Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Great Horned Owl--Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl near the Huntington Central Park Library in Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach looking back at me.
I was looking through my camera at a Great Horned Owl just before noon in Huntington Central Park over by the library. A lady passing by wanted to know what I was looking at. I pointed out the Great Horned Owl up in the tree. "How did you see that?" she asked. I replied, "I saw an unexpected dark spot in the branches, looked through my binoculars, and there he was." It was the middle of the day, and he was in a tree overlooking a field often seemingly alive with California Ground Squirrels. He appeared to be resting. When he saw me looking at him, he looked back with almost equal curiosity. He was well camouflaged, and I almost missed him. Both the color and barred pattern of their feathers blend in with the tree bark making Great Horned Owls very difficult to spot. Although they do have a small white bib under the chin, it is not enough to make them stand out. In the case of the Great Horned Owl I saw in Central Park, it was just the unexpected shape that made me double check to see what it was. I did not expect a Great Horned Owl since they are hard to spot in the day time.

Great Horned Owl--Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife--Photographer Ronald Laubenstein

I remember one time I was birding with my friend Gloria, and we saw what at first glance appeared to be a cat in a low tree. It turned out to be a Great Horned Owl. Some people call them the "cat owl," They do in some ways look very like a cat--especially the eyes and "ears." The "ears" are tufts of feathers and not ears at all. I have heard theories that the feathers help guide sound onto the facial disk and into the ears and that the ear-like feathers are camouflage to keep the Owl from being seen. The bird's actual ears are holes under the feathers on the side of its head. The ears are placed on the head asymmetrically so the owl can locate sounds more precisely. This is a distinct advantage at night in locating moving prey on the ground.

Presentation on the Great Horned Owl from Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon

Great Horned Owls begin hunting at dusk and continue all night long. You may see them just before sunset and near dawn. They hunt by sound, locating prey precisely using their asymmetrical ears, and by sight with their enormous yellow eyes. The must turn their head to see rather than move their eyes because their eyes are so large that there is no room left over for muscles to move their eyes. They have no significant sense of smell. Sometimes they come out during the day, but the harassment from crows and hawks can easily drive them under cover. Sometimes they are found by other birds while sleeping and harassed or "mobbed" out of the area. They often share territory with diurnal birds of prey like the Red-tailed Hawk. The Red-tail has the day shift and the Great Horned Owl has the night shift. In areas with no diurnal predator, they may come out earlier in the day.

"Click" an owl at Wildbirds Unlimited, Huntington Beach brought there by South Bay Wildlife Rehab. Giving me the eye.

Great Horned Owls are large--about two feet tall. Like many raptors, the female is larger than the male. They weigh between 3-4 pounds and have a wingspan of between 3-5 feet. They hunt from perches or fly low along the ground to catch prey. On occasion, they actually walk along the ground to hunt prey. Their biggest asset is surprise which they usually can accomplish with specialized feathers that make their flight virtually silent.

Great Horned Owl in the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California . His "ears" are laid back. The "ears" are actually tufts of feathers. Check out those feet. Very powerful talons.

Great Horned Owls, like all raptors, grasp and kill their prey with their large talons. The prey has little chance. Armed as they are, a Great Horned Owl's greatest enemy is another Great Horned Owl. They eat rabbits, hares, gophers, other rodents, skunks, raccoons, bats, Great Blue Herons, Red-tailed Hawks, turkeys, geese, ducks, and other birds large and small, reptiles, frogs, and even insects like crickets and worms. They pretty much eat whatever they catch including domestic animals and pets. They are the only animal which regularly eats skunks.

Click, the Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owls are so strong that they are able to kill and carry prey that weighs up to three times their own body weight. Small prey is swallowed whole like we swallow popcorn. Larger prey is taken to a perch or safe area. There,the Great Horned Owl tears the prey into smaller size pieces with its hooked, black beak. Several hours after they eat, the owls regurgitate a large pellet of fur and bones and other indigestible animal parts. You can see what they ate by separating out the pieces in the pellet. Sometimes in places where owls have been roosting on a regular basis, you can see lots of pellets.

Short Great Horned Owl Documentary from Berwick Productions on YouTube

Great Horned Owls are found in most of North America. Their range covers all of the United States and then south through Central America and portions of South America. They live in arctic, desert, and tropical climates. They are generally nonmigratory except in the extreme northern regions. If you have forests, parks, or trees and grass near you, it is likely there are Great Horned Owls nearby. They live in remote areas like forests and in neighborhood parks. Great Horned Owls have been able to disperse widely in the Americas. They are one of the most common owls in North America.

Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service-- Great Horned Owl Chick--Photographer Gary M. Stolz

Great Horned Owls make a variety of sounds from hoots, to screeching, to loud clicking or clacking. The most well known sound is the hoo-hoo sound that seems so mysterious late at night. The males have lower voices in general than females. Great Horned Owls make noise to find mates, to intimidate rivals, and unnerve prey.

"Click" a Great Horned Owl from South Bay Wildlife Rehab photographed at Wildbirds Unlimited, Huntington Beach. It was fun to shoot photos of all the raptors they brought that day. This owl was very impressive.

Owls live to about 13 years old in the wild and close to 30-40 years old in captivity. Captivity gives them food, shelter, and safety from the hazards of man. It is quite a bird.

A short interview with zookeeper and Olivia, a Great Horned Owl, at the Oakland Zoo.

Great Horned Owls are solitary creatures and mate for the breeding season. Afterward, the revert to their solitary ways. They are very poor nest builders and often recycle the nest of a crow, hawk, or eagle. In January and February they hoot and display to find mates, so listen and see if you can hear any Great Horned Owls in your neighborhood. The reason they nest early like many hawks do, is that Spring is a time of year where there is much prey to be had as other animals and birds raise young. That way the Great Horned Owl and other raptors have plenty of food for their own young.

Side View of "Click."

They lay between 2-5 eggs. Both male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young. The young jump from branch to branch until fully fledged and able to coordinate their movements. Young are covered in white down. No ear tufts are usually visible. I remember being on a field trip to Antelope Valley, and coming across two young Great Horned Owls with their parents at a pool in an agricultural field. They were jumping from branch to branch clumsily, but seemed on the point of learning to fly at any time. It was very cute. Great Horned Owls young stay with the adults until early fall. The parents are very protective and will attack animals or birds or even you if you approach too closely.

Click on his perch.

Don't forget to look carefully during the day when you are birding to see if you see a shape that just might be a resting Great Horned Owl. If there is a ruckus and crows and hawks are mobbing something, check and see if it is the Great Horned Owl. You never know, you just might see a Great Horned Owl yourself.

OC Birder Girl Links

Huntington Central Park
Irvine Open Space Preserve Nature Center
Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California
Mason Regional Park
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Tewinkle Park -- Costa Mesa
Barn Owl--Tyto alba

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk--Buteo jamaicensis

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Great Horned Owl

Detailed article.

Animal Diversity Web: Great Horned Owl

Great profile full of information from the University of Michigan--student project.

BirdWeb: Great Horned Owl

Desert USA: Great Horned Owl

Very good article on Desert USA.

Great Plains Nature Center

Fun little article that urges people to get out and hoot on winter evenings to see if they have any owls.

Internet Bird Collection: Great Horned Owl

Very good quality videos of Great Horned Owls.

National Geographic: Great Horned Owl Profile

Great photos and facts.

Nature Works: Great Horned Owl

Good Article on the Great Horned Owl.

Orange County Zoo: Great Horned Owl

Short article. Fun page--Great Horned Owl sounds when you bring page up.

Oregon Zoo: Great Horned Owl

Good article.

The Owl Pages: Great Horned Owl

Good information and lots of sounds.

USGS: Great Horned Owl

Short, but good.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Western Bluebird--Sialia mexicana

This male Western Bluebird feels right at home in Mason Regional Park which has mixed trees and grass.

The Western Bluebird, as the name implies, is a western bird. Its range is from British Columbia south to Central Mexico. It goes no farther east than western Texas and western Montana. It is the least migratory bluebird, moving from upper to lower altitudes more than moving from north to south during the winter. So you might see Western Bluebirds up in Crestline or Arrowhead in the spring or summer, but more likely would see them at lower levels in the winter. If you are looking for a blue bird with an orange chest in Orange County, this is most likely the bird you are looking for.

Western Bluebird male perched on a picnic table at Mason Regional Park .

The male has very brilliant blue feathers on his head, back, and tail. His chest is an orange or bold chestnut color and his undertail coverts also have some chestnut coloring. There is a lighter blue on his stomach. The female is similar, but much duller in color. Western Bluebirds are part of a family of songbirds called thrushes. Thrushes are small or medium-sized songbirds that include the Varied Thrush, the American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Swainson's Thrush, and the Hermit Thrush. Western Bluebirds have a pleasant song. Nothing very fancy, but certainly a nice song to listen to as you walk through the open woodlands and forests this bluebird calls home. Unlike the Eastern and Mountain Bluebirds, the Western Bluebird's habitat is not primarily meadows or pastureland. It prefers a few trees. Open woodlands and even open coniferous forests are ideal. Thrushes often feed on the ground.

Western Bluebird on the grass looking for insects at Mason Regional Park .

It eats fruits, seeds, and insects. It will fly down from a perch to the ground for insects, sow bugs, or spiders, then return to a perch. They will eat insects such as ants, termites, and even insects as large as grasshoppers and crickets. Sometimes it almost seems like a flycatcher. I often spot a Western Bluebird when I see it flying down from the trees to the ground and back. Also will glean insects off the trees. They also eat berries from mistletoe plants, elderberry trees, and juniper trees and other fruits are part of their winter diet.

Western Bluebird in Mason Regional Park .

Western Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters--which means they find either naturally occurring holes or those made by woodpeckers or nestboxes. They do not make the holes themselves. The mated pair often have helpers who are not the parents, but may be older offspring of the parents who help the parents care for the young. They nest about twice in during the breeding season and lay about 5 eggs each time. Western Bluebirds may also on occasion nest in something that approximates a tree cavity. Western Bluebirds on rare occasions have been observed nesting in crevices in tree bark, or in cavities in roof tiles, and attempting to nest in a mail box. These are unusual nest locations.

Western Bluebird at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

In a study made at the Corvalis Bluebird Trail in Oregon in the 1980's (Eltzroth and Robinson, Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring, 1984), several occasions of Violet Green Swallows assisting Western Bluebirds in caring for Western Bluebird nestlings by defending the nest against predators, removing fecal sacs, and feeding nestlings. The usual pattern was that a mated pair of Violet Green Swallows with a failed nest nearby began assisting a pair of Western Bluebirds in caring for their young. The study suggested that Violet Green Swallow pair might benefit by nesting in the box themselves and raising their own young after helping the Western Bluebird nestling fledge. In an area in which nesting cavities were limited, assisting the Western Bluebirds who already had a nest might provide Violet Green Swallows with the opportunity to be the next tenant with minimal competition.

Western Bluebird at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

Two the main competitors of Western and Eastern Bluebirds are aggressive, alien species from England. They were brought here by well-meaning, but ignorant people who wanted to see these familiar British species in the United States. In the 1890, 100 Starlings were introduced into Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin, a man taken with Shakespeare's reference to them in his writings. Starting in 1851 and for several years following, others did the same thing with House Sparrows (to be differentiated from House Finches--a native species). My English great-grandfather called them chippies. He recognized them right away as English Sparrows. No one realized the danger of invasive alien species at that time. The problem with European Starlings and House Sparrows is that both are cavity nesters and about the time they came over to our shores natural cavities for cavity nesters were in serious decline. Due to our removal of dead trees used by many species, clearing of land, and replacement of wood with metal in for fence posts and other construction, cavity nesters began to decline over time. The avian invaders swept the country from the Eastern United States to the West. First the Eastern Bluebird suffered decline and then the Western. As land development followed, so did decline. It was a serious problem for Bluebirds and cavity nesters of all kinds.

Western Bluebird box in Huntington Central Park.

In the late 1920's, Thomas E. Musselman of Quincy, Illinois began to build bluebird boxes. He invented the "bluebird trail"--a series of bluebird nesting boxes. He places the first bluebird trails along roads in his home county in Illinois. The idea spread. Soon there were thousands of nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds set up in the eastern United States. In the late 1960's, Hubert W. Prescott of Portland, Oregon was similarly concerned with the Western Bluebirds in his area of Oregon. He was the moving force behind bluebird trails for the Western Bluebird in Oregon. The Portland Audubon Society maintains bluebird trails in the area currently.

Western Bluebird nesting box in Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park.

The North American Bluebird Society was established in 1978. Perhaps it has caught on so much because this is a species that the average citizen can help by putting up a box or working with a group who maintains local bluebird trails in parks, golf courses, and other natural areas. Bluebird nestboxes do not have a perch which both Starlings and House Sparrows prefer. The Southern California Bluebird Club was established in Orange County through the efforts of birder Richard Purvis. They help thousands of Western Bluebirds fledge each year by building, installing, and maintaining Bluebird nestboxes. Purvis has invented "The Purvis Lifter" to make maintaining and cleaning his Purvis Nestbox easier. When Purvis started in the 1980s there were only 10 pairs of breeding Western Bluebirds in Orange County. In 2007, the group's nestboxes fledged 5,200 nestlings. At 80 years old, he is an active advocate for Western Bluebirds in Orange County and beyond. Birds and birders owe the Southern California Bluebird Club a lot.
Birding in Orange County is a lot more enjoyable because of their efforts.

Open Woodlands that Western Bluebirds like in Huntington Central Park.

Purvis is in the news again telling people about the dangers of Easter Grass for Western Bluebirds. The plastic grass gets wound around the chicks and choke them and can entangle the parent so that he or she cannot get out of the nest to get them food. Read the whole article from the OC Register here.

Western Bluebird from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

When you are out birding in Orange County during Spring or Summer, look for the bright blue bird flying down to the ground and back to its perch. You just may see the Western Bluebird. To make sure you do, check out these places where Western Bluebirds can be found in season:

Some places Western Bluebirds can be found in Orange County

Huntington Central Park

Irvine Regional Park

Laguna Niguel Regional Park

Mile Square Park

Mason Regional Park

O'Neill Regional Park

Peters Canyon Regional Park

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

The Aggressive House Sparrow. Introduced from England to the United States.

OC Birder Girl Links

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California

Mason Regional Park

Shipley Nature Center

European Starling. Aggressive cavity nester was imported by misguided Shakespeare fan to New York's Central Park in mid 1800's.

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Western Bluebirds

Detailed article on the Western Bluebird.

All About Birds: European Starlings

All about an invasive species that threatens the Western and Eastern Bluebird.

All About Birds: House Sparrow

Another invasive species. The ubiquitous McDonald's bird.

American Bird Conservancy: Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project

Animal Diversity Web: Western Bluebird

Detailed article about the Western Bluebird.

Audubon at Home: How to Help Western Bluebirds

Advice on what Western Bluebirds need to survive in your backyard. What plants to grow, what food to offer in the feeder, nest boxes, and more.

Audubon Society of Omaha: History of the Bluebird Movement

Good history of the movement to protect Bluebirds and to provide nest boxes for them.

BirdWeb: Western Bluebird

Great article from the Seattle Audubon Society.

Birding Column: Mesmerized by Western Bluebirds

The Birdman of Bel Air talks about Western Bluebirds.

The Birds of North America Online Preview: Western Bluebirds


Bluebird-L Reference Guide

Reference guide for feeding bluebirds, maintaining nest boxes and more. Great site by Cornell Ornithology Lab, The North American Bluebird Society, and The Birdhouse Network.

Bluebirds of San Diego County

Our neighbors down south are active bluebird supporters.

Birdhouses Help Create a Bluebird Haven

Article about bluebirds and nestboxes in Orange County from Cindy McNatt of the OC Register.

California Bluebird Recovery Program

California organization that

Easter Fluff Kills Bluebirds

OC Register article on how our thoughtless Easter trash kills Western Bluebirds and other birds.

Internet Bird Collection: Western Bluebird

Los Angeles Times: A Hole Lotta Love for the Western Bluebird in O.C.

Newspaper article about the Southern California Bluebird Club and Dick Purvis.

North American Bluebird Society

National Bluebird Society.

Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project

Great site from Oregon about their Bluebird Recovery program.


All about Bluebirds. Great site.

Southern California Bluebird Club

"Our mission is to preserve and protect the Western Bluebird and other cavity nesters in Southern CA." Check out their blog. See the details of the Purvis nestbox system here.

The Western Bluebird Survival Guide

State of Oregon guide to helping the Western Bluebird thrive.

USGS: Western Bluebird

Short, but helpful.

Violet-green Swallows Help Western Bluebirds at the Nest

Fascinating study of interspecies cooperation in raising of young. (Eltzroth and Robinson, Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring, 1984)

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mourning Dove--Zenaida macroura

Mourning Dove at Huntington Central Park.

The mournful calling of the Mourning Dove filled my childhood in the San Gabriel Valley. That sound is one of my earliest memories as I was put to bed on a summer evening. It is a sound that even today brings back the smell of eucalyptus in our yard and the memories of mounds of snowy, white clusters of sweet alyssum in the flowerbeds. Sounding so like the owl, the cooing of the Mourning Doves felt comforting and put me to sleep many hot, summer evenings long before the sun went down.

What's up, Doc?

In 2005, they estimated the populations of Mourning Doves in the United States to be just over 400 million birds. Although the Mourning Dove is a very common bird, it is also a very cute bird and can be rather endearing. I love to watch them. And I love the way they poke around the gravel, the patio, and the dirt, and the way their wings make a whistling sound as they fly away. This little Mourning Dove (above) was interested in the goings on in the apartment above.

Looking for seeds.

Mourning Doves eat seeds. They pick through things on the ground and eat the seeds and grain. I often find them on the ground on my patio sifting through the dirt or through the seeds that have fallen from the bird feeder. Less commonly, they will also eat insects and fruit. According to Sibley, members of the Pigeon and Dove families are able to suck up water, rather than scoop it up and tilting the head back to swallow. Sibley comments that this is a safer way to drink since sucking up water is faster than the scoop-and-tilt method. (The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, page 321.) The folks at the Chipperwood Observatory point out that the amount of weed seeds a Mourning Dove consumes make the species a pretty good weed control method. My indoor cats love to watch them through the window as the Mourning Doves forage in our yard.

A pair of Mourning Doves.

Mourning Doves mate for life which can be from an average of under two years to-- in rare cases-- almost 20 years. (Although some resources imply Mourning Doves mate for a season, Chipperwood Observatory states that banding data suggests they mate for life.) Mourning Doves are plentiful in the United States, and they may be hunted in season in some areas. Both the male and female attend the flimsy nest with the male taking a shift in the middle of the morning to later part of the afternoon. They both begin feeding the hatched nestlings a substance called crop milk, and then shift over time to the seeds that will provide the bulk of their diets as adults. Pigeons and Doves all feed nestlings crop milk which is like a cheesey fat and lipid-and-protein-packed food that is filled with nutrients for growing nestlings. The Mourning Dove has only 2 eggs per nest and that is about all that their supply of crop-milk will sustain.


As Seattle's BirdWeb points out, they are the most slender member of the Pigeon and Dove family. The male is slightly larger, has a slightly blue crown and nape. His throat and breast have a rosy or pinkish wash. The female is grayer in color. Both have large spots on their backs and a thin, tapering tail. An immature Mourning Dove's feather's look a bit scaly. The Mourning Dove is quite prolific, raising three and more broods in one breeding season. The breeding season runs from March through September.

Laying Low.

The Mourning Dove's range is from Canada south through Panama in Central America. Only the northern populations migrate. It is a species that fills our cities and our countryside. The Mourning Dove like Woodlands and forests near grasslands or meadow.

Afternoon exercises. Wing stretch. Left, right. Left...

This twosome I saw were very cute. Not sure what this little dove was doing, but she started stretching out one wing and then the other repeatedly. She bonked her mate on the head, but he just moved out of the way.

Right. Oops. Sorry, honey.

Perhaps only a species that mates for life could be so tolerant.

Mourning Dove at Huntington Central Park. Looks like a male. Notice the rosy wash.

I see them so many places I go birding in Orange County. They are in the trees and on the paths of San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Central Park, and Santiago Oaks. The only places I don't see them are right on the beach.

Mourning Doves are one of those common birds that if you just watch you fall in love with and helps you remember that part of bird watching is studying bird behavior, not just racking up the numbers and hitting the marks. Being intimately acquainted with a species is just as important as seeing a lot of birds. Sitting and observing is part of the thing we birders love to do. Sometimes we forget as we run off to find the next bird that the life in front of us is worth tarrying for. Worth trying to understand a little better.

As you go birding in Orange County, remember to tarry, even in your own back yard and become acquainted with the species you live with all year round. It is the essence of birding.

Mourning Dove Goes Courting from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

OC Birder Girl Links

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Lots of parks and places to see Mourning Doves.

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Great place to see Mourning Doves.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

There are Mourning Doves here and there in the trees and on the paths and out in the wetlands. Not as easy to spot as Central Park in Huntington Beach, but they are there.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Great place to see Mourning Doves. I often see them near the Audubon House in the trees or in the butterfly garden.

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Mourning Dove

Detailed article from Cornell Lab in New York about the Mourning Dove.

Animal Diversity Web: Mourning Dove

Great detailed article about the Mourning Dove.

Bird Web: Mourning Dove

Good article from the Seattle Audubon Society on Mourning Doves.


(Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 101, No. 1, January-March, 1989) Good detailed article on relation of crop milk to number of eggs laid and nestlings raised.

Internet Bird Collection: American Mourning Dove

Good quality videos of Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove in Missouri

Good Article about Mourning Doves. Don't forget to click on the navigation links on the left side of their page for more informaton.

Wildlife Habitat Council: Mourning Dove

Long and detailed PDF article about the Mourning Dove.

USGS: Mourning Dove

Short, but good article.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Gopher Visits Alice's

The Hole at Alice's Breakfast in the Park.

One day my mother and I took a walk at Huntington Central Park. There at the far end of Alice's Breakfast in the Park was a hole. Now that was different. Then something popped out of the hole.

What's up?

He ducked down. Then up again, pushing a small load of damp, sandy earth up onto the ground. Check out his claws in my pictures in this post. Gophers have really large claws so they can dig their holes. Like a built in rake and shovel. Their back feet and strong legs are made for burrowing.
The can move forward and backwards in their tunnels. The tunnels they build have different functions. They build holes like this one near the surface to look for food--usually roots and tubers like carrots or potatoes or turnips. Pocket Gophers also eat other plant material including seeds and cereal crops. They are not picky. They eat all kinds of plants from native plants to ornamental plants. The tunnels that make up their homes area further underground. They build the deeper tunnels of 1 to 3 yards for their living area: their nest, their bathroom area, and of course places they store the food they find while foraging. The surface tunnels are helpful to find food, but carry some danger as well. After all being so close to the surface, predators like owls and Coyotes. can hear them in their surface tunnels. In the Sora article below, a zoologist name C.A. Tryon, Jr. from the University of Montana observed a Great Gray Owl break through such a surface tunnel. Tryon thinks that when the Gopher went up to repair the hole, the owl got him. Gophers like to stop up or plug their tunnel entrances. Other rodents like California Ground Squirrels or moles may keep them open. The mounds they leave are often crescent shapes according to the County of Los Angeles. Keeps out some predators. Doing all that digging gets messy. Pocket Gophers have tear ducts that make a lot of tears that keep dirt and other gunk out of their eyes. Their fur is often very similar to the ground in which they have their homes. Good camouflage.


At Alice's Breakfast in the Park, a little girl began screaming. The parents stepped in and calmed and redirected kids wanting to touch him. Look at the pictures. Notice his large, yellow front teeth. No Crest Strips for this guy. His front teeth actually are in front of his lips so that he can using them in his digging an cutting plan roots.

Eating duck food. Struck the mother lode!

The gopher had lots of space in his fur-lined pouch to store food. He started looking like his face was swollen. He filled his pouch with grain up to his shoulders. The pouches, like the pockets after which these Gophers are names, can be turned inside out to empty its contents in the store room that are in the deeper tunnels of the Gopher's home. You may wonder how they get their water. They get all the moisture they need from the plants they eat.

The ducks and the gopher competed for food.

The Ducks and the gopher really chowed down. The Gopher got stepped on by an American Coot. Mallards were eating, too.

The American Coot checks out the Gopher hole.

Everyone began guessing as to what it could be. Everyone had their own idea. Then finally one man said with authority, "It's a gopher!" And he was right. He is a pocket gopher to be exact. A Valley or Botta's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae). He was a really big hit with children and adults. He got lots of food and made plenty of new friends.

What a day!

Gophers are not usually that social. In fact, they pretty much out to look for a mate and then go back to their solitary digging. They get pretty feisty and aggressive with other Gophers if they meet up outside of breeding season. They breed and give birth to young twice a year in February and October. Pocket Gophers are prey for different kinds of Coyotes, owls, hawks, and even Great Blue Herons. Gophers are also hunted by badgers, ferrets, snakes, and other
mammals. Especially in the Western United States where we live, Great Blue Herons love gophers and eat them more often than Great Blue Herons in other areas. Other large egrets and herons may eat them as well. They are often hunted by humans who are upset by the damage they do to landscaping and wires.

He was as curious as we were.

So when you are out birding, don't forget to look down. You never know what you might see.

Checking things out.

If you see a gopher, remember that gophers are wild, so always exercise caution.

Wow, what a place! Everyone loves Alice's Breakfast in the Park!

Last time I went by Alice's Breakfast in the Park the gopher hole was filled in, and he had moved on. But you should still check out Alice's Breakfast in the Park--hits the spot on a nice morning in the park. Great place for birders to stop by as they go birding in Central Park in Huntington Beach. It is just around the Shipley Nature Center . How often can you go to one of Orange County's best birding hotspots and get a great breakfast and the most delicious cinnamon role or muffin that you've ever had baked fresh right there? They take bakery orders, too. Go birding and pick up freshly baked goods to take home. Alice Gustafson, wife of John Gustafson (owner of the World Famous End Café on Huntington Beach Pier before a storm swept it away) opened this great place up 28 years ago. People bring their dogs--the dog park is nearby. They serve the dogs, too. You can sit and bird and people watch at the same time. Easy to bird the lake from your table outside. You look up in the trees and can see Cooper's Hawks , and Audubon Yellow-Rumped Warblers . Common yellowthroats call from the marshy grass. Eat inside or outside. It's a treat either way for breakfast or lunch. Check it out.

The Most Awesomeist Thing in the World! from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

Some of the Many Birds I have seen while at Alice's or Nearby:

Double-crested Cormorant--Phalacrocorax auritus

American White Pelicans--Pelecanus erythrorhynchos...

Western Grebes--Aechmophorus occidentalis

Eared Grebe--Podiceps nigricollis

Great Blue Heron--Ardea herodias

Great Egret--Ardea alba

Snowy Egret--Egretta thula

Green Heron--Butorides virescens

Black-crowned Night Heron--Nycticorax nycticorax

American Avocet--Recurvirostra americana

Black-necked Stilt--Himantopus mexicanus

Forester's Tern

American Coot--Fulica americana

Caspian Tern

American Wigeon--Anas americana

Canada Geese

Mallards--Anas platyrhynchos

Eurasian Wigeon--Anas penelope--A Rare Bird

Northern Shoveler--Anas clypeata

Red-Tailed Hawk--Buteo jamaicensis

Cooper's Hawk--Accipiter cooperii

Osprey--Pandion haliaetus

Turkey Vultures--Cathartes aura

American Crow

Cedar Waxwing--Bombycilla cedrorum

Mourning Dove--Zenaida macroura

House Finch--Carpodacus mexicanus

White-crowned Sparrows--Zonotrichia leucophrys

Common Yellowthroat

Audubon Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Red-winged Black Bird

Hooded Oriole

Bullock's Oriole

Allen's Hummingbird---Selasphorus sasin

Anna's Hummingbird--Calypte anna

Black Phoebe--Sayornis nigricans

OC Birder Girl Links

American Coot--Fulica americana

A Tale of Two Coots

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Mallards--Anas platyrhynchos

Odd Ducks

Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck?

A Walk Among the Fall Leaves at Huntington Central Park

A Walk in Huntington Central Park West 10/15/2007

The Wild Ducks of Orange County

External Links and Resources

Alice's Breakfast in the Park

Alice's in the Park is open into 2010. Alice's is an awesome place with great cinnamon roles.
Check it out. You can eat inside or outside.

America Zoo: Botta's Pocket Gopher

Great short article with pictures.

Animal Diversity Web: Pocket Gophers

Very good article.

Desert USA: Botta's Pocket Gopher

Very good article. Check out the really neat video
of a Botta's Gopher digging.

Huntington Central Park

Los Angeles County: Gophers

National Wildlife Federation: Bird of Myth and Elegance By Les Line

Short bit of information in this article on egrets and herons.

Mammals of California

Smithsonian Natural History Museum: Botta's Pocket Gopher

Good short Article.

The Great Gray Owl as a Predator on Pocket Gophers

You will have to page down on the Sora page to see this short
article. Great observations from this older article.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Pocket Gophers

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