Signs of Spring

Tuesday April 15, 2014
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Signs of Spring

Sweat Bee on Native San Diego Sunflower

Sweat Bee on Native San Diego Sunflower

♪♫ Spring is in the air ♫ ♪

In Southern California, one can always tell spring is on the way right about mid-March. The honey bees are buzzing between new blossoms, native California chaparral flowers are in bloom, Black Phoebes and other birds are courting each other, new nests are under construction or last years are being remodeled. Oh, and the ants begin to appear, marching one by one . . .

Birds in Spring Black Phoebe

(Sayornis nigricans) Every year for the last four years, I know spring has definitely arrived when I hear little tiny chirps above my studio window.

Before I moved in, a pair of Black Phoebes had already established themselves under the eaves. How many years has this same nest been rearing new generations of phoebes? I have no idea but I am happy they let me share my humble abode with them. Black Phoebes are the sweetest of birds.All dressed up in their tuxedos, both parents take turns sitting on the eggs until the nestlings hatch. Father and mother phoebe may leave the nest to catch flies, gnats, and other flying insects but they are always nearby to watch over and guard their nestlings.When relocating, the male Black Phoebe searches out nest sites to show to his female phoebe.He hovers over an area for a few seconds to see if the new neighborhood suits her. If not, he keeps flying to new locations until he has found one she likes.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebes are flycatchers natural pest control agents!

Black Phoebe Nestlings in Nest

Baby Phoebes almost ready for their first flight.

In California, Black Phoebes are year-round residents. During the winter months, Black Phoebes are one of the few bird species that rely on flying insects as their primary food source. Sometimes, and if available, Black Phoebes will snatch minnows out of shallow ponds or creeks to feed to their nestlings.As summer approaches, Black Phoebes have to compete with migrating birds intent on sharing the wealth of Southern Californias flying insects. Other birds, doves, finches, and towhees are also year round in California. They too enjoy the mild winter months, warm springs, and sometimes sizzling hot summers.

Male Black Phoebe in tree

Papa Phoebe perches nearby; both male and female nurture the baby nestlings.

One spring, a pair of Black Phoebes had two sets of nestlings in the nest above my window. The first group flew out of the nest, guided by mama and papa phoebe but the second were accidently pushed out by yours truly.The little nestlings were getting so big; it looked like one would fall out. I remember looking up and saying, You babies look so cute, Im going to take your picture.But when I came back with my camera, I must have moved too fast and scared them because they all went swoosh, right out of the nest and into opposite directions!

Mama Phoebe was so mad; she dived at me twice, shrieking as she flew! I felt terrible . . . Ill never forget how she screamed at me or the look on her little tiny bird-face!Since then, all is forgiven because she (or her offspring) keeps coming back each spring to remodel the same nest for a new spring brood of Black Phoebes.

House Finches and Nestlings

House Finches are colorful; especially the ones with red breasts. I like to refer to them as red-breasted-seed-crackers because they do love the bird seed I put out for them. If you feed local finches and doves, you do have to be careful of getting bird mites. An infestation of mites can happen when birds are nesting under the eaves or in a nearby tree.

Female Black Phoebe in nest

Mama Black Phoebe notice how she decorated her nest with a piece of string.

House Finches eating bird seed

The House Finch is also a year round resident in California.

For more information on bird mites, visit our mite page: Primary vs. Secondary Mites Youve probably heard the old adage, once a baby bird falls out of a nest and is touched by a human, the mama bird wont feed it. Not true!If you can reach the nest and put the baby back, the mama will feed it. But, if youre unable to reach because the nest is too high, there are agencies that can help.

Last year, right about mid-spring, I found a baby mockingbird that fell out of its nest. It was so big the mama couldnt pick it up but she did try to feed it while it was on the ground.Because the baby mockingbird was near a parking lot and the nest in the eucalyptus tree was too high to reach, I scooped it up into a box (it went pooh from fright!) and took it to an animal hospital that was also a drop off center for Project Wildlife.Project Wildlife takes in rescued birds and injured animals, raises and cares for them, then releases them as close as possible to where they were originally found. Hopefully, this little baby mockingbird grew up and is somewhere flying around San Diego County chasing crows!

Rescued baby mockingbird

Veterinarian Assistant from Acacia Animal Health Center in Escondido, CA holding a baby mockingbird that fell out of its nest.

Baby Black Phoebe

Baby Black Phoebe fledgling taking refuge in a pine tree after it flew from its nest.

Many would say that California doesnt have seasons but as a native San Diegan, I beg to differ.If you take the time to learn about our local chaparral communities, youll see the seasonal changes . . . you just have to look a little harder.Slow down, smell the coastal sagebrush, and the black sage, maybe youll notice the sticky monkey flower too. Of course, the insects always let us know when spring is here the ants are coming. . . .

What Signs of Spring do you see in your neighborhood?Article and Photos by Donna Walker Author - Donna Walker


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