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

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!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Have you cleaned your hummingbird feeder today?

A male Allen's hummingbird visits a nectar feeder.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
 In case you haven't noticed, it's hot! Temperatures are supposed to reach into the 90s later in the week and that means the sugar solution in nectar feeders will ferment quickly.

Wildlife experts at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach explain that hummingbird feeders need to stay squeaky clean or you may be responsible for giving the birds deadly bacterial and fungal infections. The rehabilitation center receives 200 to 400 hummers a year. A significant number of adults and orphaned babies are admitted with infections from dirty feeders.

The center’s printed instructions on how to care for a hummingbird feeder clearly state:
“Please do it right or don’t do it at all.”

The wildlife experts recommend cleaning the feeder and replacing the sugar solution, or nectar, every two to three days. If you see mold or the solution is cloudy, you're waiting way too long to clean the feeder and replace the nectar.

To clean, take the feeder down and rinse it thoroughly in hot water. White vinegar is good for cleaning, but avoid soap. Hummers may reject a feeder with soap residue.

The care center recommends making homemade nectar over purchasing commercial solutions.
Use 1 cup of sugar per 4 cups of water. Too much sugar is hard on the birds’ liver and kidneys, and too little doesn’t provide the calories they need. Never use artificial sweeteners or honey.

To make nectar: measure a little more water than you’ll need. Boil the water for three minutes, then measure the water again because some will have evaporated. Add the sugar and stir. There's no need to boil the sugar and water together. Do not add red dye, which is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the birds. The nectar can then be stored for two weeks in a glass container in the refrigerator.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

OC Birder captures a great image of a male hooded oriole in molt

Male hooded oriole in molt. Photo by Anthony Gliozzo, taken September 4.
I received this kind note from avid birder and photographer Anthony Gliozzo in response to my last column in the O.C. Register on molting. You might know Anthony from his extraordinary website, ocbirds.com.  He allowed me to share this great photo, along with his note.

Thank you for getting that molting article together and having it published.  The timing of it was impeccable and I’ve read it a few times.  Hope you will do another on birds especially with the onset of shorebirds now coming into to OC.  The Wilsons’ and Red-necked have already arrived at Sea and Sage along with a Baird’s Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper and a few others at Bolsa Chica.

I was at the Montage today and caught two hooded orioles – the female was not going through a molting phase however her companion was (see attached).  I typically see the male and female together with this species and best I can tell this one seems to be a male though quite difficult without its typical characteristics displayed.

Best wishes
Anthony Gliozzo

Thanks so much, Anthony!
Happy Birding!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Birds molt this time of year

Juvenile Western bluebirds in molt look a bit bedraggled.  Photo by Ken Tomb
In case you missed The Backyard Birder column in the Orange County Register on Saturday, Aug. 30, here it is:
        Have you noticed that birds seem to keep a low profile this time of year?
       “I’ve had people ask me why they don’t see mockingbirds around in August,” said Sylvia Gallagher, chairwoman of bird information for Sea and Sage Audubon, Orange County’s local chapter. “Well, they’re definitely here, but they’re not singing and they’re molting.”
      Molting is a systematic process of replacing feathers. Birds tend to become secretive during this time, 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.
      Feathers are important to a bird’s survival, so they spend a great deal of time taking care of them. After bathing, they use their bills to preen. Each feather is coated with oil from a gland at the base of their tails to prevent it from becoming dry and brittle. Feathers need to be in good shape for flight maneuverability. They also insulate birds from the cold and make them virtually waterproof.
      “Every bird has a complete molt once a year,” Gallagher said. “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.”
      Because molting requires a lot of energy, it usually kicks in after breeding. Many undergo a complete molt on or near their breeding grounds, which allows them to migrate south with a new set of feathers.
     Some songbirds, such as the Western kingbird, will migrate partially south to the monsoon areas of southwest Arizona and New Mexico to molt. There the rain brings an abundance of insects for them to feed on. After molting their flight feathers, they continue migrating south to their wintering grounds.
     Molting patterns can even differ among closely related species, such as goldfinches, she said. American goldfinches molt twice a year, once in early spring when males sport their bright yellow breeding feathers and again in the fall when they exchange them for a more drab winter garb. Lesser goldfinches molt only in the fall.
      Waterfowl, including ducks, loons and grebes, lose all their feathers at once, rendering them flightless for about a month. During this time, male ducks molt into a brown eclipse plumage, which resembles the female coloring. Once the male’s wing feathers have regrown and they are able to fly, drakes will begin to grow the bright colors on their heads and body.

Happy Birding!