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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Have you been seeing bald, tailless or scruffy birds lately?

A scruffy mockingbird in molt.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

      The pair of Northern Mockingbirds that have taken up residence in our back yard have been quiet over the past few weeks. The activities associated with breeding and raising their young are over.  And now they have begun to molt, the systematic process of losing and replacing feathers. 
      By the end of August, many songbirds have started the process of molting.  Every bird has a complete molt once a year. Most birds molt in late summer and early fall, but the way birds molt differs among species. Some have a partial molt, then migrate. But they’re not normally in a full molt when flying long distances. Molting generally occurs after breeding because it requires a lot of energy.
     Birds tend to become secretive while molting, vocalizing infrequently and hiding in the vegetation. That’s because they’re more vulnerable to predators during molt, especially when growing new flight feathers. It may take weeks or months for them to complete the molting cycle.
     With adult birds in molt and juveniles in the midst of developing adult plumage, bird identification can be a challenge this time of year.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Dedicated hummingbird rescuer, Helen Bishop, dies at 97

Address plaque from Bishop's home. Photo by J. J. Meyer
I'm saddened to report that Helen Bishop passed away July 15, 2019. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the story below. She was very dedicated to the tiny birds in her care.

The following story ran in the Orange County Register on Nov. 9, 2013. 

Helen Bishop’s phone still rings daily. Instinctively she knows it will be someone on the other end with an injured hummingbird.

For more than 30 years, people have brought injured and orphaned birds to her Anaheim home, where a plaque at the front door reads “Hummingbird Retreat.”

“The Lord gave me a job to do and I’m not done yet,” said Bishop, 92.

 Although she doesn’t treat the birds anymore, she remains a valuable resource for the public and other wildlife rehabilitators.

She doesn’t regret the sacrifices she and her husband Jim made to care for the tiny birds over the years. They used their savings to pay for the expensive protein formula that had to be ordered from Germany. Even after they both retired – Jim from McDonnell Douglas and Helen from St. Mary’s Medical Center – they never traveled far from home. They wanted to be available for bird rescue.

The couple dedicated their lives to saving the tiniest bird species. Babies required the most attention. From sunrise to sunset they fed orphaned birds every 15 minutes, just as the mother hummer would have done.

Helen continued hummingbird rehabilitation after Jim passed on 18 years ago. He was the one who started caring for the birds, she said. “He had the most gentle hands.”

Hummingbirds can get into all kinds of trouble, she said. Cats attack them. They fly into windows. They get trapped inside houses. They’re prone to infection and get sick from dirty feeders. The males fight viciously and injure each other. And babies can fall out or get blown out of nests during high winds.

The Bishops kept track of every bird they received for care, a requirement of their rehabilitation license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They asked people who brought a bird to them to give it a name; it was easier to keep track of them that way. The couple was always happy when they could report that it had been released, she said.

To house the birds, Jim built four large aviaries, or flight cages, and multiple smaller ones in varied sizes. For many years it seemed every table and surface in the house had a cage sitting on it.
Bishop shredded her records after giving up her rehabilitation license two years ago, but remembers a time when they took in more than 250 birds a month. Thousands of birds were treated and released back into the wild after a stay at the Bishops’ retreat.

Bishop still keeps five nectar feeders filled for the hummingbirds in her yard, which she meticulously cleans and refills every three days.

Sometimes hummingbirds would stay around the Bishop’s yard after their release. One female in particular stuck around, she said.  It would even fly to her when she brought out fresh nectar and land on the feeder as she put it back on the hook.

“I recognized her by the missing feathers on her chest,” she said. The bird had been caught by a cat and spent weeks in her care until her feathers grew back enough that it could fly.

Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds live year-round in Southern California. They begin nesting this month and they continue until August. If you find an injured or orphaned hummer, call the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach at 714-374-5587 immediately for instructions on where to take the bird.

Bishop said to prepare a shoebox for transport. Line it with a paper towel and a small twig for the hummingbird to perch on.  Put three or four air holes in the lid using a pencil. Keep the bird warm, even if it’s an adult. 

“They can’t survive on sugar water,” Bishop said.

The most common mistake people make when finding an injured hummer is that they wait too long to call for help.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Nesting season is not over

A California Towhee nest  Photo by J.J. Meyer

We may be well into summer, but there's still a lot going on in the avian world. The breeding season is still underway. Many songbirds have two to three broods, so many species are still nesting and raising their young. Mourning doves have a particularly prolonged breeding season with up to six broods per year. So it's not unusual to hear the mating coos of the male and see nesting doves through August. 
            American and lesser goldfinches—common backyard birds and year-round residents of Southern California—are some of the last species to breed. They generally wait until late summer when many plants have gone to seed and food is plentiful. They usually nest in the outlaying canyon areas near water, then return to urban birdfeeders with their babies.  
            You can help nesting birds by providing quality seed and suet fortified with calcium. Or you can provide a source of calcium by using your chicken eggshells from breakfast. Rinse well, then place them in the sun or in the oven for about 10 minutes. When they're dried out simply smash them into tiny pieces and scatter them for the birds. 
Happy birding! 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Armstrong offers free birding class for kids

Black phoebes appreciate handouts of mealworms. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Gardens provide food and habitat for birds, in turn, birds help gardens grow.

Children can learn how this works on July 10, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Attendees will create a birdseed feeder to take home.

Class available at select Southern California Armstrong locations: Anaheim Hills, Claremont, Bay Area (Dublin), Encinitas, Monrovia, San Diego (Morena Blvd). San Juan Capistrano, Temecula, Thousand Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, Westchester.

To register, go to: Armstrong Garden.

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Hummingbirds disappear from San Fernando Valley feeders during the super bloom

Photo by David Murray

David Murray, a reader from the San Fernando Valley contacted me after my story about the super bloom ran on Saturday.  Here's his note:

Dear Jennifer,

I enjoyed your 5/11/2019 Home & Garden article on the current status of bird feeders.
I am an engineer and a hummingbird “nut” watching and counting and feeding and recording their activities in my back yard. 

I currently have three 96 fl. Oz. feeders that I make myself and during this winter I have counted between 40-50 humming birds regularly during each of the late evening feeding periods. From March 23rd, I started noticing a reduction in the fluid quantity that they fed and on March 29th, a significant reduction that is from 105 fl. Oz. total per day to currently 24.5 fl. Oz. total per day. And not nearly as many hummingbirds were visiting the feeders.

I have certainly noticed this year that the excess rain we had increased the plant growth, flowering season and also the insect increase. Also, I noticed that the occasionally ‘rare’ to see Hooded Orioles were much more regular feeders on the hummingbird feeders – I guess they lucky also to have long tongues that fit in the HB feeder holes !


Thanks, David! An interesting followup to the story. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Why are feeder birds missing this spring?

Salvia can be a magnet for hummingbirds. Photo by J.J. Meyer
Here's my latest column scheduled to run on Saturday, May 11 in the Southern California News Group papers including: The Orange County Register,
Los Angeles Daily News, 
Long Beach Press-Telegram
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, 
Daily Breeze,
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Riverside Press-Enterprise
and more.

Suzanne Mulcahy of Laguna Niguel became concerned when the hummingbirds in her yard disappeared around mid-April.

“I’ve always kept four feeders filled all the time,” she said. “There were birds at them continually. Then all of a sudden, my hummies (sic) were gone.”

Other bird enthusiasts had similar experiences with feathered friends disappearing from backyards when the spring season began blooming. Mary Ann Powers, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Riverside, said she and her staff fielded calls from many customers asking where all the birds had gone.

And the timing of the calls coincided with the super bloom when wildflowers were exploding, she said.

“Initially, there were more nectar and seed sources because of the winter rains, so we saw fewer birds at feeders,” Powers said. “It was happening with both the hummingbirds and goldfinches. Then almost overnight, the blooms dropped off and the birds began returning.

“It’s common sense,” she said. “Last year, there were less natural food sources available and feeding at birdfeeders was heavier.”

When the big bloom show was over, the birds quickly returned to the feeders at her home in Lake Elsinore, where temperatures reached into the 90s last month.

Because the coastal areas of Los Angeles and Orange Counties have stayed cooler than the Inland Empire, most of the hillsides are still filled with color. Mulcahy said there are plenty of blooms around her property, which gets the ocean breezes and is surrounded by open space. The hummingbirds are slowly returning with one or two visiting her feeders at a time over the past couple weeks.

With the drought officially over, it seems logical to assume that the birds will benefit.

“It’s wonderful that we’ve had the winter rains and there’s an increase in the food supply,” said Brad Singer, president of San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. Although Singer is quick to caution against drawing conclusions about bird distribution and populations based on one factor.

“There are a lot of variables including climate, competition among the birds for food, the presence of disease and even wind patterns,” Singer said. Freak storms during migration can affect distribution by blowing birds off course, sending them to an area where they’re not typically found.

“And it’s breeding season, so there are decreased visits to feeders during this time anyway,” Singer said. “Birds are busy finding a mate and nesting.”

Migrating birds are eager to get to their breeding grounds and reproduce, he said. “That’s their main goal, so they don’t stay around at feeders.”

Fall is a better time to survey bird populations, he said. “Birds aren’t in a hurry to reach their wintering grounds and will often linger in an area to feed before heading south.”

And whether this year’s super bloom and increase in food supplies will have an impact on nesting remains to be seen until data from nest monitoring groups, such as the Southern California Bluebird Club, can be complied and compared to previous years. However, scientific studies have concluded that rainfall can have an overall positive impact on many bird species. An Oregon State University study, conducted in 2014, found that precipitation was the key factor affecting the long-term survival of many bird species because changes in precipitation can affect plant growth, soil moisture, water storage and the abundance of insects.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

I hear you knocking...

A persistent wrentit pecked at its reflection in a window for days. Photo by Theresa Schultz

      It’s a case of mistaken identity; birds perceive their own reflection as a competitor. This is the time of year when most birds establish their territories, find a mate, nest and raise their young. To ensure success, they defend their territory aggressively and will attempt to drive away any bird they view as a possible rival or a threat to their young. When they see their reflection in glass, they believe they're seeing an interloper in their territory and attack the image.
      The solution is simple: Remove the reflection and the behavior will stop.
      Besides being annoying for humans, it's a huge waste of energy for the birds. That energy is better spent on feeding and nesting.
      These attacks commonly occur in spring and summer and will decrease as the breeding season progresses. A brief resurgence of the activity can occur in the fall when a change in daylight triggers a false spring reaction in the birds.
       Birds can attack their reflections with enough force to leave their imprint on the glass, but it’s not usually fatal. This behavior is different from deadly window strikes that happen when birds crash into glass in an attempt to fly through it.
      Western bluebirds, Northern mockingbirds, American robins, song sparrows and California and spotted towhees are among the birds commonly known to attack their reflections.
      Homeowners can discourage this activity by covering the outside of the window being attacked with newspaper, netting or soap to block the reflection temporarily. In addition, a couple of helium-filled Mylar balloons or just a few hanging strips of ribbon that sparkle and move in the breeze can be enough to frighten away most birds.

Happy Birding!