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

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!

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!