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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Scientists Solve Mystery of How Hummingbirds Taste Sweetness

Hummingbirds feel the sweet lure of nectar, but they taste it in the most unexpected of ways.

This group of feathered friends doesn’t have a sweet taste receptor, which means they shouldn’t be able to taste sweet at all. But a new study published Thursday in Science reveals that hummingbirds have repurposed their umami receptor (which recognizes meaty and savory flavors) to be able to taste nectar’s sweetness.

Read more on the National Geographic website at:
Scientists Solve Mystery of How Hummingbirds Taste Sweetness

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to choose a backyard birdbath

A Western scrub jay enjoys a cool drink.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you missed my column in today's O.C. Register, here it is:


California towhees, Western scrub jays and robins tend to jump into the middle of a birdbath and splash with gusto. Smaller birds are often more timid, walking around the edges of a bath until they feel confident enough to test the water. Hummingbirds prefer to fly through a gentle spray.

With so many types of fountains and birdbaths on the market, how do you choose one that most birds will actually use?

For the birds, it’s all about feeling safe.

“The water should be no deeper than 3 inches for a water feature to be attractive to most songbirds,” said Robyn Bailey, NestWatch project leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “And gentle sloping basins are preferable to one that drops off sharply.”

Rocks can be added to an existing bath that may exceed this depth. And it’s best if the basin has a rough texture of the surface to give the birds a sure footing, she said. When it’s too slippery, the birds may not feel comfortable using it.

Like all animals, birds need water to survive. Bathing is a bird’s best friend for feather care. Birds bathe frequently to wash off dirt, parasites and other skin irritants. After vigorous splashing, a bird usually retreats to a perch where it fluffs its feathers to dry. Then it methodically preens each feather, adding a protective coating of oil secreted by a gland at the base of its tail.

Birds are attracted to the sight and sound of moving water, which makes some fountains or birdbaths with misters a popular rest stop for resident and migratory birds.

Placement of the water feature in your yard also matters to the birds. Some shy species such as orioles and warblers will only visit birdbaths and fountains near protective vegetation.

“If cats are a concern, chose a birdbath with a 3-foot pedestal and place it in an open area, about 15 feet from shrubs to give birds a chance to see the approaching danger,” Bailey said. “In yards without a threat from predators, a basin can be placed on the ground or short pedestal."

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests sanitizing birdbaths at least once a week by using a 10 percent solution of household bleach in water. Scrub with a stiff brush, rinse well and refill. Clean and replace the water frequently, especially in the heat. Replacing the water every few days will help reduce the threat of breeding mosquitoes, which can carry the West Nile Virus.

“Consistency is key,” she said. “If the birdbath is always drying out, the birds will stop coming. Providing water as part of a backyard habitat is important especially in periods of extended drought.”
Happy Birding!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

KNX News Radio examined California's drought

 Passing along the information on this important program:    

            As California faces one of the most severe droughts on record, KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO will present a comprehensive examination of the region’s current water emergency in a day-long series titled, “Running on Empty: Our Epic Drought,aired July 31.
KNX 1070’s award-winning news staff will look at the impact the worsening drought will have on our lives far beyond dry lawns and dirty cars.  A potential health emergency looms, firefighters are changing the way they battle fires and some areas are already on the verge of running out of water. 
KNX will detail what sets the current drought apart from those the state has experienced in the recent past. Among the questions to be answered are what food products might disappear from shelves and which ones will get costlier, who decides who’ll be able to tap into the eroding water supply and what will the long-term effects be on the local environment and wildlife?

 Seven KNX reporters have conducted more than 50 interviews with California Governor Jerry Brown, representatives from the Metropolitan and Orange County Water Districts, climatologists, environmentalists, farmers and others.

Podcasts and companion stories are posted at www.cbsLA.com/drought.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A little inspiration for today from Birds on the Wires

It's amazing how many of us find inspiration from the birds.

One morning while reading a newspaper, Jarbas Agnelli saw a photograph of birds on an electric wire. He cut out the photo and was inspired to make a song using the exact location of the birds as musical notes. He was curious to hear what melody the birds created.

He sent the music to the photographer, Paulo Pinto, who told his editor, who told a reporter and the story ended up as an interview in the newspaper. It ended up as the winner of the YouTube Play Guggenheim Biennial Festival.

Have a listen at how incredible the sounds that came out of the birds' positioning on the wires.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Has one bird taken over your hummingbird feeder?

A male Allen's hummingbird has claimed this feeder.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
A common question: I have one hummingbird that runs all the others away. What can I do to get more hummingbirds at my feeder?

It's not uncommon for a male hummingbird to claim an area with a food source as "his" territory. Then he runs all the other birds off with his fierce chirps.

Solve this by placing several feeders around the yard, making it more difficult for him to protect them all.  Make sure the defender can't see them all from one lookout spot.  Or create some type of visual separation, such as a vine-covered trellis, between hanging feeders.

Do you have any other tricks? Please comment below.
Happy Birding!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pennies may prevent algae build-up in birdbaths

Photo from Dirt Du Jour

My good friend, garden writer Cindy McNatt, suggested this trick to prevent algae build-up in birdbaths: Place a few pennies in it. Apparently, you need pre-1982 pennies, because later years have very little copper. The pennies are supposed to prevent algae not get rid of it, so start with a sparkling clean birdbath first.

Try it and let me know if it works!

Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Use mealworms to draw black phoebes

Black phoebes are year-round residents in So. California.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you missed my column today in the O.C. Register, here it is:

A friendly pair of black phoebes became year-round residents of our yard a few years ago.  Most mornings I can hear their shrill chirps before I’m even out of bed.
They often sit on the backs of our patio chairs that afford a direct view into our kitchen window. When really impatient they’ve been known to hover in front of it and even tap on the glass to get my attention. A string of sharp chirps generally continues until I come out with mealworms. Sometimes I think I’m being scolded for taking too long.
Lately, only one bird has been visiting. It repeatedly gathers a couple of mealworms in its bill then heads out of the yard in the same direction each time. It’s clear the pair is nesting, the second time this season.
Black phoebes are monomorphic, meaning that there are no differences in the physical characteristics between males and females.  These small songbirds are mostly black or dark sooty gray with a white belly. They have a large head and often show a slight crest. Juvenile plumage shows a hint of brown with cinnamon wing bars and rump.
Common throughout California, black phoebes are from the family of tyrant flycatchers and are often found near water, where they skim the surface for insects.  As the term flycatcher implies, they often sit on a fixed perch then dart out to catch insects on the fly.  They pump their tails up and down continuously when perched, seemingly in rhythm with their chirps. Because they can perform incredible aerial maneuvers, it makes them fun to watch.
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!