and don’t use food coloring.
  • These birds are attracted to the color orange, so look for a sugar-water feeder specifically designed for orioles.
  • Make sure your feeder has large enough perches and drinking ports. It’s not unusual for orioles to try hummingbird feeders, but their bills are often too big. Orioles love the color and taste of oranges. Offer orange halves on a branch or feeder. Orioles will also eat grape jelly. Serve the jelly in an open dish or cup, and keep it fresh.
  • When placing the oriole feeder in your yard, think like a bird. Instead of hiding the feeder under an awning or tree, put it out in the open so the birds can see it while flying overhead.
  • Hang your feeder near a birdbath. If your bath has a bubbler, even better. Orioles love the sight and sound of moving water.
  • Put out yarn and string. Orioles and other backyard songbirds will use it for their nests.
  • If you don’t attract orioles in your first year, keep at it. It often takes several seasons to find a following.
Happy Birding!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mourning doves caught mating

The birds & the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above... 
And a thing called love...
I captured this pair of mourning doves sharing a tender moment yesterday. I took these through the window so I wouldn't disturb them. So sweet. Take a look.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Goldfinches' bright yellow announces spring is here

Two male lesser goldfinches snack on Nyjer seed as a female approaches.  Photo by J.J. Meyer  

In case you missed my column in today's Orange County Register, here it is:

             The bright yellow plumage of male goldfinches is a sure sign of spring.          
             American and lesser goldfinches are common backyard birds and year-round residents of California.  The easiest way to distinguish these species is that American goldfinches are slightly larger with pink legs, feet and bills. In lesser goldfinches these parts are black and heir bills more stout.
During breeding season, the males of both species sport brilliant yellow plumage topped off by a black cap.  The yellow extends over the backs of American goldfinches, but not in the lesser species. And the black cap covers more of the head in lesser goldfinches. The females of both species remain a dull yellow or olive. 
            Though goldfinches are one of the last species to nest, generally late summer, they are currently displaying courtship behaviors and choosing a mate.  Goldfinches fly in a bouncy, undulating pattern, often making their shrill call in flight. Goldfinches generally travel in gregarious flocks, which can be amusing to watch as they fight over a place to perch at feeders.  They can also be quite acrobatic often hanging upside down to feed.
            Giovanna Pierce said as many as 50 goldfinches have been flocking to her backyard feeders in Huntington Beach recently.  “I’ve never had this many,” she said.
            “The trick to attracting these birds is to offer fresh Nyjer seed,” she said.  “You wouldn’t think that they could tell the difference, but they go crazy for it.”
            The seed is often mistakenly referred to as thistle, though it does not come from thistle plants, but rather the African annual herb Guizotia abyssinica, which resembles a small daisy or sunflower. It’s grown in Africa and Asia as birdseed and heat-treated to prevent sprouting before entering the United States.  The Wild Bird Feeding Industry trademarked the name Nyjer in 1998.   
            Nyjer’s high fat content makes it an excellent source of nutrition for wild birds. When fresh, its color is black.  When it dries out, it turns a dull gray and has less oil content.  Birds often reject feeders with stale seed.
            “Goldfinches send out a scout to look for food,” said Diann Tomb, assistant manager of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo.  “Once they find a good food source, they let the flock know. I used to say they emailed their friends, but now I know they tweet,” she quipped.
            “If you haven’t seen them in your yard, it’s probably because you’re not offering the right food,” she said.  While their favorite feeder food is Nyjer, they also eat small pieces of shelled sunflower. 
The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common.  Planting California natives including milkweed and verbena will also attract them to your yard. 

 Happy Birding!