Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: Introduction (Backyard)

You may not believe it--because it certainly was a surprise to me when I found out--but not everyone is as fanatical about bird watching as I am. Shocking, I know.

Over 500 species of birds have been recorded in San Diego County. About 300 of those are regular. I am starting a new little feature to 50 or 60 easily viewable and interesting birds in San Diego County. Towns, beaches, mountains, lagoons, oak woodlands, deserts--each different habitat has different kinds of birds. While some birds are found in nearly every habitat, others are restricted to only a few, or even just one specific habitat.

My hope is that this feature will appeal to those with some general interest in the natural world. Each monthly post will take you to a different location and habitat within the county and highlight 5-9 birds that can be found there. The birds I chose are rather obvious, often large or colorful, and I try to explain something about the life history which I think a general reader would find interesting.

Our first location is the residential backyards. Birds on this list can be found nearly throughout the county in residential areas without much effort. So no specific location is given for this first selection of birds. There are many backyard birds in San Diego. These are a few that I consider most typical.

Anna's Hummingird. Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Anna's Hummingbird
This large hummingbird was formerly nearly a California and northern Baja California endemic. But in the 1970's, following hummingbird nectar feeders and non-native winter-flowering plants, they extended their range northward. They are now resident north to British Columbia, and have expanded eastward to Arizona. There are several other hummingbirds in the West, but this is the only one that is widespread throughout the year. The back and rump are green. Similar San Diego birds: Costa's Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird.

House Finch. Imperial Beach, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
House Finch
These finches are very common around human settlements in loose flocks where they frequent backyard bird seed feeders. Formerly found only in the West and Mexico, they have expanded into nearly the entire Eastern United States, too. They reach only to the southern edge of Canada. Brown-striped, the males show reddish-orange on forehead, breast, and rump. The bird shown above is a rare yellow variant. [See a more recent photo of a typical red-colored House Finch here.] Similar San Diego birds: Purple Finch.

Lesser Goldfinch. Julian, California. July 3, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Lesser Goldfinch
These are tiny flocking birds of chaparral and tree-edged grasslands. They are found from Oregon and southern Idaho south to Middle American and east to western Texas. They are found in residential gardens where they eat thistle seeds and are attracted to water. They have a pleasant lilting song. Similar San Diego birds: American Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch.

Northern Mockingbird. San Elijo Lagoon, California. March 7, 2008. Greg Gillson.
Northern Mockingbird
This robin-sized gray bird sings nearly non-stop throughout the year and throughout the day and night. The repertoire is practically unlimited, each phrase repeated a few times then on to another one, without any pattern. These mimics often copy the songs of other birds but also mechanical noises. One neighborhood bird in Ventura, California, several years ago did an exact imitation of a gas-powered lawn mower starting on the third pull: "trumm, trumm, trrrrrrrrrrr...." When it flies, it may spread its wings and tail to display the big white wing patches and white outer tail feathers. It eats berries and insects. Look for it singing from tall garden trees and residential wires from the NE US, across the southern plains to California and southward into Mexico and islands of the Caribbean. Similar San Diego birds: Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, California Thrasher.

Mourning Dove. San Elijo Lagoon, California. March 7, 2008. Greg Gillson.
Mourning Dove
The sad-sounding refrains of this dove are one of the first memories I have of birds. They are found from southern Canada into Middle America in a variety of open habitats, including residential backyards. They primarily eat grain. The long pointed tail helps separate this dove from other similar doves. Similar San Diego birds: Rock Pigeon (Domestic Pigeon), Eurasian Collared-Dove, White-winged Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Common Ground-Dove.

Western Scrub-Jay. Santee, California. October 11, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Western Scrub-Jay
This brash and noisy backyard bird is usually obvious when present. Plump and long-tailed, the head, wings, and tail are blue, the back dark gray and the breast and belly pale gray or whitish. They are found from western Washington State south to Mexico and east to Texas. Often aggressive against other backyard birds, these omnivores eat nearly any animal or vegetable matter small enough to swallow. Peanuts are a favorite food. They cache food, carrying it away to bury and hide for later. Similar San Diego birds: Northern Mockingbird, Steller's Jay; perhaps also the smaller Western and Mountain Bluebirds.

Next: Birds to know in San Diego: San Elijo Lagoon