March: Nests and Babies
The Oriole watch is on. Sometime about the middle or end of this month, Hooded and Bullock's Orioles start moving into Southern California, looking for places to nest. (By the way, the hood of the Hooded is bright yellow-orange, not black.) The females and juveniles are bright yellow. These deeply colored birds love a yard with nectar-producing flowers or nectar feeders designed for orioles. They also are looking for palm trees, favorite places to construct their hanging nests.
Left: A Bullock's Oriole perches on a bush
With a flash of black and red (males), and bright yellow under their wings when they fly Black-headed Grosbeaks start to move into this area late-month. The well-named Grosbeaks use their powerful bills to crack the shells of all kinds of seeds and nuts.
Right: An Anna's Hummingbird approaches a feeder
Talk about starting early, the first clutches of Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds are fledging already. These hummingbirds start laying eggs as early as late December, and nestlings fledge as early as mid February. But these hummingbirds don't rest on their laurels. They lay another clutch as soon as they get the nest in good shape, reusing a nest several times during the year. So watch for their tiny nests any time you work in your garden or trim bushes, and keep these busy mothers supplied with nectar.
Left: Yellow-Rumped Warbler in a local garden (Larry Naylor)
The Yellow-Rumped Warblers who have been hanging around all winter are about to have company, as a flood of migrant warblers come through during the next two months. It is a good time to put out even more worms for the hungry travelers. Watch for dazzling Yellow Warblers or Wilson's Warblers (bright yellow with a jaunty black cap), Townsend's Warblers (yellow and black stripes with a ring of yellow around the eye) or Nashville Warblers (plain gray with yellow under the throat and tail).
You won't see the pinkish-red crown of the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet unless the bird is agitated, which can be pretty often. These tiny gray birds, called “a neurosis with wings” by one biologist, flit ceaselessly through bushes, often flicking their wings. It's no surprise that these high-energy little flyers like the added fat of suet feeders, where they make an amusing addition to your backyard flock.
Right: Lesser Goldfinch at a sock feeder
Lesser Goldfinches are gathering nesting materials and starting to build their soft-cup nests in bushes. Some of them may migrate out to nearby desert and mountain areas for breeding. They are big fans of anything in the sunflower family, especially tiny black Nyjer seeds (yes, it is a sunflower). They also enjoy dandelion seeds, when they can find them. As nesting is full on, keep your nyjer feeders well stocked.
Project FeederWatch continues all this month. As the weather warms, it becomes much nicer to sit outside and watch for birds, and do your part helping birds as a citizen-scientist. The project runs until mid-April, so there still is lots of time to watch and report the birds you see.
Left: Bald eagle hunting for fish
Bald Eagle nests are full of eggs this year in Southern California. On the Channel Islands and up in Big Bear pip watch is under way (the wait for the first sign of hatching). At least five of those nests are on 24-hour live video feeds through YouTube, so settle in and get ready for the eggcitement as the first little puffball emerges from an egg.
Black Phoebes and Pacific Slope Flycatchers both are big-time bug catchers that live in neighborhoods. But the one that you are most likely to notice is the Phoebe, with its formal-looking black-and-white plumage, as it perches on street signs and swoops down to lawns to catch bugs. The flycatcher prefers shady more-wooded neighborhoods and is mostly gray with white wing bars and a white ring around its eye. Put out a few worms and you are likely to see the Phoebe first, but a sharp-eyed flycatcher may show up too.