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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day: a time to remember the fallen

This injured American Eagle is a permanent resident at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa Florida.          Photo by J.J. Meyer
Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

It's not about picnics. 

Thank you.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New book title for birders

I just started reading "Listening to a Continent Sing,"by Donald Kroodsma and just had to let bird lovers know about it. It's a very different reading experience. With an app on your smartphone, you can hear the birdsong the author describes.

I appreciate the opportunity to review this book from Princeton University Press and will be posting my review in the next week or so.

In the meantime, here's the description of the book from Goodreads:

Join birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma on a ten-week, ten-state bicycle journey as he travels with his son from the Atlantic to the Pacific, lingering and listening to our continent sing as no one has before. On remote country roads, over terrain vast and spectacular, from dawn to dusk and sometimes through the night, you will gain a deep appreciation for the natural symphony of birdsong many of us take for granted. Come along and marvel at how expressive these creatures are as Kroodsma leads you west across nearly five thousand miles--at a leisurely pace that enables a deep listen.

"Listening to a Continent Sing" is also a guided tour through the history of a young nation and the geology of an ancient landscape, and an invitation to set aside the bustle of everyday life to follow one's dreams. It is a celebration of flowers and trees, rocks and rivers, mountains and prairies, clouds and sky, headwinds and calm, and of local voices and the people you will meet along the way. It is also the story of a father and son deepening their bond as they travel the slow road together from coast to coast.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings of birds and scenes and featuring QR codes that link to audio birdsong, this poignant and insightful book takes you on a travel adventure unlike any other--accompanied on every leg of your journey by birdsong.

Orphaned by tree trimmers

Acorn woodpecker nestlings. 

 Here's a good story from Gillian Martin's cavity conservation post from May 21, 2016.

Here is a story with a tragic beginning and an uncertain end.  Meet three very hungry orphaned Acorn Woodpeckers just days old.  They are being fed by Star Howard, a volunteer at the Songbird Care and Education Center in Orange County, CA.  The birds will likely remain in care for 2-3 weeks until a suitable habitat can be found for their release.  Their survival is not assured, however.

It is believed the woodpeckers were orphaned yesterday when a tree care provider working in the neighborhood of the Sierra Vista Townhomes in Hacienda Heights, CA removed the top of a tree in which the birds were nesting in a cavity.   (Woodpeckers are particularly vulnerable during spring time tree care because they nest inside the rotten sections of trees.)  The good Samaritan who found the birds on the ground soon after, contacted the rescue center.

Sadly this is a situation that owner, Vickie Anderson, and her devoted volunteers face every year between February and August when trees with nesting birds are trimmed.   The center’s indoor and outdoor rooms overflow with incubators and cages containing rescued and injured birds.  Their relentless begging voices guarantee that this is a time of sleep deprivation.   Uncountable volunteer hours are required to prep food and feed the birds every 20 minutes, to administer to their medical and other needs, and to prepare them for self sufficiency in the wild.  Price tag?  About $100 a day per bird.  Culpable tree care companies rarely contribute to this cost.

Despite the fact that federal and state regulations prohibit the destruction of bird nests or the disturbance of nesting birds, some tree care companies and their clients are unaware or inattentive to the risk to birds during this period.  Witnesses have seen tree care workers casting immature birds and their nests into chippers.  This is immensely frustrating and disturbing to those that care for and recognize the ecological value of birds.

You can help!  First, always hire professional and responsible tree care companies and ensure that they know and respect bird protection laws.  Second, whenever possible, postpone tree care till the fall and winter.   Third, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Songbird Care and Education Center:  www.songbirdcareandeducation.org.

For more information, go to: http://cavityconservation.com.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

When to rescue baby birds

A fledgling mockingbird receives treatment after being caught by a cat.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
 Here's my latest column that ran in the Orange County Register on May 7.

      Timers ring at regular intervals throughout the day at the Songbird Care and Education Center in Fountain Valley, signaling that it’s time for one or more birds to be fed. And lately, those timers have been ringing frequently.
      It’s baby bird season, the busiest time of year for licensed rehabilitator Vicki Andersen. Her home-based avian rescue center takes in native Orange County songbirds that are sick, injured or abandoned. And birds that are mistakenly orphaned make up a large number of her charges this time of year.
      “People assume a bird on the ground needs rescuing and 75 percent of the time, they don’t,” Andersen said.
      Baby birds often fledge from the nest before they are strong enough to fly, she said. Mockingbirds in particular tend to hop from the nest seemingly early. Fledglings are young birds with feathers and short tails. They can perch, hop or walk, but they are still learning to fly, a process that can take up to two weeks. At this stage they are vulnerable to attack by cats and other predators. But they do not need human intervention unless they are injured, icy cold, naked, or abandoned.
      Most often if a young bird is grounded in a high traffic area, the bird can be moved into the nearest bush and the parents will continue to feed it.
      “Birds have a better chance if they’re raised by the parents,” she said.
      Raising an orphaned bird in the rehab center takes four to eight weeks of intensive care and feeding. The rehabilitator’s day begins at 6 a.m. when she checks on the birds then prepares for feeding and administering medications. Naked and pin-feathered nestlings have to be fed every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day. Feeding becomes less frequent as the birds become older.
     Andersen, along with a handful of trained volunteers, hand-feeds the babies from dawn until past dusk, just as the bird parents would have done. Hand-feeding continues for four to six weeks, or until the birds can eat without assistance. When the babies are able to feed on their own, they are given a natural diet for their specific species, which includes grains for seed eaters and mealworms, fruit and berries for the insect and fruit eaters.
     The cages are moved outside for natural sunshine during the day. The birds are brought back inside and covered at dusk. When the birds are ready, Andersen places them in an outdoor aviary where they can fly and mingle with other birds until they are strong enough for release back into the wild.
     The most common songbirds treated at the center are house finches and Northern mockingbirds, though more than 50 different species have been brought in for care. Occasionally an unusual bird comes in that has wandered out of its usually territory. Such vagrants have included an ovenbird and a yellow-billed cuckoo.
     It takes more than a good heart to rehabilitate wildlife. Andersen received extensive training by attending workshops and working as a volunteer at the Wetlands and Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach before going through the lengthy process of obtaining permits from California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It is illegal to care for or keep a native wild bird without a permit, even if you plan to release it.
      “The worst thing people can do is keep a bird and then feed it incorrectly,” she said. “Baby birds need to be fed the right diet to obtain an optimal size. When they’re not, the birds often turn out to be non-releasable.”
      To determine if a bird needs to be rescued or for instructions on transporting a bird for care, go to songbirdcareandeducation.org or call 714-964-0666.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Suet, it's what's for dinner

A male Nuttall's woodpecker snacks on suet. J.J. Meyer
I've been offering Naturally Nuts suet cylinders from Wild Birds Unlimited for months. Suet is packed with fat and protein, which makes it a good cold weather food. During the winter, I had several types of warblers come daily for this nutritious snack. A few brave white-crowned sparrows even dined at the suet feeder.

Lately, I've had migrants such as black-headed grosbeaks. And it's also good for nesting birds.
My year-round regulars such as the Northern mockingbirds, scrub jays, house finches and a pair of woodpeckers visit daily. They often show up in pairs, fill their bills and fly off to feed their young. Check the previous blog post to see a pair of bushtits on the suet feeder. They often come in large flocks, sometimes hanging upside down, to grab a suet snack. 

Happy Birding!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flocks of lively bushtits are good for the garden

Bushtits will visit suet feeders. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Bushtits are year-round residents of Southern California. They are sprightly, social songbirds that twitter as they fly from bush to bush.  Almost always found in gregarious flocks, they move constantly, often hanging upside down to pick at insects or spiders on the undersides of leaves.

Flocks of these tiny songbirds sometimes mix with warblers, chickadees, and kinglets while foraging.

They weave a very unusual hanging nest, shaped like a soft pouch or sock, from moss, spider webs, and grasses.

Happy Birding!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Birds attack their reflections in windows during breeding season

Song sparrows are among the birds that commonly attack their reflections.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
 Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in Saturday's Orange County Register.     

        Audubon volunteers and staff members cover the side mirrors on their cars with plastic grocery bags when they park at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine this time of year.
      “Every spring we get California towhees and song sparrows attacking the side mirrors on our cars,” said Trude Hurd, project director of education for Sea and Sage Audubon. “Males are feeling very territorial, so they try to drive the intruder in the mirror away.”
      It’s a case of mistaken identity; they perceive their own reflection as a competitor, she said. 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.
      “We don’t want a bird wasting its energy,” Hurd said. “That energy needs to be spent on nesting.   It’s never going to be able to drive that bird in the mirror away.”
      These attacks commonly occur in spring and summer and will decrease as the breeding season progresses, she said. But there is a brief resurgence of the activity 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 are enough to frighten away most birds.