Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Day

My pet birds and I had a good Christmas. However, we didn't spend all day together because I took a ride out to the desert ... Joshua Tree National Monument to be exact. I had an important reason to head that direction on Christmas ... to pay homage to my Mom. My mother died in 1998 and my stepdad took her ashes there because she enjoyed her many visits to Joshua Tree so much. I decided to spend some "time" with her this Christmas. It was a good decision.

It was a beautiful and peaceful day and the desert scenery was dramatic as usual. All in all, it was a nice way to spend part of Christmas Day ... it made me feel good.

On Christmas Eve I made sure all the backyard feeders were full. So before leaving for the desert I watched the birds as they devoured their meal. There were a lot of visitors on Christmas morning ... the Goldfinches, of course and also Scrub Jays, California Quail (a family of 11), White-crowned Sparrows, House Finches, California Towhee, Plain Titmouse and our Anna's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. No spectacular or infrequent visitors ... just good, dear and dependable friends. Oh yes, I shouldn't forget to mention the Cotton-tail Rabbit who comes occasionally to nibble the grass. It's always a treat to watch it hop around the yard. The ground squirrels were missing but I know they'll be back soon.

I thought I might see a few birds at Joshua Tree but we couldn't stay long enough to sit and wait for some to appear. It takes about 3 hours each way to drive from coastal San Diego county. There was only a lone Crow sitting on a dead iron-wood tree. He flew off as we approached. Actually, it is a little easier to see wild birds at Joshua Tree near the water sources. It makes sense, of course, and has been my experience.

Christmas was a perfect day and the peaceful journey we took made the woes of the world seem a little less. Perhaps next Christmas they really will be.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Feeding Finches

I love my newest finch feeder. Actually, it is correctly described as a nyjer feeder. It is a cylinder shape and large enough to feed quite a few birds at a time. Before getting this feeder I was feeding goldfinches with stocking feeders. Those feeders are just what the name implies. They are sacks that the birds can cling to and extract the nyjer seed through the mesh. Unfortunately, my experience with the stockings wasn't a particularly good one. Not that there is anything wrong with the best-made stocking feeders ... there isn't. I just chose the wrong ones and eventually the mesh gave way allowing too much seed to be lost. With that experience behind me, I decided to try a style made of metal. I'm sure one made of wood would be a good choice, too.

A picture of my feeder is shown above ... and just look at all the finches on it. Now you know why I love it. It is large enough to accommodate quite a few birds. The highest count I've made so far is 17 feeding at one time. With so many birds in the yard this feeder is perfect for helping me get an accurate count of the finches for Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project Feeder watch which I'm participating in.

As you can see, the birds love this sturdy type of feeder. And it is good that it has a roof over the seed to protect it from the weather this winter. Granted, we don't have that much rain in Southern California ... but when we do I know that the majority of my seed won't get soaked. This type,
or a polycarbonate feeder, would be especially welcome in the wetter parts of the country.

So I'm basically all set for bird feeding. I've got a great source for feeders, and
bird houses all the other stuff that makes my hobby so easy and fun. And even better, I no longer have to run to the store when I'm out of bird seed. I just go online and buy top quality seed, an important step in saving money and eliminating waste. But better yet, it doesn't even cost as much as it would if I went to my favorite bird store ... and the shipping is free, too! Hmmm! Now how could I find an easier, more convenient, and fun hobby than bird feeding. The bottom line: I couldn't!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Peacocks - Exotic Visitors

I really have no idea where they come from, or who they belong to ... if anyone. I'm referring to frequent visitors who've adopted my yard. I love finding them napping in the morning sun outside my bedroom ... the three of them ... all India Blue Peafowl (Pavo cristatus). They are commonly known as Peacocks, but that really refers to the males. The females are Peahens and the youngsters are Peachicks. Since I moved into this home nearly 4 years ago this peacock family have been frequent visitors ... sometimes staying most of the day.

Each year momma Peahen comes calling with one to three chicks tagging along. It is fun to watch them mature through the year. This year she had two chicks ... one male and the other female (mom and the young female are shown in the photo). The male is now sprouting irridescent blue feathers in his upper body, but he isn't old enough to have that beautiful tail the males are famous for. However, there is an older male that has adopted the wheel of my SUV as his own. It's pretty clear that he enjoys seeing his reflection in the metal alloy. And why not ... he is beautiful and has a long a gorgeous tail. This morning he ventured closer to the house ... in fact was looking in the window of my front door. No, he isn't tall enough to see in the typical high-placed window in some front doors. My door is almost all glass so he can walk right up and see his reflection very easily ... that is what attracts him.

These creatures sure lend an exotic touch to my bird feeding. I just didn't feel right about providing for the local birds that visit my yard, without including them. So eventually I put out a
ground platform feeder they can eat from ... but so do the smaller birds. In fact the smaller birds get the lions share since they are constantly feeding while the peacocks come and go.

I have several areas of ground cover planted in the backyard and it isn't unusual to find 3 peacock heads peeking out of it as they take their afternoon nap. What a life they have! Eat, sleep and wander around, unmolested.

Now, if they just weren't so clumsy. If there is something around they can break, they manage it. They've broken 2 clay pots sitting on the deck rail and another on the deck. So they lost my favor for awhile. But really the worst thing was breaking a major limb on a Plumeria. You know, that wonderful bush/tree whose blossoms are frequently used in Hawaiian leis. They smell just wonderful and remind me of Hawaii. So when I discovered they grow very well here in San Diego county, I made a special visit to a Plumeria sale to find a 2 or 3 good sized, perfectly shaped plants for my clay pots. The trip was worthwhile because I came home with some beauties. Everything was going well until one of the peacocks jumped off my roof and landed on the prettiest Plumeria and broke a major limb. Well, so much for a well-shaped plant. It was sad. And then, of course, there is their love of begonia flowers. The begonias I planted last spring did not last through the summer. The flowers were eaten and once devoured the peacocks decided the plant was just as tasty. So I was left with a few scraggly stems. I hope the plants regenerate next spring. I'll have to wait and see.

Oh yes, there is the need to hose off my deck from their visits ... if you know what I mean. It's a nuisance to be sure; but then I think ... how many people can enjoy such exotic visitors. So I try to have a little patience and be a tolerant hostess. The good outweighs the bad.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fagan, my Moluccan Cockatoo

While searching the Internet I ran across the website for a parrot rescue organization. Although these folks take in all species of neglected and abused parrots, they were founded to aid cockatoos ... especially Moluccan Cockatoos. It always makes me feel hopeful for the birds out there that need saving to know that organizations like this exist. After seeing this website I decided to share my thoughts about living with Cockatoos.

Living with a Moluccan Cockatoo (among a number of other birds) for the past 21 years I understand how Moluccan's and other cockatoos can, under the wrong circumstances, end up in need of saving. Although they are among the most intelligent and beautiful parrots, they can be very demanding and most can be extremely loud. However, there is nothing sweeter, more lovable and cuddly and beautiful than a Moluccan cockatoo baby ... or any Cockatoo, for that matter. They are so easy to spoil. And that may be the problem ... spoiling and not setting guidelines for good behavior. Well, there is another major problem too ... new owners that dote on a baby bird and then "get back to normal" which means there isn't enough time to give the bird the attention it has grown to expect. You understand why you don't have time ... but they certainly don't.

Although I didn't buy Fagan on impulse, many people do buy a parrot that way. They see a beautiful bird and just can't leave the store without it. Bad decision. While not all birds that are purchased this way end up victims, many do. It is those birds that need rescue by good people like those that run Mollywood, the organization I previously mentioned. Please visit Mollywood's website. I think it is important to see what abuse and neglect can do to a pet bird. But don't be disheartened by those you'll visit at Mollywood because the good news is you'll see how well they are now loved and taken care of. Who knows, they may touch your heart enough for you to find a way to give Mollywood a little support.

There isn't a bird more loved than my Moluccan, Fagan. How he, and all the parrots in my family, came to live with me is another story. As loved as Fagan is, it hasn't always been a bed of roses living with him. I made the mistake of not setting guidelines in the beginning. So when he reached sexual maturity I had my hands full. We've had our ups and downs. Once I discovered the Pet Bird Report years ago (now known as the Companion Parrot Quarterly) I was able to form a plan to overcome the challenges Fagan gave me. But I should have educated myself beforehand. Over the years, with kindness instead of abuse for doing things wrong, Fagan has learned to live with rules. He's learned to adapt to a domesticated lifestyle. I know ... in a way that is sad. It's only because these essentially wild creatures are so highly adaptable that they can live in our homes, in the first place. Truthfully, as much as I always want to be with my parrots I also regret that they can't live the natural life they were intended for.

Fagan is a wild caught bird. There isn't much doubt he was brought into captivity as a baby and I bought him when he was approximately between 6-12 months old. From the very first he was so loving ... certainly not the typical wild caught bird. I was mezmerzied and fascinated ... my dream of having a Moluccan Cockatoo had come true. Seems funny to think back on those early days because I didn't realize at the time that setting guidelines and boundaries for Fagan was absolutely essential to raising a disciplined and well-behaved parrot. I guess that is why I get on my soapbox once in awhile. I really want everyone considering bringing a parrot into their home to understand that it is essential to educate themselves before making that decision. Trust me when I say that you will save yourself a lot of trouble, and save a parrot from unnecessary sadness and grief, if you make the right decisions.

Over the years I've learned a lot about parrots and they've taught me a lot about myself. I count myself among the fortunate to have lived with them ... but it hasn't always been easy. It takes a lot of sacrifice and I think that is what people should know. But then having any pet, or doing any activity takes some form of sacrifice. However, parrots may offer unexpected challenges you won't be prepared to endure, if you don't do some homework. If you decide to buy a parrot be sure to choose a species that is a perfect fit for you, where you live, and your lifestyle. If you really want a bird you may discover your "dream bird" might not be the best fit ... so offer a loving home to the one that is.

Pet birds offer a wonderous life experience if you'll just offer them a good, permanent home ... and go about it the right way.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Project FeederWatch Is Underway!

Last year I missed participating in Project FeederWatch. So today I began my real first experience officially tabulating the birds coming to my backyard. Since my backyard bird feeding has been purely a recreational pasttime, I haven't spent a lot of effort trying to identify every bird that visits us. Sometimes it just isn't convenient to drop everything and run for the binoculars.

So, to be truthful, I was really surprised today as I sat and really focused on every movement I saw. With my trusty field guides laying nearby I discovered the exact species of sparrow that has been hanging around. With age, my 20-20 vision has faded a bit so it is pretty difficult to get a clear picture of small things at a distance. So I really didn't know that the sparrows I see frequently over in one corner of my yard are White-crowed sparrows. Granted, they are a very common species. But until I sat and really studied them I had no idea how really attractive they are. And also how interesting to watch. They were scratching around on the ground, busy as bees. But one decided that the warm California sun was just too hard to resist and he spread his wings and hunkered down close to the ground ... and just lay there for awhile. I chose to believe he was sun-bathing, but I have read that birds will use ants to help rid themselves of mites. So maybe he'd found an ant colony and was encouraging the ants to help him groom. Hard to tell, but it is an interesting thought. But no matter what he was doing he definitely looked like he was enjoying himself.

Today I saw White-crowned sparrows, California Towhees, Lesser Goldfinches, Oak Titmouse, Purple Finches, Mockingbirds and Anna's Hummingbirds during the time I could spend today watching for birds to report to the Cornell Lab.

I thought it would be an interesting project and was looking forward to it. But honestly, I'm really surprised at how much I really did enjoy it. I can't wait to watch tomorrow. Then I'll have to wait for at least 5 days before I can do another 2-day stretch of official bird watching. Afterall, to be a citizen scientist you must follow the rules.

If you love birdwatching, and like to feed birds in your backyard, or are devoted to pet birds don't miss

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Citizen Science

A month ago I made a note on my calendar as a reminder that Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch would begin on November 12th. Well, a lot of good my reminder was ... I got so busy that I completely forgot to order bird seed for my feeders so am getting off to an unexpected disorderly start. I never allow my feeders to empty completely unless they need cleaning. So what in the world was I thinking to let myself run out of seed and thus disappoint my feathered visitors. Hmmmm! I sure don't know the answer to that. Especially, when it is so blasted convenient to get the seed. I don't even have to leave the house ... I just order it online. I have a really good source that provides quality seed (which is a must for me because I don't like wasting money), free shipping, really fair prices and specials. What more is there to ask for. In fact, it is less expensive than at my favorite wild bird store ... which, of course, I love going to.

Anyway, I ended up letting the birds run out of seed. Fortunately, the seed arrived within a few days. So now that the feeders have been cleaned and filled and I'm all set for Project FeederWatch. Now, if the birds will just cooperate by discovering that the feeders are full again. I don't think that will be a problem, as I saw the first couple of returnees this morning. So all should be back to normal by tomorrow or the next day. So I'll be able to make my first week's bird count report.

I'm really looking forward to the pleasure of adding some statistics from my backyard to the Project. If you haven't discovered Project FeederWatch check out my blog "News From The Cornell Lab of Ornithology under Previous Posts over there to your right. There might still be time to join in the fun. If not ... then there is always next year.

I don't have any kids of my own introduce to bird feeding, but have often thought that Project FeederWatch would be a great experience for any child. Wouldn't it be great to introduce a youngster to the natural world in this way. Who knows they might even bud into a real, honest to goodness scientist ... it's happened before! At the very least they'd grow up with understanding and respect for the natural world.

When I received all the materials Cornell sends it's "citizen scientists" there was a nice calendar of the bird watching days for the Project. The calendar has some nice pictures and comments submitted by a few of the participants last year. One couple summed up what ProjectFeeder Watch means to them -- which sums it up for me too ...

"We sat on our loveseat every morning -- coffee at hand,
binoculars at the ready, our bird/nature journal nearby for
notes. One hour of calm before the chaos of the crazy world
out yonder."

I don't know if I'll be able to spend an hour ... I won't be sitting on a loveseat ... I'll have tea instead of coffee ... but it will be a time to relax, enjoy nature and ignore the more demanding needs of the day ahead.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Florida Sea Turtles

You aren't mistaken, this is a weblog about birds. So what is a sea turtle entry doing here. Well, it relates to a brief comment about sea turtles that I made in this weblog Tuesday, Nov 8th. I mentioned a friend that did sea turtle rescue. It brought to mind a couple of interesting comments that she shared about saving sea turtles. So I thought I would jot them down in case others might find the information interesting.

My friend's volunteer job was to dig up the nests of eggs along the beach when tropical storms were approaching so they wouldn't be destroyed from the rising tides. It was interesting to go along with her on a couple of those occasions. She would put sand and the rescued turtle eggs into a bucket ... thus sort of re-constucting the nest. BTW, if I remember correctly the average number of eggs was around 30 or so. Then when the time was right the eggs would hatch and the babies had to be returned to the beach so they could reach the sea, as they would if there was no need to be rescued. This was always done at night. And the reason was clear. If the tiny baby sea turtles were released during the day the sea birds would catch them before they could safely reach the sea. If I remember correctly, the moonlight shining on the ocean attracts them and directs them to the water.

That fact makes me recall a comment she made about the lights shining from buildings located on the sandy part of the beach. During sea turtle (season) the rescue organizations would ask the owners of restaurants and other businesses to turn off their beach lights at night. The reason? It's because newly hatched turtles are drawn toward bright light as they make their first journey to the safety of the sea. The bright lights from the establishments would mis-direct them and they would head down the beach toward the building instead of into the sea.

I found the limited experience I had with sea turtle rescue to be fascinating ... especially watching the baby turtles scurrying down to the water when they were released. If I was still in Florida I'd sure do my best to help out. But I'd have to divide my time ... as the wild birds of Florida can always use help, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Florida Memories

I'm a native Californian and have the typical loyalty most people have that love where they were born and raised. Except for going to college in Eugene, Oregon I've lived in California all my life. That is, until l994 when we moved to northeast Florida because of work commitments. I'll have to admit that I encountered pretty extreme climate (and culture) shock, so I was having a bit of a hard time adjusting. It all worked out though and one of the main reasons was falling in love with Florida's natural world.

It was on my first visit to find a place to live that I realized how abundant the birds were. I can remember crossing a little bridge as I drove around Ponte Vedra Beach, the town we were moving to. It's a good thing there weren't any cars behind me since I stopped right in the middle of the bridge mesmerzied at the scene below. I guess it was the thunderstorm that drove all the birds to the large pond. There were every kind of large and small water bird you could dream of. It was the most amazing scene ... and I truly couldn't believe it. I sat there for a minute in awe. It was at that moment that I knew I would be fine living in Florida. And I was.

It was a 6-year stay and although I'm back in California, to my surprise I really miss Florida. No, of course, I don't miss the humidity and heat in the summer. It is a real bad combination. But you get somewhat used to it. It is Florida's wildlife that I really miss. Fortunately, northern Florida still is relatively untouched as compared to the urbanization of south Florida. In northern Florida you still have to watch out for box turtles as well as other types of turtles as they carelessly wander across roads. I've saved quite a few. In fact, we had our "own" box turtle, which we named Barney. We didn't keep him, but watched him routinely wander across our driveway as he trekked along his territorial route. Evidently having cement poured over his path wasn't enough of a deterrent to decide another route would be better. It was great fun. And I've mentioned the Belted Kingfisher in my "Kookaburra Close Encounter" weblog entry. He was a repeat visitor to our dock.

We lived on the Intracoastal Waterway and had a huge nature preserve across the river and small parcels of undeveloped land on each side of our home. So it was a very natural environment in which the wildlife was comfortable. I remember walking out my front door one evening and looking up into the loquat tree about 3 feet away. There were a couple of little black eyes peeping out. It was a very young opossum. And boy, was he cute. He wasn't afraid and stayed right where he was. I ran for my camera and got several good pictures of him. He was still there watching me as I left the house on my errand.

Another time I was walking past a window on the second story of my house and looked out to find a flock of Cedar Waxwings in that same loquat tree. The loquat fruit attracted them and they were busy devouring all of it. It was the most amazing experience to see these birds from just a few feet away. Because of the window they couldn't see me so I was able to stand there (absolutely transfixed) until they had enough to eat and flew off. I really couldn't get a good count because they were so active flying from one fruit to the next ... but suffice it to say, there were a very large number of them. And the funny thing is they all seemed to have enough to eat at the same time because the flock took off all at once. Or else maybe their leader had enough and was ready to go. I wondered if something had startled them, but found nothing. When they left ... they left for good. And they left me with a memory that will last forever. They are such beautiful birds.

Then there were raccoon families we watched grow up. And I even saw a few snakes crossing our driveway on their way elsewhere. Sometimes they lingered on the warmth of the driveway.. I was always fascinated so would cautiously approach to identify them with reptile book in hand. The only snakes that ever gave me a little fright were the racers. They are harmless, but move very fast ... thus the name. It was the fast movement that caused the momentary instinctual fear. But I got over that, too. Actually, I wish I had kept a diary of all my animal encounters and other wildlife experiences. I'm sorry I didn't, as I know there is a lot I won't recall.

Another memory remains vivid. It is B.E.A.K.S. (Bird Emergency Aid & Kare Sanctuary) in northeast Florida. Open for the public to visit periodically, we took advantage of seeing the great work they do up close and personal. It was on one visit that we were told about Radar. Forgive me for fogetting what species of owl he was. But he was unique, indeed. You see Radar ended up at B.E.A.K.S. because he was born without eyes. And what made him especially unique? He learned to fly to his caretaker from the sound of her voice. Due to the care and love he received in this rehabilitation sanctuary Radar had a decent quality of life. Otherwise, he would certainly have been doomed to death in infancy.

It was at a B.E.A.K.S. fund raiser that we fortunate to win a bid to visit White Oak Plantation. White Oak is a privately owned and operated nature and conservation center in northeast Florida. Six hundred acres of the plantation are dedicated to White Oak Conservation Center where 60 threatened animal species are preserved. Many of these exotic species are associated with the Species Survival Plans coordinated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Using the knowledge gained by studies on these animals, Species Survival Plans are formulated and refined to aid in the preservation of these unusual species. There is another 6500+ acres of pine forest, wetlands and riparian habitat that comprise the balance of White Oak Plantation. What a special privilege it was to visit this incredible, and I might add, very beautiful plantation. There is much to know about White Oak ... perhaps for a future weblog entry.

I met some great people in Florida, too. Some remain friends. One such lady was involved in sea turtle rescue. I witnessed the rescuing of sea turtle eggs, from their beach nests, to save them from being washed away by tropical storms. When the eggs hatched we released them to the sea ... watching the babies scurry into the welcoming ocean waves. Another experience not to be had in southern California, for sure.

And then there were my friends at the bird hospital. They are some of the most special people I've ever known. One of these special ladies has taken in the broken and discarded parrots that people no longer wanted or could care for. If not for people like her ... many of these creatures would have been doomed. But instead are living quality lives with someone who loves them.

My only regret is that I had not discovered
backyard bird feeding while I was in Florida. It's strange that such a bird lover wouldn't have taken advantage of the hobby with such abundant bird life around. But I guess I was just too immersed in my pet birds. Actually, I did become interested just before moving back to California, but there wasn't the time to get started before making the move back to California. But it didn't take me long to begin upon getting re-settled.

Perhaps on another day more memories of Florida's animal world will come flooding back so I can write about them again. I love recalling them and really wouldn't mind returning to Florida if I could continue the up close and personal experiences with it's wildlife again. Hmmm! Who knows what the future might bring.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

To Blog, or Not to Blog?

A week or so ago I received a copy of Cage & Aviary Birds, a newspaper publication from the U.K. It was sent to me as a courtesy for being featured in the publication. It all started a couple of months ago when Kim Forrester contacted me. Kim is a feature writer for the newspaper and she had been searching the Internet for birding blogs. Coming across mine, she contacted me and asked if I would mind if my blog was featured in an article she planned to write. The request came as a surprise, of course, and I was really honored to be able to help promote blogging with a bird theme. So I contributed my thoughts and some photos.

The purpose of Kim's article was to promote an interest in sharing bird information through blogging. I'm sure the others who contributed to the article were as pleased as I was to help. And I have to admit that it was exciting to receive a copy of the newspaper and read about myself and see a couple of photos I'd contributed. Actually, it was really a hoot ... to use a bird term.

I regret that those of us in the U.S. don't have easy access to the U.K.'s Cage and Aviary Birds. However, if you are visiting this blog from the U.K. you might want to get an issue if you don't already have one. And since you are reading blogs ... maybe you'll also decide to share your thoughts and interest in pet and/or wild birds by creating your own blog. The article covers ways to do that. My blog is created with It's free and may be one of the easiest to set up and use.

If you are a little more ambitous you may decide having a website on birds would be just the ticket like I do. If so, check out (that's my website) to see what an extremely non-techie person can do if they have the right program. And speaking of non-techie -- I didn't have a clue about creating a website before I started mine. And what is the right program to create a website? That's easy ... it's the one I use. Check it out ... you might just decide that having a hobby website would be a lot of fun. Or take it one big step further and build an income around it. If you'd like more information just leave a comment and I'll be happy to leave another entry with additional links that may be of interest.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kookaburra Close Encounter

Our surprise arrived suddenly ... or maybe pleasant shock is a better description. It all began during a visit to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. I'll digress for a minute to say that Taronga Zoo is a great place to visit with it's beautiful setting and collection of animals. There is a very, very large aviary with a wonderful group of large Psittacines (parrots) ... especially the Cockatoos that Australia is so famous for. Some of these aviary birds were so friendly that they flew right over to where this parrot lover was standing so I could really get a close up view and chat with them for awhile. What can I say ... it was wonderful! The Taronga Zoo also has some unbelievable views of Sydney and the harbor. So it's a great place to visit just for the view in case the animals aren't enough reason to visit. Of course, they were the draw for me. Taronga also has some interesting educational shows about Australia's native species so the visit really couldn't have been a better experience.

Back to the surprise I mentioned. While we were having lunch it arrived in the form of a Kookaburra. There we were, my brother and I, having a burger and fries at a small patio table. All of a sudden a wild Kookaburra flew right down to our table (not over a few inches away from my hand) and relieved us of one of our french fries. Needless to say, we were delightfully startled. And it was fun to watch him devour the fry on a nearby tree branch. Then he decided he needed another fry and returned for a second one. The people at nearby tables were as entertained as we were. It was pretty obvious that this wasn't the bird's first people-food snack. But for these American visitors his desire for fast-food made our day.

Some have described the Kookaburra as a plain-looking bird. Perhaps so, as it's back and wings are usually brown. However, in my opinion it isn't dull or uninteresting at all. In fact, I find them very attractive. The Kookaburra's overly large head (as compared to the rest of it's body) is creamy white with a brown eye stripe and very large beak. The bird is approximately 18 inches long (45 cm) and weighs close to a pound. Kookaburra's get all the moisture they need from their food so drinking isn't necessary. (Although I wonder how our visitor felt after eating the high salt content of those fries!) Their nests are built in hollow trees or even a termite mound.

Kookaburras are fascinating birds. They are members of the Kingfisher family and are famous for their racous "laugh" ... thus being nicknamed the "laughing Kookaburra". Many people around the world are familiar with it thanks to Hollywood films in which the laugh is the background in most every jungle whether the setting is in the Amazon or Africa (the bird is not native to either of these places though ... but that's Hollywood for you). In lieu of having sound to share in this weblog, their call can be described as beginning with a low 'oooo' chuckle that increases to a high "ha ha ha" and then back to a low chuckle. There isn't much doubt that it would be instantly recognizable upon hearing it. The Kookaburra's loud laughing call travels far through the forests where others of its kind hear it. The call is used both in courting rituals and for claiming territory.

But the Kookaburra call is not the only interesting feature of the bird. It has also adapted to it's environment in some unusual ways. And, as evidenced by our zoo encounter, Kookaburras have even adapted to humans with some even becoming tame enough to be handfed.

This bird is indeed a survivor ... living in the woodland and open forests of Australia and also Tasmania were it has been introduced. The Kookaburra is a terrestial Kingfisher. Unlike most Kingfishers, it doesn't catch fish but rather it's diet consists of lizards, mice, small birds, and an occasional snake. One of it's unusual behaviors is the way it kills prey. Kookaburras have been observed taking their catch high into the air to drop it, or they smash in on a tree branch. SIDEBAR - When we lived in Florida I watched a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) preparing it's meal of fish by repeatedly bashing it against our boat dock. That Belted Kingfisher landed on the dock daily as he cruised his territory. His visits (infrequently accompanied by a mate) were so dependable that I watched for him everyday. It was an added bonus when he caught a fish from the dock and I was able to observe his eating behavior. I was told that Belted Kingfishers repeatedly smash the fish to break the bones to make it easier to eat. I don't know if that is true ... it may just be done to kill the fish.

Kookaburras mate for life and have an unusual parenting behavior. They breed from September to January laying pure white eggs about the size of a Bantam chicken. The clutch size varies from one to five eggs with two to four eggs being common. Kookaburras lay eggs a day apart and incubate them between 24-26 days. After the young are reared and fledge they often stay around the nest to help the parents with the next clutch of babies. This behavior contrasts dramatically with the majority of birds who leave the nest once they are fledged to search for territory and mates of their own. When a Kookaburra family-system of chick rearing has been established it is usual for a second clutch of chicks to be raised in one season. In this instance, the offspring of prior clutches will take over the raising of the first brood of the season while the parents attend to the second. In a Kookaburra family group all the birds develop a brood patch which is a bare spot of skin on the breast used to transfer body heat to incubate the eggs. There have been documented cases where the helper birds spend more time incubating eggs than one of the parents. Most helpers are males who assist with nesting duties as well as territory defense. If a parent dies often a helper will take the place of the missing mate. SIDEBAR - Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) have been studied and shown to use the same cooperative breeding method.

Having a close enounter with a wild bird gave me a great reason to learn more about the species. Spending a little extra time delving into the facts about birds has proven time and again that birds have fascinating stories to tell. It's one reason I'll continue to keep learning about as many species as this lifetime allows.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ivory-billed Woodpecker on 60 Minutes

I watched 60 Minutes on CBS last night! It was a great opportunity to learn a little more about the re-discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker ... otherwise known as the Lord God Bird. According to Ed Bradley's report the woodpecker was called the Lord God Bird because it was so beautiful and impressive that when people saw it they said "Lord God ... what a bird".

I've never been to Arkansas and from what I saw on the show it has an incredible natural world called the Big Woods, where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has reported to have been sighted. It was described on the show as "... one of the most exotic and the most inhospitable environments in America, a vast primordial ooze (swamp), a place so wild, the Big Woods have been called this country's Amazon". Needless to say, I am grateful for the opportunity to see it again on my computer.

The re-discovery of a bird thought to be extinct is exciting beyond words. For myself, I can only be thankful if such an event has taken place and the world may once again know and perhaps be given a second chance to delight in the beauty of an awesome bird.

I hope the news remains positive about this discovery and not end in a situation like the Spix Macaw in South America. When I heard that a Spix Macaw had been sited in Brazil in the early 1990's, it turned out to be the last one in the wild. Continued sitings of the bird lasted over a few years, the last in 2000 ... and then reported perished in 2001. How incredibly sad. Hope for the future of this bird remains in the hands of the few breeders trying to save the species with the handful of remaining individuals in captivity. With a limited gene pool I wonder how successful they will be.

To think of how incredibly short-sighted and heartless it is to destroy species as well as ecosystems is hard to fathom. Thank goodness we live in a more enlightened time where there is now concern felt for these issues and people taking action. Perhaps the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been found and still has a chance for survival. If it does exist perhaps it won't end up vanishing like North America's only parrot, the Carolina Parakeet that was hunted to extinction in the early 1900's ... along with the demise of so many others. For me, I celebrate the discovery of the Ivory-billed and pray for it's future and good fortune.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Hummingbird Battle

It was the warm San Diego sun that beckoned me to the outdoors and, specifically, to my hammock. My home is so sheltered by trees and foliage that it stays very cool and actually feels chilly at times. So I couldn't resist setting my computer work aside to take a quick catnap in the sunny warmth outside. My hammock is hard to resist . . . it is soooo comfortable with a feather pillow under my head and a glass of iced tea. I lost track of the number of times that is has proven to be "the place" to take a short refreshing nap or just relax to relieve some built-up stress. I don't think I could survive as well as I do without it. The other great thing about the hammock is that it rests on my deck about 4-5 feet from one of my hummingbird feeders. I just lay quietly in the hammock and get some wonderful views of the irridescent little gems that come to feast on the nectar. Ah, the best of both worlds . . . lots of comfort and some great bird watching.

Today, as I lay in the hammock getting my dose of Vitamin D for the day from the sun, I witnessed a true hummingbird battle. Now it isn't unusual for the hummers to be chasing each other away from the feeders . . . each trying to assert their dominance over it. But today, the sound of clashing beaks startled me and opened my eyes to witness two hummers battling about 4 feet away. It was an amazing demonstration of how aggressive these little guys can be with each other. The battle only lasted for a few seconds but it seemed longer as I watched them fly at each other repeatedly to do their little sword-like battle. It ended in seconds without injury (as most bird aggression does) when one of the birds finally decided to fly off to a nearby tree. Of course, that was only momentary, too . . . as a few seconds later he was back to chase the other bird away from the feeder.

There are a number of hummers that come to my feeders regularly. I can identify some of them by their habits as well as their species and markings. They seem like old friends . . . and in a way they are. The two most common visitors are Black-chinned (summer visitors, although they are still here now in early October) and Anna's who stay in the San Diego area year-round. I'm fortunate to have at least one species here all the time, so I always keep my
feeders full.

My style of hammock-oriented hummingbird watching is just the ticket for me. You might find it fun, too.

Monday, October 03, 2005

News From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Where do you go for news about birds? One great place is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, of course. It's easy to subscribe to their emailed newsletter. More about how to contact them in a minute.

It was a pleasure to hear some good news about endangered birds in the online newsletter:

Far from a backyard visitor, the Attwater's Prairie Chicken is critically endangered. To make matters worse 20 of the last 40 remaining birds live in Texas City, TX at the Texas City Prairie Reserve. The worst part has to do with Hurricane Rita. The Reserve Manager, Brandon Crawford, was out of state at a conference during the recent bad weather and rushed back with 1-gallon ziplock body bags in hand expecting to find the pairie chickens killed by the hurricane. But what he found was all 11 radio-collared birds giving off live signals. He was in shock ... pleasantly shocked to be sure, especially since 7 of the collared birds had been released a little over a month before. The death toll of released birds is highest in the first month. He feels that the uncollared birds may have fared just as well. Hope so.

A graduate student, Rebecca Safran, doing research at the Cornell Lab discovered some intriguing facts about Barn Swallows (see photo above). Here is what she discovered. After Barn Swallows pair up for the season the females constantly judge their mates by their looks. The females evidently prefer their mates to have breast and belly feathers more reddish in color. Through DNA testing, Ms. Safran found that females mated to males with paler feathers were more likely to secretly copulate with another male. Hmmmmm!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the place to keep up to date on the latest information about the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker which was believed to be extinct. You can even hear a Monday Night Seminar Series that includes information about this bird ... as well as a lot of other information. The seminar is presented by Tim Gallagher, Editor-in-Chief of the Lab's Living Bird magazine. The seminar is available through the Lab's Website if you have a broadband Internet connection.

If you are a backyard bird feeder and enthusiast you might be interested in the 18th annual
Project Feeder Watch. This year's event begins in just a few weeks. Project Feeder Watch is an annual survey of birds that visit feeders in the winter. I'm going to participate this year ... perhaps you'll consider signing up, too. Anyone can join and become a "citizen scientist" for a few weeks. It is a lot of fun and contributes important statistics to the real scientists at the Lab. To learn more about this event or to register U.S. residents can call the Lab toll free at (800) 843-2473. In Canada contact Canada Bird Studies toll free at (888) 448-2473. In return for your $15 participation fee ($12 for Lab members, $35 for Canadian residents) you'll receive the Feeder Watcher's Handbook, a colorful poster of the most common feeder birds, a calendar, complete instructions on how to file your reports, the new Feeder Watcher's Year in Review, and a subscription to the Lab's newsletter
If you aren't a member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and would like to learn more you'll find a link to the Lab's website on the Birdwatchin'.com Resource page. The Lab's link is found under Wild Bird Organizations/Clubs. Don't miss the other good resources at

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Be Careful Where You Sit

I've really dropped the ball, so to speak. I never intended to have such a long delay between posts. My excuse this time is being 100 percent focused on lots of home projects and yard work. I love the results of all the hard work, but am frustrated about ignoring the computer-side of my life for so many days. I thought my next weblog would be about my backyard bird feeding experiences. Actually, I'd planned to chat about feeding American Goldfinches, but I'll leave that for next time.

I have an unusual lifestyle to some. I've been married forever ... or so it seems. The unusual part is that my other-half lives in New York full-time because of work, while I Iive in California. I'm a CA native and prefer being "at home" in San Diego. What can I say other than that. Anyway, my husband is out here on vacation and wanted to pick up some medical supplies in Mexico while on the west coast. So off we went. Once we reach the international line the visit over the border usually takes about an hour or so. But we had to wait for delivery of the products my husband was buying. The delay meant time to grab a bite to eat. For anyone who has visited the area just across the border you probably know what shopping and/or eating in the border area is like. As we crossed a courtyard to find food, employees working in the various restaurants rushed over to convince us their eating place was the best. The guy tooting a horn (for attention) practically grabbed and drug us to his tables. We chose a table set outside so we could enjoy the beautiful weather. Just after my Margarita was served the "bomb" dropped. I'm not sure what kind of bird it was but we were served with a very unwelcome, very large "splotch" from above as the bird flew over. I guess I don't have to be any more graphic. Most of the splotch fell on my husband and I got enough have a mildly unpleasant experience ... and have my Strawberry Margarita ruined. The responsible culprit was a seagull. So I bet you can imagine how big the splotch was that covered my husband. Thank God he had a ball cap on his head. But all was not lost ... we cleaned up, moved inside and sat at a protected table. But I guess to be truthful our appetites were a bit ruined. A fresh Margarita was in order and helped to fade the experience slightly. Eating alfresco is great as long as you can see the humor in unexpected events. No problem for me ... I share my life with pet birds, lol. Although I must say in defense of my pet parrots that all together they don't even come close to the mess one seagull can make.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blog Carnival for Bird Lovers

It has been such a busy week with virtually no time to devote to Birdwatchin' Buzz. A sad state of affairs to be sure. However, I do want to to leave this short, but important note. For all of you that love birds and reading blogs about birding experiences don't miss the 5th edition of I and the Bird. For those of you who haven't discovered I and the Bird . . . it is a blogging carnival for people that love birds. Birdwatchin' Buzz was invited to submit a blog to this edition . . . a first for me. And what a crowd of talented and interesting writers I found myself among. Whew! You'll discover that John (of DC Birding Blog) who is the host of this 5th issue has cleverly listed the blogs in the format of a conference agenda . . . including shade-grown coffee breaks, time for lunch, etc. It adds to the fun! Don't miss I and the Bird . . . you'll really enjoy it!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

My Brother and the Western Scrub Jays

I can't believe that almost a month has passed since my last log note. It wasn't my intention, but rather due to the unexpected death of my brother under tragic circumstances. Needless to say, it has been a very sad and heartbreaking time for me. His death rendered a hole in my heart that will never completely heal. He was my only sibling and we were very close. My notes in this log were always planned to bring positive and happy circumstances to anyone who happened by to read them. So mentioning this event is to explain my unplanned delay in writing about the one area of my life that consistently brings joy . . . my pet birds and feeding those in the wild. It is also offered as a small remembrance for my brother.

Although I've cared for pet birds for more than 20 years, it was my brother who first showed me the pleasure of feeding wild birds. I was instantly captured by the frantic activity of his Western Scrub Jays that we have here in California. It was during a visit to my brother's home that I discovered how much pleasure a
simple hanging platform bird feeder can add to a bird feeding program. Actually, it was due to watching my brother add peanuts in the shell for his Blue Jay visitors that instilled the dedication I now have to feeding backyard birds. Thanks to you always, Brandon.

He'd pile the peanuts high in a swinging platform feeder and the Jays would come. Well, to tell the truth, he would wait until he saw a Jay nearby (they were always about) to fill the tray. The bird activity at the feeder was instant and so much fun. The Jays select the best peanut they can find on each visit. And they sure are selective or so it would seem. I've watched them pick up peanut after peanut until they find the right one. Then off they fly with it. One peanut at a time. Do they eat the peanuts? Nope! They hide them for a future meal. So they come to the feeder to steal away the next peanut until they are all gone. I'm sure that if I could put a 50# sack of peanuts on a platform feeder they would not rest until all the peanuts were safely hidden away.

When I got my own hanging platform feeder the Jays came immediately. I watched the first one take a peanut and fly right down to the backyard lawn. Later I checked the spot . . . sure enough, the Jay had hidden away the peanut deep down in the grass. Having a platform feeder turns into quite an adventure if you have Jays around. When I began feeding them there was only one. Now the number has grown to four or five. Four of the five seem to come and go. But one is always around. I believe he may be a baby born this past spring. He watches the Orioles and has decided the grape jelly I feed them is perfect for him, too. I don't know if anyone else has Jays eating grape jelly, but I expect so since Jays are very ominvorous.

I don't expect a day to pass by without loving thoughts of my brother. I'll continue to miss him terribly . . . and especially so when I offer peanuts to the Jays. Brandon, is dedicated to your memory.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

An Oriole Summer!

Last summer I saw my first flash of gold and black at one of the hummingbird feeders. It definitely was only a brief glimpse, but long enough for me identify the bird as an Oriole with the help of my trusty field guide. Later I was able to narrow it down -- the bird was a male Hooded Oriole. I saw him occasionally then . . . but this summer has been different. All I can say is "wow" because a family of Hooded's have taken up summer residence near my jelly feeder. As far as I can tell the family consists of one male, his mate and at least one female offspring. The jelly feeder never seems to stop swinging from the constant visits. The feeder hangs under my patio deck roof so is very close. That is a good thing because I've discovered these birds are very flighty and do not stay long in one place. They are nervous around humans they can see nearby. That is very different from the more tolerant Goldfinches that I can approach as they hang on the thistle feeder. So having the Oriole feeder very near provides a great view of these beautiful birds from inside the house.

Since I live in California the Hooded Orioles that visit us are the Western species which are more golden in color than the orange of Eastern variety. I lived in Florida for a few years in the 90's but never saw an Eastern Hooded Oriole. I won't digress into my great bird experiences in Florida today. I'll find another time for that.

My stepdad, who lives with me, recently purchased a remote video camera. He has been working diligently to get it setup near the bird feeders so I can share what goes on in my backyard at The project has been challenging but he's making progress. As soon as the camera is working outside near the Oriole feeder the next step will be to show the live feed online. He's determined so I hope he'll succeed.

My Oriole feeder is designed to hold half an orange above a little dish that offers jelly or mealworms . . . both Oriole favorites. Well, to be truthful, I never got around to adding mealworms because once I provided jelly the Orioles have fed consistently . . . all day long, everyday. I should get some
mealworms to thank them for being so entertaining before they head South for the winter. By the way, if you want to feed Orioles jelly make sure it is grape jelly. Just buy an inexpensive brand . . . I pay between $1-2 for a 32-oz jar. I have to warn you, Orioles are eager eaters so be sure to keep jelly on hand. Also, be sure that the dish you provide the jelly in is shallow. I read about a lady who had to rescue and rehab a baby songbird when it fell into the jelly and got mired up to it's little head. Also, put your jelly feeder in the shade to keep it fresh. If your Orioles don't eat the jelly as fast as the ones I'm feeding be sure to replace it every few days. I refill my jelly dish about twice a week because the Orioles empty it completely that often. My jelly dish feeder holds about 1/4-1/2 cup.

Orioles are attracted to the color orange -- in the same way hummingbirds are attracted to red. You can provide an orange-colored Oriole feeder if you are feeding nectar. However, my Orioles fed at a hummingbird feeder even when I had a small Oriole feeder available. I just drilled a couple of larger holes in the plastic base of my feeders to accommodate their larger beaks. You can make your own
Oriole nectar which is a little different sugar-to-water ratio than you feed Hummingbirds. However, I would put the Oriole nectar in an Oriole feeder . . . not a Hummingbird feeder because the ratio wouldn't be appropriate for Hummers.

With the jelly available, the Orioles in my yard have pretty much ignored the Hummingbird feeder until recently. In the past few days they have emptied nearly 2 cups of nectar. This fast consumption of nectar is so unusual that I'm wondering if it has something to do with our hot summer weather arriving. Maybe they are thirsty. Yikes, if that is true it makes me feel guilty. I've been looking for a water source -- such as a bird bath with moving water. I haven't found what I'm looking for yet. I'd better get a move on. I'll let you know what I come up with. Here's something funny about the Orioles drinking all the hummingbird nectar. The Black-chinned Hummer that called that particular feeder his own has now set up residence by perching on the feeder to protect it from the Orioles. Hummers are very aggressive about their feeding sources. I guess this little guy is going to do his best to make sure those big bully Orioles leave his food alone.

Orioles are migrating birds. Fall is just around the corner and our Western birds will head for southern destinations in Mexico. I'll really miss them when they leave. Since I'm in Southern California where we enjoy a moderate climate I wonder if my Orioles will leave. They are pretty attached to my feeders. But nature has programmed them to fly South so I expect them to migrate. If they go I'll just have to wait for their return. Birds remember where they find food so there is a good chance these same ones will come back in the Spring. I sure hope so. I'll be waiting and the feeders will be full.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Welcome to Birdwatchin' Buzz

Thanks for visiting the first weblog of Birdwatchin' Buzz. I'm a bird lover . . . yep, that's me! This crazy fascination began years ago when my Dad brought home two pet cockatiels . . . quickly named Junior and Pancho. They were lovable, sweet and real characters. I was mesmerized. But it wasn't until years later -- I was in my early 40's -- that the fascination led me down a life-path devoted to birds. I brought home my first large parrot 20 years ago and since then my avian family has grown to 15.

But you're thinking this weblog is about backyard bird watching, so why mention exotic pet birds? Afterall bird watching is all about the wild birds that visit our backyards and those we search for beyond . . . not those that live with us. Be sure that I won't stray far from bird watching -- in fact the next weblog will be about the wild birds that are visiting my backyard this summer.

For now, I just wanted to say "hi" and tell you a little about my bird family. In fact, if you'd like to know more about us read
How 13 Birds Became a Family
. I believe there isn't a better way to appreciate bird behavior, intelligence and personality than living in daily contact with birds that bond with you. This daily experience is responsible for exploding my interest in identifying, feeding and watching birds in the wild.

If you love bird watching and feeding birds in your backyard, or have pet birds, or just enjoy animals and nature in general come back for another visit. I'll welcome comments about your interest in birds and animals. I'll do my best to help you find the answers to questions you may have, so be sure to pass them along. Again, thanks for visiting, it's great to connect with another bird-lover!