December: Count Your Birds

Left: This amusing Project Feederwatch illustration by Justine Lee Hirten shows the favorite foods of the birds at your feeder.

Project FeederWatch, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's important winter bird count, continues this month. It doesn't matter if you haven't started yet. You can jump in and count birds anytime. Just register with FeederWatch, pick a time and day, and count birds every week during your chosen time (or times). You don't have to be outdoors; you can count from a seat by a window! To see pictures of all common feeder birds visit this FeederWatch page.

123 years and counting. That's how long the National Audubon Society has been sponsoring the Christmas Bird Count, which takes place over the holidays. Each local area chooses one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 and counts only on that day. The data adds to the 12 decades of data that notifies ornithologists and conservation biologists of action needed to protect birds and their habitats. places they need. The event is free and all volunteers are welcome.

Right: A Dark-Eyed Junco visits a platform feeder

Winter is when the numbers of ground feeders seem to swell. This is the time when White-Crowned Sparrows migrate into Southern California. They join year-round residents who feed on the ground, such as the California Towhees, Spotted Towhees and Dark-Eyed Juncos. All appreciate mixes that include lots of millet. 

Below: A lively flock of Cedar Waxwings stops for water at Santa Monica's Tongva Park, where they also might find berries (Larry Naylor)

Watch for flocks of beautiful Cedar Waxwings. Their sleek soft-beige bodies contrast with their jet-black masks, red wing tips and yellow tail ends. Flocks arrive anywhere they can find fruiting trees, such as toyon, elderberry or mistletoe. They perch in long lines on branches, and are know to pass berries down the line to each other. Arriving in early fall, they will stay here until May.

Birds love to eat in the rain. Not only do they need the extra calories in cooler weather, but many feeders give them a little shelter as they eat. Activity at your feeders very likely will pick up considerably in cool wet weather.

Right: A robin sings happily amid branches loaded with berries 

Robins also show up in flocks this time of year, especially anywhere they can find berries or fruits, such as native Toyon berries. This time of year they are less likely to find the worms or grubs they usually search for on lawns, a good reason to put out mealworms.

The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks December 14 to 15. The Geminids are uniquely the product of an asteroid. The Geminids produce up to 150 meteors per hour at peak times. However, this year, the moon will be at 70%, which will outshine the fainter shooting stars.