By JULIE HANSON | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Looking out your window, or enjoying your garden or deck, you may see a bird that you don’t know and wonder what kind it could be. And, in Southern California, which is one of the most biologically diverse places in the United States, there are many possibilities.
Still, there are some that you are almost guaranteed to see, the regulars that you can view almost any time in your yard. The key to seeing these birds is to put out a feeder and keep watching. If you are able to add a bird bath or fountain, the numbers could double.
These tiny flashes of color can be seen all year in Southern California. Put a nectar-feeder just outside a favorite window and you will have a live camera on their busy, speedy world. Anna’s hummingbirds and Allen’s are here all year, while Rufous and Costa’s migrate through in the spring.
In the Bushes
Many small- and medium-sized birds scout a back yard from the safety of bushes or small trees. Red-headed house finches and yellow goldfinches chirp pleasingly from branches, checking that it’s safe to go to a seed feeder. Larger California and spotted towhees wait their turns at the seeds from the branches.
Meanwhile, handsome tufted gray oak titmouse couples and little bushtits scour the bushes for bugs. House and Bewick’s wrens serenade the yard joyfully as they join the insect search.
On the Ground
You may be used to seeing mourning doves under bushes looking for seeds, but look carefully below, and you will find others. Dark-eyed juncos love feeders and the ground beneath them.
The house sparrow may be scrounging under your recently occupied picnic table. The song sparrow expertly removes bugs from your garden, then hops up on a fence to enthrall you with its singing. Over winter, white-crowned sparrows dart here and there cleaning up the seeds dropped from plants or a feeder.
In the Water
All birds love water, and need to drink and bathe daily. Moving water, such as a small fountain or drip, is best and prevents mosquitoes. If there is a very shallow spot, even hummingbirds will come to splash.
In the Trees
Orioles love palm trees, where they build their swinging hanging nests from March through August. They also love grape jelly and nectar in a bowl or special feeder, a sure way to bring in a mating pair.
Other tree lovers are cedar waxwings looking for berries. Of course, woodpeckers, such as Nuttall’s or acorn, drill for bugs in tree bark. Bluebirds, who like big trees on open lawns, also check for worms. Yellow-rumped warblers, whose colors shine mostly in winter, look for both bugs and berries in trees.
From a wire or treetop comes the nonstop singing of the northern mockingbird, loudly imitating dozens of other birds day and night during mating season. His volume is equaled by the screech of the scrub jay, perched on a roof and hoping that you will share some peanuts in the shell.
If they get to know you, they will take them from your hand. Alone perched on a street sign, you may see a dapper tuxedo-ed black phoebe, charcoal gray with a white front, patiently waiting to catch a bug flying by.
In the Sky
The sky is the province of raptors, from speedy peregrine falcons, who dive from tall buildings, to giant horned owls, 24 inches tall when perched. But more commonly, you will see red-tailed hawks or Cooper’s hawks circling above suburban streets looking for rodents.
Sharp-shinned hawks scout trees for small birds. At night, the smaller, white barn owl swoops silently to scoop up as many as 3,000 rats per year. No poison needed (or wanted).
Bluebirds, whose favorite nesting place—dead tree trunks—is in short supply, happily use nesting boxes placed high in trees. Oak titmice also appreciate a bluebird-sized box, while house and Bewick’s wrens go for a smaller abode. And, you even can bring in a barn owl, with a nesting box designed for them.
Other birds build nests in trees and shrubs, using materials from around your yard to make their homes. It’s best to wait until fall to prune.
But, these are just the birds most likely to visit your yard. A good local guidebook, such as “Birds of Southern California,” written in part by Los Angeles Natural History Museum’s Chief Ornithologist Kimball Garrett, and “Sibley Birds West,” with hundreds of facts and pictures, will help you further discover the many birds that inhabit our parks, canyons, beaches and mountains every day.
Julie Hanson is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 12433 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call 424-272-9000.