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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

If you missed "Super Hummingbirds," watch it at PBS.org

In case you missed "Super Hummingbirds,"you can still watch the 52-minute episode online at:
PBS - Super Hummingbirds 

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures to behold. They are the tiniest of birds, yet possess natural born super powers that enable them to fly backwards, upside-down, and float in mid-air. Their wings beat faster than the eye can see and the speed at which they travel makes people wonder if it was indeed a hummingbird they actually saw. They also are only found in the Americas. These attributes have both intrigued scientists and made it challenging to study the species, but with the latest high-speed cameras and other technologies, Super Hummingbirds reveals new scientific breakthroughs about these magical birds.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Ann Johnson Prum (Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air; An Original DUCKumentary, Animal Homes) returns with her second film on hummers which presents new scientific discoveries such as how they drink a flower’s nectar so quickly or why they are able to thrive in the thin air at high altitudes. For the first time, viewers will see the birds mate, lay eggs, fight, and raise families in intimate detail.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Is bird feeding harmful or helpful?

Goldfinches flock to a nyjer feeder. Photo by J.J. Meyer

The following information was reposted from Project Feederwatch.

The Impacts of Feeding on Bird Populations

 Highlights from a presentation by FeederWatch project leader, Emma Greig, at the North American Ornithological Conference 2016. She summarized research being conducted by her and by Cornell Lab Citizen Science director, David Bonter.

Food is a major determinant of the distribution, evolution, behavior and persistence of species, as has been shown by an abundance of supplemental feeding studies on small scales. But despite 50 million people in the US offering billions of pounds of seeds to birds every year, we know very little about the consequences of this hobby on native species in North America.

If supplemental feeding is ecologically detrimental, then we would expect to see long-term population declines in the species that consume the most supplemental food. According to the State of North America’s Birds 2016, one-third of all North American bird species need urgent conservation action. We looked at 30 years of FeederWatch data collected by thousands of project participants to select 135 species using feeders occasionally to regularly. Then we looked at the population trends for those species using 50 years of Christmas Bird Count data. 

Overall, species that utilize bird feeders the most were doing better over time, rather than worse, and the few species showing declines include non-native species (House Sparrow, European Starling) or species suffering from novel diseases (House Finch). The species most in trouble, such as seabirds and shorebirds, don’t come to feeders and are declining because of other threats. Feeding birds may not help the hardest-hit species, but it may inspire people to support conservation.

We still have a lot to learn about the impacts of feeding birds, such as possible indirect effects on migratory species, or possible effects on generalist predators such as crows that may subsequently impact populations of non-feeder birds or small animals. Nonetheless, this works gives us some insights about how feeding birds impacts the species the use feeders the most.

Link to original story: Project FeederWatch.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Where's my flock?

A white-crowned sparrow.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

I've seen only three white-crowned sparrows in my yard since my first sighting last Saturday. Those must have been passing through, because they didn't stay around.

For the last several years, a flock of at least 25 of these ground feeders have wintered with us. I'm wondering if the intense heat over the past couple weeks have had something to do with the delay in their arrival. 

Have you been seeing white-crowns? Let me know.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The female pin-tailed whydah looks very different from the male

A female pin-tailed whydah -- Photo by J.J. Meyer
As a follow-up to my story on exotic birds in Saturday's Orange County Register --

Here's a photo of the female pin-tailed whydah. The streaked, brown plumage is similar to native sparrows, though the bird can be distinguished by its bright orange bill.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Exotic birds find refuge in Southern California

A pair of Amazon parrots in Santiago Regional Park in Orange. Photo by Trude Hurd
Scaly-breasted munia, also known as a nutmeg mannikin. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Check out my story on the cover of Saturday's Orange County Register Home & Garden section:

Many exotic bird species have made Southern California their home, breeding and living here year-round, with several populations of these birds skyrocketing in recent years.

Doug Willick, who records rare bird sightings for the North American Bird Journal and the local Sea and Sage Audubon Society newsletter, said, “We typically think of exotics as the bright, colorful nonnative species sold as caged birds in pet shops. Other nonnative bird species have also become naturalized in the United States like house sparrows and starlings, but we don’t think of those as exotics.”

The exotic birds that have been area residents the longest are likely the various species of parrots, said Willick, a wildlife biologist. He remembers seeing parrots in the area as far back as the 1960s. He continues to hear them every morning at first light from his home in Old Towne Orange. A flock of red-crowned parrots and mitred parakeets is seen frequently in his neighborhood. The red-crowned, lilac-crowned and yellow-headed Amazons are particularly well-established in Southern California.

“These birds have adapted well to urban areas,” he said. “They’re very smart birds.”

Cindy McNatt has grown used to the squawks of the parrots that stop to snack on her loquat trees in the backyard of her Santa Ana home. “When they’re working this area, I’ll hear them for weeks, then they disappear. They seem to like the older neighborhoods like North Tustin, where they still have fruit and nut trees.”

The flocks seem to stick to the tree crowns, often perching in the neighborhood palms but never going to the ground for food or drinking from her fountain, which attracts a host of other birds, she said.

According to the research of the California Parrot Project, founded by Kimball Garrett of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, there are at least 10 species of parrots that have become naturalized throughout Southern California, from San Diego to the northern reaches of Los Angeles and east to Redlands. An estimated 2,500 feral parrots are living freely in California.

Native to Mexico and South America, these feral parrots have become city dwellers. The tales of how the parrots escaped from captivity have become fodder for urban legend. Some say large-scale releases occurred when an area pet shop burned down, or when Busch Gardens in Van Nuys closed many decades ago. Others contend that many birds were released by poachers when facing arrest on this side of the border. Experts believe the population cannot be traced to a couple of isolated releases, but rather is the result of a number of intentional and unintentional releases over the years.

Another widely established bird species is the scaly-breasted munia, also known as the nutmeg mannikin, or spice finch in the pet trade.

“Orange County seems to be the epicenter for these birds, though they are widespread,” Willick said.
These small, chestnut or reddish-brown finches from Asia have dark heads and thick bills. Adults have a scaly patterned chest, while juveniles are mostly tan overall. These highly gregarious finches colonize in large flocks, often showing up at backyard feeders.

They’re late nesters, Willick said, often starting in late summer or early fall. Large flocks can be found at Huntington Central Park and the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine.

Growing numbers of bronze mannikins, an estrildid finch from Africa, have been sighted at Huntington Central Park and along the San Gabriel River Trail. These birds look similar to the scaly-breasted munia but are darker in color.

Because exotic birds are nonnative and therefore not listed in most field guides, their identification can sometimes confuse even the most avid birder.

Dave Oliver of Huntington Beach first spotted a bright orange bird while biking on the Santa Ana River Trail a few years ago. At first he thought it was a vermillion flycatcher, but after further research learned that it was a northern red bishop, also called an orange bishop.

Breeding males are bright red with a black head and chest, while nonbreeding colors tend toward yellow or yellowish orange. Females have pale yellow chests with streaky brown backs and wings. These birds are native to Africa.

Oliver has since kept a lookout for the bird during his daily rides along the river. He recently saw a male and female perched together close to the trail. But he’s never seen more than two at a time on his rides.

Northern red bishops were first sighted in area in the 1970s, Willick said. But their population hasn’t grown like that of the scaly-breasted munia, because these birds are more limited in their choice of habitat. They tend to prefer the tall grass of marshy areas.

Another exotic bird species showing up throughout the area is the pin-tailed whydah, an African native. Breeding males have extremely long tail feathers. Both sexes have bright orange bills. Populations of these birds, first sighted nearly 30 years ago, have exploded over the last 10 to 12, Willick said.

These birds are known to be aggressive competitors when foraging for food, often chasing native birds away from feeding sites. But of even greater concern is that pin-tailed whydahs are brood or nest parasites, similar to our native brown-headed cowbirds. That means they don’t build their own nests or care for their young; they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.

“Are they parasitizing our native bird species? We don’t know,” he said. But ornithologists speculate that because pin-tailed whydahs lay their eggs in the nests of estrildid finches in Africa, they may be laying their eggs in the nests of scaly-breasted munia, the only estrildid finch in our area.

How these increasing populations of exotic birds are affecting our native bird populations is still relatively unknown, he said.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Introducing the California Scrub-jay

The California Scrub-jay.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you need an excuse to buy a new field guide -- 

The American Ornithologists’ Union, the official authority on classification and names of all bird species on this continent, recently released a new checklist of North American Birds. 

In the new checklist, the Western Scrub-Jay has been split into two species: the California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii). Birders have long recognized that these widespread western jays come in different shades: a darker, more rich color in California, Oregon, and southwestern Washington, and a somewhat paler, grayer type in the interior West, from Nevada east to Texas. Many field guides already illustrate them separately as “coastal form” (or “Pacific form”) and “interior form.”

The American Ornithologists’ Union has been considering this split for several years. The split became official after genetic research demonstrated that the two species rarely interbreed where they come into contact with each other in western Nevada.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fall is the best time to trim trees

The breeding season is over so if you must trim your trees, it's a good time to do it. 

But please remember to keep some foliage around your yard so the birds can escape from predators, especially if you have bird feeders. 

Begin to watch for hummingbird nests by late November.  Before trimming, take the time to watch the tree for at least a half hour.  If you see a female hummingbird going in and out, there is a good chance she's building a nest.

Please pass this information along to your homeowner's association if you have one. Let's keep our birds safe.

Happy birding!