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

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Nectar feeder draws hooded orioles

A male hood oriole sticks its tongue out after drinking nectar. Photo by J.J. Meyer
A juvenile hooded oriole, photo taken in Mission Viejo on 8/2 by J.J. Meyer

There's been a recent flurry of activity at my oriole feeder in the past few days. At one point, there were three on the feeder and one on the hook above. I believe I'm seeing a pair and their offspring.

Hooded orioles are very distinctive. Males are easy to spot with their flashy colors. Adult males tend to be bright yellow or orange over most of their body with black wings and white wingbars, a distinctive black face and throat with a hood of orange or yellow-orange. Females are less colorful with mostly dull yellow bodies and gray wings. 

Though it may look like a different species, the second photo is of a juvenile hooded oriole. It's definitely less sleek than an adult female and has a shorter bill.

Here's a description of plumage from Cornell Labs: Juvenile plumage similar to Definitive Basic (adult) female, except wing-bars buffy and plumage duller; generally olive-brown above and pale olive-yellow below with noticeable whitish belly (unlike adult female); and less contrast between grayish flanks and remaining underparts than adult female. Body-plumage without black feathers in face or throat, and flight feathers uniformly fresh. Sexes alike in coloration, although some black feathers can occur (occasionally) on throats of hatching-year males before or during migration.

Hooded orioles are migratory and return to their wintering grounds in Mexico, and Central and South America in early September. 

Happy birding!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Help birds beat the heat

A mourning dove visits a fountain in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer

             Southern California is heading into another heat wave with temperatures expected to be in the 90s for most of the week. People can crank up the air conditioner, but how do birds beat the heat?
              Birds have several physiological and behavioral adaptations to help them maintain a constant body temperature of 105 to 107 degrees. Scientists refer to this mechanism as thermoregulation.
Without sweat glands, birds can’t perspire like humans, nor do they pant like dogs. Instead, birds open their bills to expose their mucous membranes to the air, which sends cooler air into their air sacs. They also flutter their throats in a form of avian panting called “gular fluttering.” 
It’s also common to see birds sitting with open wings, which circulates air next to their bodies.  Some species are known to spread their wings to shade their nestlings from the sun. Female hummingbirds will beat their wings over their nests to cool their eggs or hatchlings. 
Birds sleek down their feathers to avoid trapping air next to their skin when the environment is too warm. And like many other species, birds become less active in the heat, retreating to the shade where they can hide and cool off. 
Help our fine feathered friends by keeping your birdbath filled with clean water. 
Happy birding!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mother hummingbirds know best

Hummingbirds generally lay two eggs, but not all are viable.  Photo by Tyler Thayer
Here's my latest column for the Orange County Register. 

 An Oceanside couple watched in awe as a mother hummingbird built its nest just outside their courtyard window.

The female hummingbird sat in the nest as she built it, working the sides up around her until the nest was about an inch tall and 1½ inches wide. The tiny bird used plant down, thistle, and bits of leaves bound by spider webs, which allows the nest to expand as the nestlings grow. Hummingbirds often cover the outside of their nests in lichen or moss. But instead, the Oceanside bird used green paint chips from a peeling patio set.

It took about a week for her to finish. Finally, she laid two eggs about the size of Tic Tac mints. She continued to sit through wind and even a cold rain, keeping the eggs warm with her little body. About two weeks later, one of the eggs hatched. The couple became concerned when the other egg failed to hatch two to three days later as expected. Eventually, the single nestling became large enough to cover the egg.

“Normally, the mother would push it out,” said Monique Rae a hummingbird rehabilitator from south Orange County. “But it’s best not to disturb the nest. The mother knows best,” she said.

Depending upon the species, hummingbirds can have up to four clutches, or nesting attempts with eggs. But not all eggs hatch and not all babies survive.

“We have a very long season here,” she said. “We’re in the second wave of babies now. Then there’s a third where we can see fledglings into July,” she said.

Female hummingbirds build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young without any help from the male.  “She’s the only one, so she’s very tenacious,” Rae said.

New hatchlings are fed about every 15-30 minutes. The length of time between feeding increases as they develop.  She feeds them nectar and insects by regurgitation, which is stored in her crop, a food storage sac in her throat. Hummingbirds require a large percentage of fruit flies, gnats, small spiders and other soft-bodied insects for protein as well as nectar for energy.

Generally, a mother hummingbird will not abandon her eggs or hatchlings.

“The only reason she doesn’t come back to the nest is if something happened to her,” Rae said.
Hummingbirds have a tough life. They can run into windows and get attacked by cats, predatory birds and even praying mantis.

Babies typically fledge approximately 21-28 days from hatch date. The mother continues to feed the babies out of the nest for about two weeks. If you’re lucky enough to have hummingbirds nest in your yard, don’t remove the nest when the birds are gone. Female hummingbirds often repair and reuse old ones.

For information on orphaned hummingbirds and rescue, go to hummingbirdsrescue.org.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Happy Mother's Day from the Backyard Birder

Black Phoebes    Photo by J.J. Meyer

Black phoebes are monomorphic, meaning there are no differences in the physical characteristics of males and females. So it's hard to say if the parent in the photo is the mom or the dad. Both parents are actively involved in caring for their young.
They’re very territorial and often remain year-round in an area with an established food source. They build mud nests under the eaves of buildings, bridges and other protected shelters. The female lays three to five eggs then incubates them for 15-18 days. Both parents tend the nestlings. The male often continues to feed the young after fledging while the female re-nests.  Once the babies are deemed old enough to fend for themselves, the parents will aggressively run them out of their territory.
Because black phoebes are insect eaters, they do not visit seed feeders. But you can attract them to your yard by offering live mealworms. Start by placing a few in a dish out in an open area where they can be easily seen on a flyby. Live mealworms can be purchased at many nature and pet supply stores. And don't use pesticides, if you'd like to attract insect-eating birds to your yard.  

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Prevent ducks from nesting in pools

Peacock pool float from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
 If you see a pair of mallards in your yard, they could be looking for a place to nest. Ducks generally nest near water. But in urban areas, they may choose to nest in backyards with pools, which can be problematic. It’s best to prevent the situation in the first place.
             Homeowners can try scaring them away by putting large pool floats in the water or placing a plastic owl near the water's edge. The best bet is to put a cover over the pool and keep it dry. Once a nest is made, it is illegal to disturb them. Federal law prohibits interfering with nesting birds.  
             If ducklings end up in your swimming pool, they may not be able to get out. Young ducklings aren't waterproof and need the mother for warmth. They can quickly become hypothermic and drown. A surfboard or lawn chair in the water can serve as a ramp. Cover it with a towel so the babies won't slip. Don't attempt to remove the ducklings for relocation. The mother may fly away and abandon her young.
The brood will stay near the nest site until the mother decides to move the ducklings to water, which usually happens at about four weeks. Ducklings then trail behind the mother often waddling across busy streets. Ducks don't fly until they are six to eight weeks old.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Mealworm handouts help hungry birds

A California towhee gathers mealworms to feed its young. Photo by J.J. Meyer
It's baby bird season! That means parents are working dawn to dusk to find food for their hungry broods. Put out a plate of mealworms and they eagerly gather them, grabbing as many as they can hold. Then they take off in the direction of their nests and quickly return for more.

Offering mealworms can be entertaining, especially if you're feeding black phoebes, which can catch them on the fly.

Live mealworms can be purchased at many pet and nature stores such as Wild Birds Unlimited.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Look who's back in town

A hooded oriole visited a hummingbird feeder in Mission Viejo, CA April 19, 2018 Photo by J.J. Meyer

Local birders have reported sightings of migrant orioles, which return to breed in Southern California during spring and summer. Hooded and Bullock’s orioles are the two most common species of orioles found in Orange County, although there have been rare sightings of Scott’s and orchard orioles in previous years.

Orioles are medium-size songbirds about 8 inches long with slender bodies and long legs and tails. They are coveted among backyard birders mostly because of their bright colors. Hooded and Bullock’s orioles are sexually dimorphic, with males being more brightly colored than females.

Hooded orioles are named for the orange hood of the male’s breeding plumage. Males have an entirely orange or orange-yellow head, nape, rump and underparts with a distinctive black bib and narrow mask. The tail is black. And wings are black with with two white wingbars. Females are mostly olive yellow with dusky gray wings and white wingbars. These birds have long, slightly curved bills.

Adult male Bullock’s are flame-orange with a neat line through the eye and a white wing patch; females are washed in gray and yellow. They have straight, pointed bills.

Only five percent of all avian families include nectar as an important part of their diet, making orioles part of an exclusive dining club. But these birds' diets includes more than nectar. Nectar-eaters must also consume essential amino acids and other nutrients. Orioles forage for spiders, caterpillars and other insects. Consider offering them mealworms in addition to orange slices and grape jelly. 

Visit local WildBird Unlimited stores, which carry a selection of feeders to keep orioles returning to your yard.

Happy Birding!