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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The State of the Birds 2014

Statement from Audubon:

The State of the Birds 2014

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon, and other partners released the 2014 State of the Birds report. The report uses birds as indicators of ecosystem health by examining populations trends of many birds in a variety of habitats including grasslands, forests, wetlands, as well as birds on our oceans and coasts. The report contains a watch list of the 230 species of birds most in need of immediate conservation action. You can view the entire report at www.stateofthebirds.org.

Learning lessons from the 100-year anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, the report makes recommendations supported by Audubon to increase funding for a suite of programs including the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and funding for other conservation programs managed by the federal government like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Joint Ventures, and policies that reduce the impacts of climate change to help birds adapt.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Western scrub jays are known for brains and beauty

The Western scrub jay is a common year-round resident in So. California.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you missed my column that ran in Saturday's O.C. Register, here it is:

             Toni and Jim McGivern hear the calls of Western scrub jays about 6:30 a.m. and know the birds want breakfast.  About 10-15 noisy scrub jays visit their home in Trabuco Canyon every morning for their favorite: unsalted, shelled peanuts.
            “One of the bolder ones sits by the window and waits for me to come out,” Toni McGivern said.
            The couple enjoys their coffee while watching the birds interact. A few of the birds will take nuts from the tray and fly off. Others prefer to knock nuts on the ground to scrutinize the selection, she says. They pick up a peanut, drop it then pick up another as if weighing each in their bills. The birds seem to know the heaviest peanut contains the largest nut.
            “They’re my favorite bird,” she said. “They’re so intelligent.”
            Jays belong to the family Corvidae, along with crows and ravens, which are known for their intelligence, memory and curiosity.
Western scrub jays are common year-round residents in Southern California. Western scrub jays include several sub-species that live along the Pacific coast, Santa Cruz Island and in the interior West. The Pacific coastal group, which includes Orange County, has a distinct blue collar and is brighter in color than those of the interior West.
Scrub jays are monomorphic, meaning that there are no differences in the physical characteristics between males and females.  They have deep blue wings, tail and head with light gray underparts and a distinctive white throat and eyebrow. At 11 inches in length, wingspans of about 15 inches and long legs and tails, they are larger than most songbirds.  Their rounded heads are not crested like its Eastern cousin the blue jay and the Steller’s jays that live in our local mountains, Northern California and throughout most of the Pacific Northwest.
Though scrub jays eat a varied diet that includes insects, seeds, berries, reptiles and small birds, they are known for eating and storing acorns.  They have been known to cache up to 6,000 pine seeds or 5,000 acorns in single autumn. The birds scatter the nuts in hiding places for later retrieval. When these acorns are not retrieved, they sprout into seedlings and replenish the forest.
These birds can be quite sneaky when it comes to their food. They will steal acorns from woodpecker caches and rob stores hidden by other jays, then look around to make sure other birds aren’t watching before hiding the food in a new location.   
             Other birds in our area that cache food include acorn woodpeckers, mountain chickadees and nuthatches.  

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New hanging bird waterers are great for small patios

First Nature's waterers and birdbaths come in two styles.

Thought I'd share these clever new products by First Nature -- combination waterers and birdbaths. I think it's perfect for those without space for a standing birdbath or for those who would like to watch the birds without the mess of a birdfeeder. Perfect for apartment dwellers or condo owners.

The reservoir holds about 100 ounces of water and releases it into four pools on demand.  The water is replenished instantly as the water is consumed. Made in the USA.

There are two styles -- the lantern and blue globe. Both are available online at www.firstnature.net or at Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo.  About $25.99.

Happy Birding!

Friday, September 19, 2014

First white-crowned sparrow sighting of the season

A male white-crowned sparrow forages for seeds. Photo by J.J. Meyer

      It must be fall. The white-crowned sparrows have arrived! Yesterday was my first sighting--10 days earlier than last year.     
     White-crowned sparrows migrate to Southern California in the fall. Some travel from as far as Alaska to spend winter with us.
      Like most sparrows, they're ground feeders, and prefer to stay close to the safety of trees and shrubs. Though they may sometimes visit platform feeders for sunflower and other kinds of seeds, they're more likely to stay on the ground eating seeds dropped by other birds.
      Welcome our winter visitors by tossing black oil sunflower seeds, millet and cracked corn on the ground for them.
      Happy Birding!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Avoid organic sugar when making hummingbird nectar

Photo courtesy of Marjorie's Garden.

I've had many people ask if they can use brown sugar or organic sugar to make hummingbird nectar. The answer is: No!

The following questions and answers were taken from Sheri Williamson's blog: Life, Birds, and Everything.  Williamson is an ornithologist, naturalist and author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, a Peterson's Field Guide.

Can you make hummingbird food with brown sugar?”

Please don’t. Brown sugar contains molasses, which is rich in iron, and excess iron can be deadly to hummingbirds.

“Can you make hummingbird nectar out of organic cane sugar?”

 Again, the light beige color of semi-refined sugars, including organic sugar and “evaporated cane juice,” indicates the presence of molasses and therefore potentially toxic iron (though at a lower concentration than in brown sugar). Until some company comes out with a fully refined white organic sugar, it’s safest to stick with non-organic white sugar. 

There you have it!
Happy Birding!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Salvias are a magnet for migrating hummingbirds

A female hummingbird feeds on a salvia plant in Silverado Canyon.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

In case you missed my column in today's Orange County Register, you can read it here:
            Many migrating hummingbirds have begun their fall trek south to their wintering grounds. With wings flapping up to 80 times a second, some species such as the Rufus hummingbird, will travel thousands of miles from Alaska to southern Mexico.
            Because these tiny birds need to eat twice their weight in insects and nectar each day, they rely on a chain of rest stops to refuel along the way.  
            Nectar feeders can provide a valuable energy drink for these long-distance flyers, but only if properly maintained. Feeders need to be cleaned and replenished every few days depending on the temperature. When they’re not, the bacteria and fungus that develop can prove deadly to the birds. 
There’s a simpler way to help: Plant fall-blooming salvias.
            Many types of salvia plants bloom in fall and continue for a significant part of the season, says avid birder and nursery pro Patrick Fesler of Green Thumb in Lake Forest.
Salvias, commonly known as sage, is the largest genus of plants in the mint family with approximately 700–900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals.
“They’re my favorite plants because they attract hummingbirds and butterflies,” Fesler says.
Salvias can have bright eye-catching flower spikes in pink, scarlet and purple, or subtle tones of yellow and white.  Some varieties have two-color blooms such as the red and white Hot Lips.  Although the tubular flowers can differ in shape, the dark purple bloom on the Amistad salvia allows a hummingbird to reach its head deep inside.
“There are so many varieties of salvia to choose from,” he says. “There are low-growing and tall ones. You should be able to find a plant that works in your garden.”
Native salvias are good sources of nectar. They are drought tolerant and take full sun. And many types have fragrant foliage.
Salvia plants prefer sunny locations with well-drained soil. To water, give them a good soaking, Fesler says, but avoid sprinkling the foliage.
“Most salvias are perennials,” he says. “Some such as the coral nymph and the hummingbird sage reseed like crazy.”
Leaving the seed heads on salvias, along with black-eyed Susans, coneflowers and ornamental grasses at the end of the blooming cycle will provide food for seeding-eating birds this winter.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Squirrels stockpile seeds and nuts in the fall

A tree squirrel forages for seeds under a bird feeder. Photo by J.J. Meyer
You can expect to see more squirrel activity at your bird feeders this time of year. That's because squirrels stockpile seeds and nuts in hidden caches for the winter. They bury them in the ground--sometimes right in the middle of the lawn--and in openings in tree trunks.

Squirrel-proof feeders and baffles will help keep them away from the bird food. Or you can just give in and feed them. They love peanuts, corn and sunflower seeds.

Happy Birding!