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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yellow-breasted chat banded at Starr Ranch Sanctuary

Photo by Tom Sheffield
This is the first time the a yellow-breasted chat has been seen at the Starr Ranch Sanctuary in south Orange County, California in 25 years. The bird was banded and released.

Chats are small songbirds but are large and bulky compared to other warblers. They have a long tail, large head and a relatively thick, heavy bill.

The yellow-breasted chat offers a cascade of song in the spring, when males deliver streams of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles with the fluidity of improvisational jazz. It’s seldom seen or heard during the rest of the year, when both males and females skulk silently in the shadows of dense thickets, gleaning insects and berries for food. The largest of our warblers, the chat is a widespread breeder in shrubby habitats across North America, venturing to Central America for the winter. 

Read more at Audubon California.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Acclaimed scientist studies "One Wild Bird at a Time"


Just started reading this book, which was recently released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to review this book by acclaimed scientist Bernd Heinrich.

Here's a description from Goodreads:

In his modern classics One Man’s Owl and Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich has written memorably about his relationships with wild ravens and a great horned owl. In One Wild Bird at a Time, Heinrich returns to his great love: close, day-to-day observations of individual wild birds. 

There are countless books on bird behavior, but Heinrich argues that some of the most amazing bird behaviors fall below the radar of what most birds do in aggregate. 

Heinrich’s “passionate observations [that] superbly mix memoir and science” (New York Times Book Review) lead to fascinating questions — and sometimes startling discoveries. A great crested flycatcher, while bringing food to the young in their nest, is attacked by the other flycatcher nearby. Why? A pair of Northern flickers hammering their nest-hole into the side of Heinrich’s cabin deliver the opportunity to observe the feeding competition between siblings, and to make a related discovery about nest-cleaning. One of a clutch of redstart warbler babies fledges out of the nest from twenty feet above the ground, and lands on the grass below. It can’t fly. What will happen next?   

Heinrich “looks closely, with his trademark ‘hands-and-knees science’ at its most engaging, [delivering] what can only be called psychological marvels of knowing” (Boston Globe).   

An eminent biologist shares the joys of bird-watching and how observing the anomalous behaviors of individual birds has guided his research.

An engaging memoir of the opportunities for doing scientific research without leaving one's own backyard. (Kirkus)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dead trees pose a threat, but provide homes for wildlife

A male Nuttall's woodpecker. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Story appeared on Audubon California website, June 29, 2016.

      More than 66 million trees in California have died since 2010 due to the drought and pine beetle infestations, according to a press release from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection this week. The accumulation of dead trees is exacerbating wildfires in the southern part of the state, in addition to demonstrating poor forest health.
      “From Southern California to the Bay Area to the Sierra, this is happening across the entire state,” said Sandy DeSimone, Director of Research and Education at the Audubon California Starr Ranch Sanctuary. “It’s a really mindboggling problem and everyone is talking about it.”
      For scale, there were only 3.3 million dead trees in California from 2010 to 2014. In 2015, officials were worried when that number jumped to 29 million dead trees. In response, Governor Jerry Brown created the Tree Mortality Task Force, a coalition of over 80 stakeholders and government agencies from the local to federal level.
      The impacts of this trend are multifold and interwoven. First, the dead trees make excellent tinder for forest fires, as they are dried out from the drought. Healthy forests contain moisture that contains fires; dry forests allow the fire to sustain and spread. Some of the consequences of such prolonged “megafires” are obvious, such as destruction of wildlife habitat and potential damage to homes and building.
      There is also a cyclical irony among the dying trees, fires and climate change. As the trees die, they no longer absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As the trees burn, they release more carbon into the air. In fact, a Berkeley study last year found that forest fires are responsible for somewhere between 5 to 7 percent of California’s total carbon emissions.
      Climate change caused by such greenhouse gases has in turn been linked back to drought and beetle epidemics, the causes of the tree die-offs. Climate change can cause precipitation changes, and higher temperatures have increased the range where pine beetles can thrive, spelling trouble for the trees. We also know that climate change threatens 170 bird species in California.
      To address the immediate problem of the fires, the focus of CAL FIRE has first turned to removing dead trees to prevent the spread of flames. However, the dead trees—also called snags—can provide home for birds and other small wildlife as well.
      “There’s not an easy way to reconcile habitat and nesting in dead trees with the fire potential,” DeSimone said.
     However, she did suggest some general guidelines. When drought-weakened trees sustain diseases or pests, when these trees die they can no longer serve as home to birds anyway and should be removed. Additionally, human safety can be a concern to consider.
     “At this point, it’s a potential human and ecological disaster,” warned DeSimone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Southern California Bluebird Club meets Saturday, July 2

Daddy bluebird guards his nest box. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Want to know more about bluebirds? Learn more about these beautiful birds and how you can become a nest box monitor at the next Southern California Bluebird Club.

The group meets this Saturday, July 2 at 9 a.m. at the Irvine Ranch Water District, 15500 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine.

For more information, go to socalbluebirds.org. 

Happy Birding!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hummingbirds need help during the heat wave

A male Allen's hummingbird in Mission Viejo, CA.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
The temperature is expected to be over 100 degrees again today in Southern California. So please get out and replenish the nectar in all hummingbird feeders. Nectar can ferment in less than a day in temps like these.

Please clean your feeders and replenish the nectar every day until temps cool down.

Nectar should be made in a 1:4 ratio, meaning 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups water. Any stronger can leave the birds dehydrated. Use only granulated sugar. Never use organic or raw sugar and especially NO  honey, which can be deadly.

And every bird needs water, so please keep bird baths and fountains clean and fresh too. 
Our birds will love you.

Happy birding!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Daddy birds should get the day off

A male house finch feeds a fledgling. Photo by J.J. Meyer

A male Western bluebird feeds two fledglings. Photo by Ken Carrier
     Not all dads will get the day off for Father's Day.
     While the role of the daddy bird differs among species, many males including house finches, mourning doves, barn owls, eagles, Western bluebirds, Nuttall's woodpeckers and countless others, share the responsibilities of nesting and feeding the young with their mates.
     Male hummingbirds on the other hand, do not lift a feather to help out.

     Happy Father's Day to all the hard-working dads out there. And Happy Birding, of course!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

House wrens often compete for bluebird boxes

House wrens block the entrance to the box with twigs.  Photo by Ken Meyer
      My husband and I recently discovered that a house wren had taken over one of the bluebird boxes that we've been monitoring at a local park. We could tell that the nest had been built by house wrens because the twigs were much thicker than what bluebirds typically use.
      And before I pulled the nest out, I saw two tiny pink eggs on the bottom of the box. Both were broken. The pink eggs told us that this nest had been built by house wrens. 
      Although it's not visible in the above photo, there was a cozy cup lined with feathers in the middle of this mess. There were no eggs in the cup.
     House wrens sometimes fill the box to the top with twigs to create a barrier between cup-shaped interior and the entrance to the box, seemingly to protect it from cold weather and predators, including cowbirds.
     These tiny birds with the sweet song can be fierce competitors for natural holes and nest boxes. They're known to harass much larger birds, sometimes pecking the eggs and killing the young in a nest site they want to use. In some areas they are the main source of nest failure for bluebirds, tree swallows and chickadees.
      But before you go kicking them out of your boxes, remember that house wrens are native songbirds, which mean they are a protected species. So a completed nest and eggs should not be disturbed. However, it is perfectly legal to discourage a house wren from building a nest in a bluebird box by consistently removing the twigs it places inside.

     Want to learn more about bluebirds?  Go to Southern California Bluebird Club.
     Happy Birding!