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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Showy birds breed in Orange County

A male black-headed grosbeak claims a territory along the Barano Walk Trail in Mission Viejo. Photo by Anthony Gliozzo

Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in Saturday's Orange County Register

     If you’ve seen a flash of black and orange at your bird feeder recently, it was probably a black-headed grosbeak. Adult males sport showy black, white and burnt orange plumage in the spring while females remain relatively drab in shades of buff and brown. Grosbeaks are easily distinguishable by their large triangular bills. 
     These stocky songbirds from the cardinal family migrate this time of year from their wintering areas in Mexico to the western part of the United States to breed. The males generally migrate first so they can begin claiming a territory, with females arriving a few weeks later. 
     “It’s typical of the grosbeaks and orioles during spring migration. Males benefit from an early arrival by potentially securing a better breeding territory from which to court a female and raise young,” said naturalist Kurt Miethke of Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. He logged his first grosbeak sighting in Modjeska Canyon on March 27. 
      “There’s even a hierarchy in arrival times by age of males,” he said. “Younger males arrive 12-16 days later than the older adult males, perhaps avoiding aggressive encounters with older, more experienced males.”
      Typically, a male black-headed grosbeak does not get its bright adult plumage until it is 2 years old, although first-year male plumage can vary.
     “Generally, only the young males with adult-looking plumage will have any chance of holding a territory and breeding that year,” Miethke said.
     The black-headed grosbeak is a fairly common breeder in Orange County, particularly in the oak-sycamore woodlands, with small numbers nesting in other habitats in the lowlands, he said.
     Highly territorial males spend time foraging for food and establishing and defending territories before the females arrive. Females build the nest while the males stand guard. She generally lays three to four eggs. During incubation, males and females share nest duties equally. Both parents tend the young for about 12 days.
     Their strong bills can easily crack seeds and crush hard-bodied insects or snails. Insects, especially beetles, spiders and other animals make up the majority of their diet during the breeding season. Fruits and seeds provide additional nutrients. Berries are particularly favored during migration.
     Watch for black-headed grosbeaks at bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, and fruit and nectar feeders typically meant for orioles.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lake Forest wants gaggle of geese to get going

Redesign of Village Pond Park in Lake Forest hopes to reduce the over population of geese.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
    A story that ran in Sunday's Orange County Register read: "The overpopulation of waterfowl have created an abundance of goose feces on the grounds, and have ruined the lake’s water quality, city documents state. In an attempt to solve the problems the geese created, the city is spending an estimated $2.25 million to renovate the park using a design that discourages the abundance of geese."
   Seriously? Did the geese really cause the problem? No, of course not. People did by feeding them.

   In fairness, the story did include this : "... even with all these design elements to deter the waterfowl, success may be determined by stopping people from feeding the geese. Our passive design can only do so much,” said Perry Cardoza (president of the architectural firm hired for the redesign). “The main factor is going to be education, if people are still going to insist on feeding the ducks, than it’s going to be a very hard thing to overcome.”

   Apparently, there is a proposed city ordinance that prohibits feeding wildlife at the park. A violation of the wildlife ordinance could be considered either a misdemeanor or an infraction.  The earliest date the ordinance could go into effect was today.  More on that later...

   Teaching Point: 
   Bread, crackers, chips and other processed foods are bad for birds and other wildlife because it offers little nutritional value and may interfere with normal foraging behaviors. 
   Ducks and geese are often the unfortunate recipients of bread handouts at local parks.  They are not biologically adapted to eating processed foods and may have problems digesting it.
   Remember that ducks and geese can be aggressive especially when nesting.

   Most naturalists would agree: It's best enjoy these beautiful birds from a distance.
Happy Birding!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Migrating white-crowned sparrows

Adult white-crowned sparrows are distinguishable by their 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 at the end of September and they officially left April 11th, the same date as last year.  According to Cornell Lab, these  tend to return to the same area every year, so hopefully I'll see them again this fall along with their juveniles, which sport reddish brown stripes on top of the head. 

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.  Please post any sightings on eBird.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Orioles are back! It must be spring.

A female hooded oriole visits a feeder in Mission Viejo.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

Hooded and Bullock's orioles are the two most common species of orioles that breed in Southern California. Both are medium-size songbirds, about 8-inches long with slender bodies, long tail and a long, slightly curved beak.

Orioles are a favorite among backyard birders because of their bright colors. Adult males tend to be bright yellow or orange over most of their body with black wings and white wingbars. Females are less colorful with mostly dull yellow bodies and gray wings. Male hooded orioles have a distinctive black face and throat with a hood of orange or yellow-orange while the Bullock's species can be differentiated by a black cap and eyeline.

Hooded orioles are often spotted along the California coast because fan palms are a favorite nesting site.  You can attract them to your yard with nectar, fruit and jelly, though they tend to be extremely skittish around people. 

Happy Birding!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

O.C. bird blogger photographs rare species

Anthony Gliozzo searches for the Lincoln sparrow along the Barano Walk Trail in Mission Viejo where the species has recently  been spotted.   Photo by J.J. Meyer   
In case you missed my column in today's O.C. Register, here it is:
Professional photographer Anthony Gliozzo calls himself an avid birder.  But until a few years ago, the native New Yorker’s focus was rock bands instead of rock wrens.
After moving to South Orange County his interest in photography changed.  He purchased a 400mm f/5.6 Canon L series lens and captured a close-up image of a merlin—a small, fast-flying falcon—along the Barano Walk Trail in Mission Viejo.
 “My eyes were opened that day,” Gliozzo said.  “I realized that I was missing out on one of the more beautiful and dynamic creatures in our environment: birds. Since then, I’ve been continuously researching the various avian species that visit Orange County.”
He combined more than 30 years of photography experience with a background in IT to develop ocbirds.com.  He started the site a year ago to help new and intermediate birders identify both common and rare species found in the area and to list the hotspots for locating these birds.  
With a life list that’s approaching 300 different species, Gliozzo’s favorites include the Lincoln’s sparrow, which is similar to the song sparrow but not here year-round, the hard to find but sociable rock wren, the California thrasher because of its unique bill, the hermit thrush for its call and the phainopepla for its beauty and song.
As a birder, he uses tools of the trade including eBird and follows the rare bird reports that are emailed to him daily.  These allow him to chase sightings of rare vagrants, those species found out of their normal range, and unusual migratory birds, which can be found in our area seasonally as they fly north and south along the Pacific Flyway.  
Among these was a zone-tailed hawk spotted recently in Limestone Canyon. This rare winter visitor flies remarkably similar to a turkey vulture, which keeps prey from recognizing it.  Other reports sent him in search of a bay-breasted warbler near the Oso Creek Trail in Mission Viejo and a winter wren in Huntington Beach Central Park.  He was also among the 400 birders who flocked to Yorba Regional Park in Anaheim last fall to see an extremely rare olive-backed pipit.
He recommends the following hot spots for birding in Orange County: The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach Central Park and the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Birding tips and details of each location are described on his website.
And he offers the following tips for better bird identification: “Don’t just rely on color, look at the size of the bird. Listen to its call. Watch the bird’s behavior—was it erratic or did it fly back and forth to the same place? Consider the location and the time of year.  Note the size and shape of the bill. Was it on the ground or in a tree low or high? Then determine what birds would normally be present.”
When he’s not birding, Gliozzo runs an Internet technology and photography business. For more birding and photography tips, go to www.ocbirds.com.

Friday, February 27, 2015

American robins flock to fresh water

American robins on 2/25/15 in Mission Viejo -- Photo by J.J. Meyer
American robins are the classic harbinger of spring. When I lived in Chicago, I was always happy to see these thrushes arrive for the season.

Two days ago, just after I had turned off the fountain for the evening, we were visited by a flock of robins at dusk. At one point, there were nine bathing and drinking. I turned to Cornell's Birds of North America to investigate if they were migratory. 

I found that robins live in California year-round.  But there are also migrating robins that have wintered in Mexico and Central America that move northward through California in February. 

Happy Birding!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Coos signal the start of mating season

Billing is the term used when the male opens his bill to the female. She inserts her bill into his as part of the courtship display. Mating ensued shortly after this photo was taken.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

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

             Valentine’s Day cards often feature doves, a symbol of love since ancient times.  Lovers are said to be cooing when they talk sweetly to each other. And when they express affection, they’re acting “lovey dovey.”
             Mourning doves have recently started to coo, which means mating season has begun.  The call, referred to as an “advertising coo,” is a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos. Unmated males generally coo from a conspicuous perch in an attempt to attract a mate.
            “The call of a mourning dove sounds mournful, which is where they get their name,” said Sylvia Gallagher, chairperson of bird information for Sea and Sage Audubon, Orange County’s local chapter.
            This species has a courtship ritual that begins with males performing an aerial display with vigorous and noisy wing flapping.  After they select a potential mate, “males bow, pump their heads and coo to the female,” she said.  
Preening and nibbling of the head and neck precede mating. This courtship behavior gives way to “billing,” which refers to the male opening his beak to the female. If interested, she inserts her beak into his and they briefly pump their heads up and down.  The female crouches as an invitation to mate.
Naturalists agree that mourning doves are seasonally monogamous and there are indications birds may pair up again in subsequent breeding seasons.
“They’re prolific nesters,” Gallagher said.  “But they build super sloppy nests.”
These loose flimsy nests are made of pine needles, twigs and grass. Unlined nests provide little insulation for nestlings, but the shoddy construction works for the species. Mourning doves generally lay two eggs per clutch and with up to six broods or hatchings per year, a pair can produce up to a dozen offspring. Estimates of their population range from 100 to 475 million in North America.
Both sexes participate in building the nest, incubating the eggs and caring for the young. One parent is usually on the nest at all times. Babies fledge at 15-18 days. Parents continue to feed the young until 25-27 days old.
            Mourning doves are common year-round residents in Southern California.  Both sexes are similar with plump bodies, long tails and short legs. Feathers are mostly gray with black-bordered white tips on tail and black spots on the upper wings. Males are slightly larger and more colorful than females with their pale rosy breasts and bluish crowns and necks.
            Mourning doves are ground feeders. Attract these birds by offering white millet, black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn.   

Happy Birding!