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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Male turkeys are the gobblers

Wild turkey -- Meleagris gallopavo
From Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Male turkeys are called “gobblers” because of their famous call, which is their version of a rooster’s crow.  It’s a loud, shrill, descending, throaty jumble of sound that lasts about a second. Males often gobble from their treetop roosts, where the sound carries better than on the ground. They use it to attract females and in response to other males—sometimes one male’s call can lead to a group of others joining in. Both males and females cackle as they fly down from roosts, give very short, soft purring calls while traveling on foot, and give a long series of yelps to reassemble a flock after it has become scattered. Young turkeys whistle three or four times to locate the flock when lost.

To find wild turkeys it helps to get up early in the morning, when flocks of these large birds are often out foraging in clearings, field edges, and roadsides. Keep an eye out as you drive along forest edges, particularly areas with nut-bearing trees such as oak and hickory. You’ll usually find turkeys on the ground, but don’t be surprised if you run across a group of turkeys flying high into their treetop roosts at the end of the day.

According to the observations listed on eBird: The largest concentration of wild turkeys in Southern California is in San Diego County from Vista south to El Cajon and east to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Happy Thanksgiving from The Backyard Birder!! 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Every bird counts! Join Project Feederwatch

Grab your binoculars! If you have bird feeders, you're watching the birds anyway. So why not count them for science?

Project FeederWatch turns your love of feeding birds into scientific discoveries. FeederWatch is a winter-long (November-April) survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. Participants periodically count the birds they see at their feeders and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. Your bird counts help you keep track of what is happening in your own backyard and help scientists track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Counting for Cornell Lab of Ornithology's 2019-20 FeederWatch season begins on November 9 and runs through April 3.   

For a $18 fee ($15 for Cornell Lab members), new participants receive the FeederWatch handbook and instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, tally sheets and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings, and access to the digital version of Living Bird, the Cornell Lab's award-winning, quarterly magazine.

Sign up at Project FeederWatch

Happy Birding!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Attract birds with native plants

The California coffeeberry shrub attracts birds with its red berries in the fall. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Here's my latest column that ran in the Orange County Register and other Southern California News Group papers on Saturday, October 5, 2019. 

A California native garden is a haven for birds and other wildlife. Indigenous plants have co-existed and evolved together with birds and pollinating insects over time, each depending on each other for survival and reproduction.

More than 600 bird species call California home. Even if you live in an urban setting, you can attract many species to your yard by providing a native habitat with a source of food and water.

“By creating an urban habitat, we can affect populations and diversity, one yard at a time,” said Mike Evans, co-owner of Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

Layering tall, medium and low plants throughout the space affords shelter and protection from predators. Open areas are important for birds that scratch and forage for seeds. Open space also allows for viewing, and is therefore an important design principle, he said.

As a general rule, October is the best month to plant California natives. “The soil is warm, the weather is cool, and the rain is on the way,” he said.

Including plants that bloom at different times throughout the year will add color and variety to the garden. But the presence of winter berries has an even more important role: they help sustain a number of bird species through the colder months. Many birds change their eating habits in fall and winter. Some insect-eating birds will turn to berries as a supplement to their diets because their high-calorie content offers critical nutrients when insects are scarce.

Winter berry-producing native shrubs supply important sustenance for many non-migrating species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers, Northern mockingbirds, California scrub jays and wrentits. And other species, such as Bewick’s wrens, will occasionally eat fruit in winter when insects are dormant.

Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings, which travel in large flocks. These showy birds have been known to over-indulge on overripe berries that have started to ferment and become intoxicated, which causes them to fly erratically and crash into windows. White-crowned sparrows, which are mainly seed eaters, are also winter migrants to Southern California and will turn to fruit, including elderberries and blackberries.

Bird-friendly plants include California coffeeberry, a shrub with dark, red berries this time of year; California wild grapes that yield small, edible clusters in the fall, and toyon, also known as Christmas berry or California holly, with bright, red berries that generally ripen by mid-December.
Tree of Life Nursery recommends other natives for songbirds including manzanita, fourwing saltbush, coyote brush, barberry, California lilac, buckwheat, brittlebush, chaparral honeysuckle, laurel sumac, hollyleaf cherry, oak trees, lemonade berry, currants, gooseberries, wild rose, wild blackberry, and elderberry.

In addition to supplying food, these dense shrubs are multi-functional. When planted as a border, they give birds a safe place to seek cover from predators. In the spring, dense shrubs also provide habitat for nesting. Flowering shrubs are also a nectar source for hummingbirds and other pollinators.

“A manicured, ornamental garden does nothing for wildlife,” Evans said.

But when you plant a California native garden, the space becomes a safe habitat for birds and other wildlife. And according to Jeff Bohn, co-owner of the Tree of Life Nursery: If you build it, they will come.

When Bohn recently purchased a new home, he removed the lawn, along with ornamental plants such as bird of paradise, and other non-native species. And he replaced them with California natives. “I was amazed how quickly towhees, phoebes, hummingbirds and lizards showed up,” Bohn said. “The other day, we had a rabbit in the yard, and I’d never seen a rabbit in the neighborhood before.”

Located along the winding Ortega Highway, Tree of Life Nursery contains 40 acres of natural habitat that borders Caspers Wilderness Park and functions as both a botanical garden and nursery center where guests can purchase plants to take home. The Casa La Paz gift shop on site offers books on plants, birds and butterflies, as well as inspirational books by authors such as John Muir.

The nursery hosts workshops on a variety of nature topics on Saturdays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at 33201 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano. Find the workshop schedule, plant lists, guides for planting and watering and other sage advice at californianativeplants.com, or call 949-728-0685.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Designing habitat in your garden workshop on Saturday

A hummingbird taps the blooms of a salvia plant. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Tree of Life Nursery will host a free workshop titled "Designing Habitat in Your Garden" on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. No advance sign-up required. 

Located along Ortega Highway, TOLN contains 40 acres of natural habitat that functions as both a botanical garden and nursery center where you can purchase plants to take home. The Casa La Paz gift shop on site offers nature books on plants, birds and butterflies, as well as inspirational books by authors such as John Muir.
TOLN is located at 33201 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, just before the entrance to Caspers Wilderness Park.

You can also find plant lists, guides for planting and watering, and other sage advice online at Tree of Life Nursery.

Happy Birding!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Orioles are migrating south

A male hooded oriole visits a hummingbird feeder. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Orioles breed in California during the spring and summer, then return to their winter grounds in Mexico, and Central and South America in the fall. Bullock's orioles start leaving in July, while the hooded species generally stay with us until early September.

You might see a few birds stopping by your feeders as they migrate, so don't be too quick to take your feeders down.

Happy Birding!

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.