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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And the winner goes to: the Allen's hummingbird

An adult Allen's Hummingbirds is about 3.5 inches long, with a wingspan of about 4 inches. It has an iridescent red throat and a shiny green back, and it weighs about the same as three or four paperclips. Photo by J.J. Meyer
The Allen's hummingbird took top honors as Audubon's Bird of the Year for 2014. The tiny bird received nearly 30 percent of votes cast during the organization's recent online poll.

While the Allen’s hummingbird is not considered to be of conservation concern, Audubon researchers fear that could change in the coming years as development and non-native plants continue to chip away at its coastal habitat. 

By 2080, the species could lose up to 90 percent of its breeding range, forcing it to find more hospitable areas elsewhere. To those who love watching these hummingbirds at their feeder, this could be a big loss. 

Click the photo on the column to the right for expert information from the San Diego Safari Park on feeding hummingbirds. And go to backtonatives.org for information on planting native plants in your garden.

Happy Birding!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Watch for the arrival of cedar waxwings

Photo by J.J. Meyer
It's time to start watching for cedar waxwings.  This bird's arrival to Southern California is an announcement that the holiday season has begun.

Cedar waxwings appear to be little fruit bandits because of their distinctive black masks outlined in white. They measure about 7 inches in length with a pale brown head and crest that fades to soft gray on the wings and tail. Birders often spot them by their yellow bellies. Other markings include bright yellow tips on the tail and the red waxy wing tips, which increase in size and number as the birds age.

Cedar waxwings tend to be gregarious birds that travel in large, noisy flocks. In fact, it's rare to spot a single bird. They are nomadic birds that travel in search of food, instead of a taking a predictable migration path. Their distinctive call – a high-pitched, trilled whistle – often helps birders locate their presence.

While Cedar Waxwings also eat insects, they are primarily fruit-eaters in winter.  Therefore, fruit availability may be more of a predictor of their winter presence than temperature or latitude. They are very partial to soft fruits and berries and can be susceptible to alcohol intoxication and death from eating fermented fruit.

Their name comes from their strong attraction to the sweet blue berries of the red cedar tree.
Cedar waxwings visit California in fall and winter, staying until late February or early March when they fly north to breed in the northern United States and Canada.

To attract cedar waxwings to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that bear small fruits in winter, such as California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, manzanitas and California holly.

Happy birding!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

See birds of prey Dec. 13

A burrowing owl  Photo by Susan Brown Matsumoto Photography
     Volunteers from the Orange County Bird of Prey Center will be at Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 with several non-releasable education birds such as the burrowing owl shown in the photo.  In addition, they often bring a Harris hawk, American kestrel and great-horned owl.  
     Bring your camera. And please give generously to this hard-working organization.
     Wild Birds Unlimited is at 24481 Alicia Parkway in Mission Viejo, located next to LA Fitness.
     Tweet this to your friends!
     Happy Birding!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Plant berries for the birds

Native Toyon, also known as Christmas berry or California holly, produces red berries that ripen this time of year. Photo by J.J. Meyer

  In case you missed my column that ran on Saturday, Dec. 6 in the Home & Garden section of the Orange County Register, here it is:

       Many birds change their eating habits in fall and winter. Some insect-eating birds will turn to berries to supplement their diets.
      Winter berry-producing native shrubs are important sustenance for year-round species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers and Northern mockingbirds. Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings.
       “If you want to have birds and butterflies, you need native plants,” said Reginald Durant, executive director of Back to Natives Restoration. The nonprofit group in Santa Ana promotes the use of locally native plants in habitat restoration.
      Native plants are species that occur naturally in a region or habitat without human intervention.    According to Durant, there are 806 native plant species in Orange County.
      Having a diversity of these plants in your backyard habitat will attract a diversity of birds, he said. Natives are ideal for attracting birds because they’ve co-evolved and therefore benefit each other. These plants are enticing to birds because the fruit meets their nutritional needs at the right time of year. Dense native shrubs also provide shelter to protect birds from the winter wind and rain.
       In turn, many native plants depend on the birds to distribute seeds for propagation.
      Durant says there are many bird-friendly, fruit-producing natives suited for our climate, including California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, manzanitas, California coffeeberry, California grapes, fushia-flowering gooseberry and toyon, a small evergreen shrub also known as Christmas berry or California holly.
     The majority of these native berry-producing shrubs retain their fruit through the winter unless they are knocked down by high winds, he said.
      Fall is the best time to plant native shrubs, so they have time to become acclimated before the summer heat.
     “We usually wait until after the first rain to plant,” Durant said. So now is the perfect time.
     For information on choosing the best plants for your landscape, go to backtonatives.org.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rain can spoil your seed

Goldfinches flock to a nyjer feeder.
If you didn't bring your feeders indoors during yesterday's rain, there's a good chance your seed is wet.

But you may be able to save it, if it's not moldy.  If it is, pitch it.  Moldy seed is not healthy for the birds.  And they're likely to reject it anyway.

To save wet seed: spread it on a cookie sheet and place in the oven at a low temperature for about 10 minutes, just enough to dry it out.  Stir the seed and cool.

Now that your feeder is empty, it's a good time to clean it; birds pick up diseases at dirty feeders.  Use a 10 percent bleach solution to sterilize.  Make sure the seed completely dry before replacing it in the feeder.

Get ready for the rainy season ahead by purchasing rain guards or weather domes for your feeders.  Find them at nature stores such as Wild Birds Unlimited.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Make a free pinecone birdfeeder

A Northern Mockingbird loves the Bark Butter on this pinecone.

I'll be on hand to help children make pinecone birdfeeders at Wild Birds Unlimited on Sunday, December 7th 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Supplies will be provided.  These wrapped pinecones are perfect for children to give as holiday gifts.

Wild Birds Unlimited, 24481 Alicia Pkwy, Mission Viejo (Next to LA Fitness at the 5-Freeway)
 (949) 472-4928

So come on by! Did I mention it's free?

Happy Birding!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Got birds? Tell FeederWatch

Thanksgiving is over, the guests are gone, the kitchen is clean. Forget the mall. It's time to relax and count birds.

That's right: count birds for science. Feeder birds carry an important message about the health of bird populations and our environment.  Backyard birders can help decode that message by simply counting the birds they see and sending the data to Project FeederWatch. It's simple to do.

The 28th season of this Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen-science project began November 8 and continues through April 3, 2015.

New and returning participants can sign up at www.FeederWatch.org.

Happy Birding!