Sunday, June 21, 2009

Identifying Hawks in Orange County

A Red-Tailed Hawk by the Muth Center at the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. The Mature Red-tail's long wings often hide the red tail when perched.

I received a question about a week ago and am sorry for the delay. I have been struggling with an injury and moving a bit slowly on all fronts. So, enough excuses, your hawk question.


"I saw a pair of huge scruffy chocolate-brown hawks in Huntington Central Park the week before last. In flight, their undersides reminded me of red tails - that dark leading edge of the wing and barred tail - but these birds were uniformly dark on the breast, upper parts and sides. No rufous, no white visible when perched, no red in the tail. Their calls were a bit like the Harris's hawk on and not at all like the typical red tail call. New to birding and a bit baffled - any ideas? Do various hawk species ever hybridize?"

Plumage of Red-Tailed Hawks

Same Red-Tailed Hawk.

Red-Tailed Hawks have the most varied plumage of hawks and of most other birds as well. They can be light, dark, rufous, albino, leucistic, and anywhere in-between. Immatures do not have a red tail and have very light barring across the tail. If you see thick, dark barring, you are not looking at a Red-Tail. Smaller than Red-tails, both Red-Shouldered Hawks and Cooper's Hawks have darker, thicker barring on their tails, and the Red-shouldered has the thickest, most contrasting black-and-white barring and additional thick black-and-white barring on the underside of its wings. Because Red-tails have long wings, the red tail is often not visible even in mature birds when perched. No other hawk has the Red-tail's characteristic dark leading edge on the underside of the wing, nor do they have the belly band. The USGS: Red-tailed Hawks talks about several types of plumage on Red-tails. Worth a look. Take a look also at this page from the Birds of Orange County: Red-Tailed Hawk and notice the different plumages that show up just in Orange County. Other great discussions of the much discussed plumage variations: All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk, Dark Red-tailed Hawks, and Avian Web: Red-tailed Hawks. In addition, the Virtual Birder has a Hawks in Flight Gallery. You can pick raptors to compare and see if anything looks like what you saw. Keep in mind they don't have every plumage of Red-tailed Hawk. The Harris's Hawk has terminial white tip in all plumages.

Adult Red-tailed Hawk in flight.

Immature Red-tailed Hawk

Immature Red-Tailed Hawk. Click on the picture to enlarge and see the black leading edge of the shoulder wing area and the light belly band--no other hawk has these that I know.

Sounds of Red-Tailed Hawks vs Cooper's Hawks and Red-Shouldered Hawks vs Harris's Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk has several different calls depending on the circumstances and age of the hawk. There is the typical screaming type of call that we are all familiar with whether we know it or not through movies and TV. There are also scolding calls, mating calls, and sounds made by nestlings. Check these links to hear a variety of calls: All About Birds: Red-tailed Hawk Sounds, Animal Diversity Web: Red-tailed Hawk Sounds, BirdWeb: Red-tailed Hawk, and San Diego Zoo: Red-tailed Hawk. While the Red-tail scream is the best known hawk or eagle sound, it is not the only sound that Red-tails make. So don't judge by the scream. Compare and note that the Harris's Hawk's normal call and the Red-tail's scolding are very similar.

Harris's Hawk at San Diego Wild Animal Park. Dark brown with terminal white markings on tails of mature and immature.

The Cooper's Hawks and Red-Shouldered Hawks are a lot more noisy than the Red-tailed Hawk and will sit and call and call. The Red-Shouldered Hawk in particular is often noticed because it is calling all the time. Here is a link to All About Birds: Red-Shouldered Hawk Sounds. Here is a link to several types of Cooper's Hawk calls at All About Birds: Cooper's Hawk Sounds. Hear Harris's Hawk here at All About Birds: Harris's Hawk.

Red-shouldered calling and calling. Notice the characteristic sprinkling of white on the wings.

Orange County has many Hawks and you will find many in Huntington Central Park including Red-Tailed Hawks, Red-Shouldered Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, the occasional Sharp-shinned Hawk, and on rare occasions other hawks as well. Red-tailed Hawks are the largest hawks, followed by the Red-shouldered, and then the Cooper's Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk chasing an immature Red-Tailed Hawk . Click to enlarge.

When you see a bird that doesn't seem to fit, it is always a good idea to observe carefully, consult several guide books, and also check the Orange County Rare Bird Alert or Orange County Birding--Yahoo Group to see if anyone else has seen it and what they think it is. Could it be a hybrid? Hybrid hawks are rare and much debated when an odd hawk shows up.

I have seen a scruffy-looking immature Red-Tailed Hawk in Huntington Central Park on several occasions recently so I would not be surprised if that is what you saw. I have also seen Cooper's Hawks and Red-Shouldered Hawks at Huntington Central Park. Study your raptors and keep your binoculars ready for hawks fying overhead and resting in trees.


Birds of Orange County

Check the raptors.

Raptor rescue organization in Orange County.

Orange County Rare Bird Alert

Check for rare bird sightings.

Orange County Birding--Yahoo Group

Check for rare and unusual sightings, ask other birders for advice finding a species, etc.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Common Yellowthroat--Geothlypis trichas

Common Yellowthroat courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photographer Dave Menke.

The male Common Yellowthroat is easy to identify whether you see him or hear him. The male Common Yellowthroat has a Black mask with a white line edging the top of his mask, and a bright yellow throat and chest. The female and the immature males lack the black mask and are olive with a yellow throat and chest. Both have a whitish belly, pink legs. In spite of being wood warblers, Common Yellowthroats hold their tails at a wren-like angle.

Male Common Yellowthroat at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Their call sounds like "wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty." Surprisingly easy to recognize. Although somewhat secretive, Common Yellowthroats are very curious, and will sometimes come out and look when they hear pishing or other sounds.

Up on a branch singing "wichety-wichety-wichety" for all he is worth at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary .

Like all wood warblers, Common Yellowthroats move fast through the foliage, flitting from one leaf to another. They are often hard to spot, but in spring, males like to fly up and sing perched on a high branch. Fast-moving and loud in spring describes the Common Yellowthroat. The Common Yellowthroat is found in tangled undergrowth near streams, wetlands, estuaries, and other bodies of water. They can also be found in agricultural fields. They are sometimes found in the tangled undergrowth somewhat far from water. There are about 14 subspecies of Common Yellowthroat warblers that vary only slightly in coloring and song.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park taking the high ground in the spring.

Common Yellowthroats eat insects, their larval forms--including caterpillars--spiders, and occasional seeds. They are gleaners that pick insects off leaves and any part of the plant they can. They also have some other moves such as the sally-hover which is gleaning while hovering near a plant, and sally-strike which is catching flying food--in this case flycatching. Common Yellowthroats occasionally drop to the ground to forage.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park .

Common Yellowthroats range from northern Canada and Southern Alaska south through southern Mexico. They are found from coast to coast and in every U.S. state except Hawaii.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park . Near Alice's Breakfast in the Park.

Common Yellowthroats nest as they live, in the undergrowth. The nests are often low in the undergrowth or actually on the ground. Near water, they may be attached to plants like cattails or marsh grasses.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park on the way to Shipley Nature Center from Alice's in Breakfast in the Park.

The Common Yellowthroat, like many birds, often lays a second batch of eggs. Unlike some other birds, the female starts her second nest when the first set of nestlings have fledged, but are still relying on the parents for food. She leaves the male to take care of the first fledglings as she begins their second family.

Male Common Yellowthroat at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Since Brown-headed Cowbirds are ground-feeding birds, it is not surprising that these parasitic birds often lay their eggs in a nearby Common Yellowthroat nests. The fact that Common Yellowthroats are abundant gives the cowbirds plenty of places to lay their eggs. However, the Common Yellowthroat is no dummy and often notices the cowbird egg, either abandoning the nest or building over it to avoid incubating the intruder's egg.

Huntington Central Park--a male Common Yellowthroat in the bushes on the way to Alice's Breakfast in the Park by Lake Huntington.

The Common Yellowthroat may also push the cowbird egg out of its nest or may even abandon the nest altogether.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park .

When there are few males in an area, a Common Yellowthroat male may take two mates.

Male Common Yellowthroat at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve . Up on the Mesa.

Common Yellowthroats are really great little birds. I always feel I have accomplished something if I get off a fairly decent shot. So when you are out birding in Orange County, California don't forget to listen for the familiar call and check for the masked yellow warbler flitting through the branches or the reeds.

Where to find Common Yellowthroats in Orange County

In the parking lot area on PCH. On the path along PCH. Up on the mesa.

On the East side near Talbot Lake, on the West side near Lake Huntington, in the undergrowth on the path to Shipley Nature Center from the parking lot by Alice's. And in Shipley Nature Center.

In the undergrowth.

In the undeveloped part by the creek. Back behind the Playground. Also near the creek in the undergrowth bordering Campus.

In the butterfly garden and throughout the sanctuary.

All around the bay.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park

Other Places to see Common Yellowthroats check these external links:

Look for places near wetlands, lakes, streams, and undergrowth. You will most likely hear "wichety, wichety, wichety" and if you are lucky will see a Common Yellowthroat in an Orange County Park or wildlife reserve.

Common Yellowthroat in Huntington Central Park .

External Links and Resources

Detailed article with sound, photographs, maps, and lots of information about the Common Yellowthroat.

Animal Diversity Web: Common Yellowthroat

Very Detailed.

Birds of Westwood: Common Yellowthroat

Pictures, text, and sound bites of the Common Yellowthroat taken over by UCLA.

Bird Watcher's Digest Magazine: The Uncommon Common Yellowthroat

Article about a birder's experiences with the Common Yellowthroat.

BirdWeb: Common Yellowthroat

Good article from Seattle Audubon Society.

Cape May Bird Observatory: Common Yellowthroat

Awesome photo of male signing.

Chipperwood Bird Observatory: Common Yellowthroat

Good article with pictures. This observatory always does a great job in describing and profiling a species.

A Classification Scheme for Foraging Behavior of Birds in Terresterial Habitats

J.V. Remsen, Jr. and Scott K. Robinson From Studies in Avian Biology No. 13:144-160, 1990. The article that defined and classified avian foraging techniques and made it easier to discuss.

Cornell: Bird of the Week--Common Yellowthroat

Bird of the week from Cornell. Lots of good information.

Diurnal, Intraseasonal, and Intersexual Variation in Foraging Behavior of the Common Yellowthroat

(Condor: Vol. 98, No. 3, May-June, 1996) Interesting look at foraging habits of male and female Common Yellowthroats in various seasons.

Eek! Critter Corner: Common Yellowthroat

Short Children's article gives good verbal picture of the Common Yellowthroat.

The Flight Songs of Common Yellowthroats: Description and Causation

Gary Ritchison (Condor: Vol. 93, No. 1, January-February, 1991)

Internet Bird Collection: Common Yellowthroat

Very good videos of male and female Common Yellowthroats.

Learn Bird Songs: Common Yellow Throat

Long (47 seconds) of various Common Yellowthroat calls. Very helpful. Sound bite loops and you can listen to it for an extended amount of time over and over.

Management of Cowbirds and their Hosts: Balancing Science, Ethics, and Mandates


National Audubon Society: Waterbirds--Common Yellowthroat

Very detailed article from National Audubon.

National Park Service Wind Cave National Park: Common Yellowthroat

Very nice photo of a male Common Yellowthroat feeding nestlings. Also a sound bite.

An Observation of Polygyny in the Common Yellowthroat

GEORGE V. N. POWELL H. LEE JONES (Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 90, No. 4, October-December, 1978)

Ranger Rick: Common Yellowthroat

Short but descriptive article in the children's Magazine "Ranger Rick."

South Dakota Birds and Birding: Common Yellowthroat

A short article, but a large gallery of Common Yellowthroat pictures, some extremely clear and close up.

Harold Stiver's Common Yellowthroat Video on Vimeo

Incredibly clear and well lit short video of a Common Yellowthroat.

USGS: Common Yellowthroat

Short and to the point. Don't forget to click on the links on the right-hand side of the page.

Variations in the Black Mask of the Common Yellowthroat

WALTER KINGSLEY TAYLOR (Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 47, No. 1, Winter, 1976)
Isolated instance of a female Common Yellowthroat with a black mask.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Barn Swallow Nesting Time

Four Barn Swallow--Hirundo rustica nestlings in their mud nest at a business complex in Orange County, CA.

Well, it is no fun to have knee problems, but despite being out of commission for a while, I did manage to get these shots at an Orange County business complex. Here are some grumpy-looking nestlings waiting impatiently for a meal of insects from mama and papa. I didn't have to walk far for these shots, and I didn't stay long. Just shot some video and photographs and went back to icing my knees. I have cabin fever big time.

Four Barn Swallow--Hirundo rustica nestlings

The parents seem to give two or so short calls as they come toward the nest and the nestlings go wild.

Four Barn Swallow--Hirundo rustica nestlings back to waiting.

I didn't get any pictures of the busy parents today, but last year I got a lot. Here are two from last year at the same complex.

Barn Swallow--Hirundo rustica adult. Note the deeply forked tail.

When the adults are flying by, you can see the dark blue on the top--sometimes looks black--and the rust color on the underside. The field mark that tells you this is a Barn Swallow--Hirundo rustica for sure is the deeply forked tail.

Adult Barn Swallows--Hirundo rustica on a light fixture.

The adults fly low over water or fields and catch insects in their open mouths. They bring some to their nestlings every few minutes to keep them growing. Recently, I have seen Barn Swallows--Hirundo rustica swooping over the grassy berms at the business complex where I work . The Barn Swallows--Hirundo rustica are especially active when the gardeners are working.
Watch for fast-moving birds low to the ground, and you may see some Barn Swallows near you. Have fun birding in Orange County!

Barn Swallow Nesting Time from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

OC Birder Girl Links

External Links and Resources

Animal Diversity Web: Barn Swallows

All About Birds: Barn Swallows

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Owls of Orange County

Burrowing Owl

Short-eared Owl Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photographer Ronald Laubenstein.

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