|Male orioles arrive early in the season to claim the best breeding territories. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Here's my latest column, scheduled to run in the Orange County Register on Saturday, April 11.
With the stress and uncertainty of Covid-19 weighing us all down, take a moment and enjoy the sounds and beauty of birds. Nature has a way of soothing the soul. And a healthy dose of its solace and respite might be just what we need right now.
Studies have shown that bird watching can help reduce anxiety and depression. It’s undeniable that birds bring joy to people of all ages. According to the National Audubon Society, tens of millions identify themselves as birders.
Staff at many of the local Wild Birds Unlimited stores throughout Southern California have been busy over the past couple weeks making deliveries to those who were unable to get out. Customers said they couldn’t face being homebound for any length of time without being able to feed their birds.
“Birds have a calming effect,” said Diann Tomb, assistant manager at the WBU location in Mission Viejo. “Forget watching television, which only causes more stress,” she said. “Watch the birds instead.”
Breeding season is in full swing, so there’s a lot of bird activity right outside our windows. Missing sports? Watch the birds’ version of March Madness, a competition for food, territories, and even mates. And this event will go on into summer.
It’s amazing what you might discover about birds if you just pay attention. You never know when an unusual species may show up. You might witness a pair displaying courtship behaviors or the avian equivalent of a marital squabble. You just have to be watching.
The pandemic forced avid birder George Nothhelfer to cancel his planned birding excursions. He’s been coping by taking walks around his south Orange County neighborhood and visiting local parks. “Spring migration is underway and there’s a lot of interesting birds out there,” he said.
According to Audubon, more than a billion birds will make their way over the Golden State during spring migration. For birds migrating up the Pacific Flyway to the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska this spring, California is a major stop.
Get the family involved with bird watching and create a learning experience for homebound children. Then record your sightings on eBird, the largest biological citizen-science program in the world. It helps birders locate species and keep track of their sightings. The program gathers more than 100 million bird sightings each year. Collectively, these sightings help scientists understand bird populations, distribution, habitat use and trends. A free video on how to use eBird is available at www.academy.allaboutbirds.org/product/ebird-essentials/.
Even if it’s raining, it’s still possible to bird watch thanks to the many live streaming videos available online. Live eagle nest cams on Catalina Island and other locations across the country stream nonstop at www.explore.org. Student lesson plans are available on the site. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also streams several live videos, including a barred owl nest box and a large feeding station located at Sapsucker Woods in New York, which attracts many beautiful Eastern species.
Remember that birds don’t understand the concept of social distancing, so if you have feeders, they need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly to prevent the birds from getting sick. Prevention is the key to avoiding the spread of avian diseases. Experts at the Lab recommend scrubbing and soaking feeders monthly in a diluted bleach solution, then rinsing and drying thoroughly, before adding fresh seed.
Being vigilant about cleanliness is particularly important when it comes to hummingbird feeders. These tiny birds can pick up a deadly fungal infection at dirty feeders. An infected bird can then spread the disease at every feeder it visits. The infection causes a swollen tongue, eventually causing the birds to suffocate or starve.
Because a nectar or sugar solution can ferment in direct sunlight in as little as a day in hot weather and five days in the shade, experts recommend cleaning feeders frequently with white vinegar or bleach. Rinse thoroughly with hot water and replace with fresh nectar at least every five days and more often in warm weather.