Good morning, Dawn Choristers! I’m sitting in today for lineatus, who is on the tail end of her June Swoon. She’s due back next week so stay tuned.
For today’s birdblog, I’ve decided to share a few of the birds that breed near my home. I’ll start with the Great-horned Owl. These owls are widespread, capable of surviving in lots of climates. For the past couple of years, we’ve been watching a pair of owls raise their chicks in a cottonwood tree next to an irrigation canal. Here’s Junior looking a little concerned about the stranger poking around, while Dad appears uninterested.
I live in California’s Sacramento Valley, not far from the city of Sacramento. Around here, the winters are generally wet (rain on the valley floor, snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east). During the wet winter season, the valley hosts millions of waterfowl and other birds that spend their winters here but migrate to cooler climates to breed.
Our summers, on the other hand are dry and very hot. It takes a hardy bird to raise a family here. The heat can be brutal and, with the landscape utterly transformed by agricultural practices, water sources can be limited or of low quality. But a lot of birds do manage to survive.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was making my way to the owl tree, I saw what appeared to be a ping pong-sized rock walking across the road. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a Killdeer chick, no more than a day or two out of the egg. Talk about cute!
A protective parent was keeping watch, ready to lure me away from the baby with its broken wing act if I seemed too much of a threat. Here’s a Killdeer from last spring luring me away from its nest.
Not too far down the road, another Killdeer was on its nest, four eggs laid in the gravel on the shoulder of the road.
I don’t know if this nest survived but Killdeer are plentiful around here so many of them do manage to hatch their eggs and raise their young.
This year, the Great-horned Owls share their tree with a pair of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers. Earlier this spring, the woodpeckers successfully fended off a mob of European Starlings that seemed intent on taking over the nest hole. Both the male and the female are still around but we haven’t seen any signs of youngsters. Maybe next spring. Here’s the male giving me the eye from inside the nest hole.
Yesterday on my way home from work, I stopped to check out the Barn Swallows that I had seen flying in and out of a grate over an irrigation canal near the owl tree. Sure enough, there was a bunch of juvenile swallows hanging out waiting for the folks to bring them dinner. Every now and then they would open their mouths as an adult flew by but none got a hand out while I was there.
This particular stretch of road is very popular – there are also Red-winged Blackbirds by the dozens. Here’s a male bringing in a meal.
And here’s the lunch counter. All of the birds in this photo are juvenile Red-winged Blackbirds waiting around to be fed.
Just up the road and around the corner from the owl tree, a small flock of Burrowing Owls has been trying to establish itself along the road bank where squirrels have dug lots of burrows. I’ve never seen any chicks, but the owls sure are adorable to watch.
I’m not sure that they’ll be able to stick around. The farmer whose land the road bank abuts has taken a scorched earth approach to eradicating the squirrels this year, scraping and burning all of the vegetation that used to give the squirrels and the birds cover. Ah, well.
Next stop, the heron and egret rookery, located no more than a mile or so from the owl tree. Every year, hundreds of pairs of Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets return to the same stand of Eucalyptus trees to nest. This year, Cattle Egrets joined in the mix.
Here’s a Black-crowned Night Heron earlier this year, collecting sticks to add to last year’s nest.
A few weeks later, chicks hatched.
I don't know about you, but the chicks sure look very much like little dinosaurs to my eye.
A little later, they are aggressive about begging for food. There’s an adult out of view to the left in this photo.
This one is just about ready to fledge.
Here’s a Great Egret in the mix.
This photo of Great Egret chicks is from Thursday – they grow fast.
Snowy Egrets seem to be low on the heron/egret totem pole. It seems that their eggs hatch last, making them more prone to nest raids by the other birds (I have photographic evidence of this – I’ll post photos in the comments, along with a warning to the squeamish, if people want to see them). Nonetheless, they keep returning to the rookery and appear to have overall success in breeding. You can just make out the top of the chick’s head to the right of the adult’s leg in this photo.
This is the first year that I've noticed Cattle Egrets in the rookery this year. Maybe I’ve missed them in the past couple of years – I just don’t remember seeing them here before. Cattle Egrets have an interesting story. Apparently, they reached South America from Africa in the late 19th century, and reached the US in the 1940s. Most bird books/sources show Cattle Egrets as winter residents in my area. I think those maps need to be updated because I see them around all year. Here’s one on a nest in the rookery.
Since this photo was taken, we haven’t seen another on a nest or with chicks. Not sure what happened – maybe this nest was raided by a neighbor?
Another woodpecker that breeds in the Sacramento River Vally is the clownish and endearing Acorn Woodpecker. Here's a beautiful male.
I don't have photos of juveniles but here's a photo of a granary where a family of Acorn Woodpeckers has stored their cache.
I’ll close with a couple of birds from my backyard. Northern Mockingbirds are year-round residents. I see and hear them almost every day although I’ve never seen an obvious juvenile.
My favorite backyard bird is the brilliant and noisy Western Scrub Jay. We’ve had a family of Jays in the trees in and around our yard ever since we’ve moved in. They know me as the source of raw peanuts most of the year. They watch for me to throw a few nuts out for them in the morning. I love to hear them squawking over territory with the Jays a few yards away from ours.
Last year, their nest was in our tree so the chicks ended up on the ground in our yard when they fledge. Here’s one of the little guys.
We situated some old branches so the chicks could scamper/flap their way back up into the tree. I hope we get to see the youngsters again this year!
So what birds breed in your part of the world?