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

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Birds hide out during the molt


A Northern mockingbird in molt. Photo by J.J. Meyer



Here's my latest column, scheduled to run on Saturday in The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and Riverside Press-Enterprise.


As we head toward the end of summer, many people may wonder where all the birds have gone.

Experts say the birds haven’t gone anywhere; they’re just in hiding. August is the peak molting time for songbirds. It’s the period when they shed worn and ragged feathers and grow beautiful new plumage.

“During the molt, birds suddenly get scarce,” said Tim Stanley, author of the recently published book, “California Birds: A Photographic Journey and Guide.” “They’re not necessarily gone; they’re just not vocalizing.”

Birds tend to become secretive while molting, quietly hiding in the vegetation, explained the Irvine-based author. “Even mockingbirds typically go very quiet by July.

“Birds are more vulnerable to predators during molt, because they’re not as quick to escape,” Stanley said. This is especially true when growing new flight feathers. Birds can look unkempt and bedraggled during the molting process as if they were on the losing end of a fight. Some even go bald.

“Although they’re not as pretty, you can learn a lot by observing them during this time,” he said.

For example, molting patterns can help birdwatchers determine the age of the bird. Some species acquire their adult plumage in a single year. Other species, such as bald eagles, may take up to five years to reach their full adult plumage.

Bald eagles Jackie and Shadow of Big Bear fame achieved their distinctive solid white head and tail, many years ago. Fans have been watching the raptors via a nest webcam during their recent molt. Close-up videos have shown the contrast between older frayed feathers, which had been bleached by the sun, and the shiny new ones that are darker in color.

Stanley mentioned molting in the preface of his book because of its significance, he said. The book concentrates on 356 common California species, including a section with photos that show examples of birds in molt. “Birds can look very different during this time,” he said.

How a bird molts depends not only on the species but on the climate as well, he said. Many species undergo a complete molt on or near their breeding grounds, which allows them to migrate south with a new set of feathers. Others undergo a partial molt before migrating. But birds aren’t normally in a full molt when flying long distances.

American goldfinches are one of the rare species that molt twice a year, once in early spring when males develop their bright yellow breeding feathers and again in the fall when they exchange them for their dull winter colors.

Keeping feathers in tip-top shape is important for flight. And they are also vital in attracting a mate and protecting birds from inclement weather. Feathers provide insulation and keep a bird virtually waterproof.

Molting requires a lot of energy and generally begins after the breeding season and before migration. Depending on the species, it may take weeks or months for them to complete the molting cycle.

Described as a hybrid field guide and coffee table book, the hefty 542-page, self-published volume contains more than 1,000 photos showing birds in their natural surroundings. It’s available for $29.95 plus tax and shipping on Stanley’s website at https://2timothypublishing.com.


 Happy Birding,



Thursday, January 26, 2023

Find inspiration for pollinator-friendly gardens at The Living Desert


A Queen butterfly visits a pollinator garden at The Living Desert
 - Photo by J Meyer

Here's my latest column, scheduled to run on Saturday in The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and Riverside Press-Enterprise

Winter is the perfect time to visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert. The temperatures are cool, and the animals tend to be more active.

One recent morning, a group of birders kept their binoculars trained on some very active residents of the zoo. But it wasn’t the giraffes, antelope or black rhinos that held their interest. Instead, it was the many birds, including shimmering hummingbirds that buzzed around the zoo’s varied botanical gardens.

Despite the calendar month, there were obvious mating activities witnessed among the birds, including a male Anna’s hummingbird that performed an aerial courtship display to impress a potential mate.

“The Living Desert is definitely a breeding epicenter,” said Dr. James Danoff-Burg, the director of conservation. “Especially for our two year-round residents: Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds, which are currently nesting.”

“We are a zoo but as our name implies, we also have botanical gardens,” he said. “There are 60 botanical gardens on the grounds, each are themed differently, which provide different food sources for the hummingbirds.”

So there’s a constant availability of flowering plants and insects for the year-round resident hummingbirds and those that migrate through the Coachella Valley, he said. Many of these themed gardens were planted for the benefit of pollinators, which include hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

The botanical gardens at The Living Desert provide inspiration for homeowners wanting to create a wildlife-friendly habitat in their own yards. Plants native to the southwestern deserts were used to landscape the patios, walkways and seating areas. And its gardens demonstrate many ways a homeowner can use native trees, shrubs, vines and flowers in their garden design.

Gardening with native plants helps restore fragmented urban ecosystems, provides critical habitat for threatened pollinators, and saves critical amounts of water, Dr. Danoff-Burg said.

The Living Desert received a grant last year for its Pollinator Pathway program that helps educate the community about the importance of pollinators and restore habitat connectivity for pollinators moving within and through the Coachella Valley. The main objectives are to build pollinator gardens, remove water-hungry turf, and educate local residents, including school children through hands-on planting.

“It brings nature into the schools,” he said. “The children care for the plants and indirectly the animals they serve.”

A second grant will help fund a pollinator plant party this spring. The program is designed to educate zoo visitors on how to create a safe and healthy garden habitat, which includes reducing the use of pesticides. The zoo plans to distribute take-home native seed packets to visitors from April 10 to 23.

The zoo and botanic gardens are dedicated solely to the deserts of the world. Its programs provide environmental education, plant propagation, habitat restoration, and the breeding of African, Australian, and North American species, including the area’s iconic desert bighorn sheep. The non-profit zoo has been engaged in work of preservation and conservation of the desert and all its varied plant and animal life since 1970.

The Living Desert is located 17 miles south of downtown Palm Springs. Its winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with the last entrance at 4 p.m. For more information, call (760) 346-5694 or go to livingdesert.org.





Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Promise Message from a hummingbird


I was working the morning shift alone at Wild Birds Unlimited a few years ago, when a woman came in looking for a hummingbird feeder. The sadness behind her steel blue eyes was apparent. When I escorted her to the area where the feeders were displayed, she began to tell me that her husband had recently passed away. 

The following link will take you to a flash fiction piece I wrote based on her experience. Although my story is fiction, the inspiration for the piece came from the woman I met in the store that day.



Happy Birding.


Sunday, July 3, 2022

Roger's Gardens celebrates Hummingbird Summer


Salvias are magnets for hummingbirds. Photos by Jennifer J. Meyer

Here's my latest column scheduled to run July 9th in the Southern California News Group newspapers including The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Riverside Press-Telegram. 

            The hummingbirds are most active early in the morning at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar. On a recent morning, a tiny Allen’s hummingbird guarded an entire row of California native plants, chasing off competitors that ventured too close to his blooms.

Meanwhile in the sky overhead, a male Anna’s performed an aerial courtship display to impress a potential mate, while scores other hummingbirds squeaked and buzzed around the many species of native plants, seemingly undeterred by the customers strolling through the grounds.

Roger’s Gardens is celebrating Hummingbird Summer with educational displays, events and of course, hundreds of colorful, drought-tolerant California native plants.

On Saturday, July 16, wildlife experts from Sea & Sage Audubon Society, the local chapter of the National Audubon Society will be at the nursery from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to teach visitors about the various hummingbird species that live in or migrate through Southern California. They will be on-hand to answer questions about these important pollinators and teach visitors how to attract them to the garden.

“Hummingbirds are like people, they love beautiful flowers,” said Roger’s Gardens’ horticulturist Sarah Smith. “The key is to have a variety of native plants, because each has a different sugar content.

“It’s a misconception that hummingbirds are only attracted to the color red,” Smith said. “Include a variety of color in the garden and you’ll create a hummingbird buffet.”

They love the many colors of salvias, monkey flowers, gold Agastache or hummingbird mint, the orange firecracker flowers, California fuchsia, just to name a few. They’re also attracted to the blooms on coffeeberry bushes, and Western redbud, Toyon, manzanita and bottle-brush trees.

“They even like the succulent flowers,” she said. And the plant doesn’t need to have a tubular bloom for the hummingbirds to feed.

California native plants are an important food source for birds and other wildlife. These indigenous plants have co-existed and evolved together with birds and pollinating insects over time, each depending on each other for survival and reproduction.

Tune into live-stream videos on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. when Smith discusses a featured hummingbird plant of the week. Other educational videos and hummingbird information can be found at rogersgardens.com.

            Participants at the event can try attracting a hummingbird to a hand-held dot feeder at a station near the amphitheater in the nursery.

Throughout the summer, customers who would like to donate to Sea & Sage can round-up their purchase to the nearest dollar to benefit the educational and conservation programs at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. Roger’s Gardens will then match the donation amount received through August 28. Last year, the nursery donated $7,559 to the local Audubon chapter from its Hummingbird Summer event.


Monday, February 7, 2022

Hummingbird Wars

A male Allen's hummingbird claims a feeder after running off the competition.


           Here's my latest column scheduled to run in the Southern California News Group newspapers, including The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Riverside Press-Enterprise on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.


            It’s all-out war when a tiny tyrant decides to claim a nectar feeder.

Gail O’Connell has a resident bully bird on her patio in Laguna Niguel. “He sits near our feeder and swoops down anytime another hummingbird shows up,” she said. “Though occasionally he’ll let a female drink.”

While the antics of this miniature brute may be fascinating to watch, it can be frustrating when he chases all the other birds away, she said.

Bullies are a common problem for bird enthusiasts with flowering gardens and hummingbird feeders. Some people have even nicknamed these ruffians Rambo, Brutus, Spike, or the name of the current enforcer on their favorite hockey team. And these little birds earn their titles; male hummingbirds are fierce fighters and rarely play nice.

These birds are not only mean, but sneaky as well, generally hiding in a spot where they can secretly monitor their personal food supply. Then these feisty fliers use their aerial skills to launch an attack on unsuspecting would-be nectar thieves.

As with most creatures in the wild, fights are all about food, territory and breeding rights.

            “Most animals are territorial, but male hummingbirds are especially territorial,” said Terry Masear, a licensed hummingbird rehabilitator and author of “Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015.

“They’re doing what they’re programmed to do,” Masear said. “His only purpose in life is to breed. They’re individualists; they don’t mate for life like ducks and ravens. So, they claim a territory where they can breed with as many females as possible.”

Hummingbirds appear tiny and delicate: the average weight of most Southern California species is about three grams, she said. Despite their size, they are hardy and resilient with some species migrating as much as 3,000 miles.

Though Masear now lives in Portland, Oregon, she still monitors the telephone rescue line based in West Hollywood and plans to return to Los Angeles to participate in a documentary based on her book, which will be filmed by the Australian company Wildbear Entertainment in April. 

She’s learned a lot about hummingbirds during her 15 years providing rehabilitation.

            “Just like people, hummingbirds have different personalities,” she said. “Some are sweet like little puppies. And some are so wild, if they were big enough, they’d take you out.”

            Male aggressors can be brutal. “These winged warriors are hardwired to fight to the death,” she said. They can use their bills like swords to skewer their opponent. And because they can fly 50-60 miles per hour in a downward arch, males can use their speed to impale a competitor. “When this happens, the other bird has no chance,” she said.

            As a rehabber, Masear has seen plenty of these casualties of war. She recently received a call about a female hummingbird covered in blood. It was clear from the photo sent by rescuers that the bird had a hole in her neck and back. “Sometimes if they sit on a feeder too long, they become a target for these brutal attacks.”

Some hummingbird species such as the Allen’s and rufous, can be especially belligerent, she said. “Rufous hummingbirds are monstrous.”  

“Bullies get hurt too and tend to end up in rehab a lot themselves.” Their constant battles also shorten their longevity. “It’s a tough world out there.”

            Females can also be aggressive when they’re nesting, she said. “Babies are their reason for living.”

            But there are moments of peace in the garden. Just before dark, or before a heavy rain, there’s something Masear calls the “the law of the jungle.” The birds don’t fight as much during these times. They won’t waste energy on sparing because they need to eat as much as they can, this is especially true in winter when nights are longer, she said.  

            If you want to keep peace at your feeder, Masear has a simple solution: add more feeders. First, determine the bully’s hiding place, then install clusters of feeders out of his line of vision, so they’re too far apart for him to dominate; it’s too much work, she said.  

            Kristi Stowell Cole of Laguna Hills hung 18 feeders around the perimeter of her house to stop the constant battles. Her feeders attract so many birds that often the ports are not only filled, but birds are sharing ports with additional birds waiting in the wings.  

            We have a few territorial bullies, but with multiple feeders, they usually lose out on their attempt to monopolize them,” Cole said. Even so, she’s witnessed fights, such as the juvenile male that was knocked to the ground by a particularly angry Anna’s.

            When she attempted to pick up the bird on the ground, the attacker flew to her hand to continue the fight, gripping the young bird’s head with its feet and stabbing it in the back, she said.

            The little guy didn’t survive. She buried him in her backyard memorial garden where the mosaic stepping stone she created honors the little jewels of her garden.




Contact the writer: Jennifer J. Meyer is a freelance writer from Mission Viejo.  Write to her at jjthebackyardbirder@gmail.com or visit her blog at jjthebackyardbirder.com.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Orange County Bird of Prey release


A red-tailed hawk

A Cooper's hawk

A great-horned owl

Setting the owl free

I released a great-horned owl at the Orange County Bird of Prey Center's new facility near Oso Lake on Saturday. I was a bit overwhelmed looking eye-to-eye with that owl before I set him free. 

Thirty-five raptors, which included Cooper's, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks and great-horned and barn owls were released on Saturday, Aug. 14th. The injured birds had been treated then rehabilitated in mews or flight cages on the property. This release was the first at the center's new location. 

 If you'd like to be part of a future release, go to Orange County Bird of Prey Center

The OCBPC is a volunteer-run organization. Your donations go directly to the care and feeding of these magnificent birds.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Help birds during the summer heat



Here's my latest column that ran today in the Southern California News Group newspapers including the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze,Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and the Riverside Press-Enterprise.


 Summer means family time for birds. It’s the transitional period between the frenzy of spring breeding and their preparation for fall migration. But that doesn’t mean birds are just kicking back for the season. There’s still plenty going on in the avian world.

“Many birds are still actively nesting and taking care of their little ones,” said Diann Tomb, assistant manager at Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo. “I heard a mockingbird singing near my house recently, which meant he was still in the breeding stage.”

Musical territory

Male Northern Mockingbirds sing to reinforce the bond with their mates and defend their territories, she said. Their songs are a warning to other males to stay away. These all-night songfests continue through their nesting cycle, which generally extends through July.

Male mourning doves could recently be heard cooing from rooftops as well, which is their advertising call for a mate. Because these birds have a long breeding season with up to six broods per year, they nest into late summer.

And then there are the American and lesser goldfinches, which are typically the last birds to breed in Southern California. “They generally wait until late summer when thistle is blooming and food is plentiful,” said owner Alan Barry, of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo. “Though this year, they left a little earlier than previous years.”

Barry tracks them through the sales of nyjer seed, a favorite of the goldfinches. “The birds are known to nest in the foothills, where there is an abundance of food,” he said. “When they’re gone, customers stop feeding nyjer and sales of the seed drop dramatically.”

In general, mid-to-late summer tends to be a quieter period in bird land. People often report fewer birds visiting backyard feeders. Summer is prime time for natural food. Insects and berries are at their peak. During this time, birds are feasting on insects to feed their young. As the juveniles grow, they will often accompany their parents back to the feeders.

Beating the heat

Bird behavior tends to change when temperatures skyrocket.

“I’ve noticed birds disappear from my yard midday when it’s hot,” Barry said. Like many other species, birds become less active in the heat, retreating to the shade where they can hide and cool off, he said.

Homeowners can help birds through the drought and scorching heat by keeping birdbaths clean and filled with fresh water, he said. “Even putting out a plate of water will help. I’ve noticed birds in the street gutters, trying to get a drink from sprinkler runoff.”

Birds are attracted to moving water. And a birdbath or fountain in the yard will attract species that don’t normally visit seed feeders, he said.

“Be sure to keep hummingbird feeders clean and filled,” he said. “A general rule of thumb is to replace the nectar every one to three days when temperatures are over 80 degrees.”

In extreme heat, nectar can spoil in as little as one day. If the liquid becomes cloudy, it’s time to replace. Adding red dye is unnecessary, he said.

Time to molt

Customers have already reported seeing a few species of songbirds in molt, Barry said. “Black phoebes and Bewick’s wrens are among the birds showing signs of molt.”

Because molting requires a lot of energy, it generally begins after breeding. Every bird from the smallest hummingbird to the largest eagle goes through a systematic process of replacing their feathers. Birds in molt can look bald, scruffy and bedraggled.

The way they molt differs among species. Many birds undergo a complete molt near their breeding grounds, which allows them to migrate south with a new set of feathers. Some have a partial molt before fall migration. Typically, birds shed feathers in regular patterns, though it may take weeks or months for them to complete the molting cycle. However, birds are not normally in a full molt when flying long distances.

Birds tend to become secretive during this time, vocalizing infrequently and hiding in the vegetation, Barry said. “They’re more vulnerable to predators during molt, especially when growing new flight feathers.”

Help our fine feathered friends by offering quality sunflower seeds to help boost the protein and fat in their diets needed to grow new feathers, he said. Suet also provides great nutritional value.

If you’re visiting lakes and ponds this summer, Barry suggests bringing along cracked corn if you’re allowed to feed the ducks. Pieces of torn lettuce and thawed frozen peas are also acceptable.

Just leave the bread at home. “It’s difficult for the birds to digest and bread has also been linked to avian botulism,” he said. The disease can cause paralysis and death in birds.