May: Migrants and Bluebirds

International Migratory Bird Day is May 14. It's no accident that it's in May, because the migration is at its height this month. Listen carefully and you may hear unusual calls in your yard, or you may spot a bird that you've never seen before. Little Yellow Warblers migrate through, making a bright spot of color. They may come back through in the fall, if you have trees with fruit.

Left: A Yellow Warbler rests before moving on

An easy way to identify any birds and bird songs in your yard is the Merlin smart-phone app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's free on all popular app sources, but, if you can donate, your money helps the Lab continue its important work to protect bird habitat and educate everyone about our birds.

By the time they get here, migrants have had a long journey. So they're on the lookout for a source of water to quench their thirst and remove some road dust. A birdbath or pond with moving water is a sure-fire magnet for the migrants.

In Los Angeles one of our most beautiful locals, the Western Bluebirds, are building nests high in the trees. They love open lawn areas with big trees, such as golf courses, parks and, yes, cemeteries. Western Bluebirds are short on habitat to build nests--hollow dead trees being their favorite--but those are in short supply in suburbia. Therefore, bluebird supporters place nesting boxes designed just for them high in the branches of trees in suitable locations. One nesting box in a Santa Monica cemetery produced the lovely clutch of eggs pictured below, and hatchlings are expected any day.

Right: Bluebird eggs in box at Woodlawn Cemetery (Photo: Ian Kimbrey)

Hummingbirds start breeding early, as early as late December, but now is the peak breeding season for our local Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds. The hummingbirds mothers are looking for nectar, as always, but they also need little bugs, such as fruit flies, to give their chicks the protein they need. Put out something that will draw fruit flies, such as a few slices of banana in a dish, and you will make a mother hummer's day.


Left: Grosbeak enjoys black sunflower at a feeder 

The Hooded Orioles and grosbeaks who came in last month now are nesting. So, they need more nectar, fruit, and nuts and seeds to stay strong and feed their young. There are nectar feeders specifically for larger nectar-eaters, such as orioles. The Black-Headed Grosbeaks will come to them, too, as well as to your seed feeders, happily picking up what falls to the ground. In the fall they also will like a few berries or some orange pieces.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Right: Male Western Tanager

Another sometime visitor to nectar feeders is the Western Tanager, who also patrols high in trees gleaning insects. The males show bright-red heads, shading to yellow, with black wings and tails. The female is pale yellow, like a female oriole, but the sturdy beak shows it's a tanager. Our California tanagers are more closely related to grosbeaks than to Central American tanagers, explaining their love of nectar.

If you've been thinking that you have more than enough House Finches, stand back, because more are on the way. The first batches of young are fledging, and their parents are bringing them to your feeders. They love the sunflower and peanuts, but will sort out the millet for the doves, juncos and sparrows on the ground.

Left: Female Black-Chinned Hummingbird

Our busy local hummingbirds may be visited by their cousins, the Costa’s and (occasional) Black-Chinned Hummingbirds, who now have a breeding season by the coast. Though they like the low desert best, a few Costa's have adapted to residential areas on the coastal slope. The Black-Chinned hummers like wooded canyons, where they will breed until taking off in late September on a long journey to western and southern Mexico.
If you're at the beach, particularly near a wetland, such as Marina del Rey or Malibu Lagoon, watch for Least Tern nesting colonies, particularly where sandy nesting sites are protected by fences or being on islands. You can spot them hovering and diving for tiny fish.

Eta Aquarids meteor shower is early-May.