November: Unusual Visitors

Dark-eyed Junco by Larry NaylorIn the fall, the birds you usually see in ones and twos, such as Dark-eyed Juncos and House Finches, join large flocks. The Juncos particularly like a crowd, and will mix with a wide range of small birds, from Yellow-Rumped Warblers to Goldfinches.

Left: Dark-eyed Junco in Santa Monica by Larry Naylor

Bushtits also form large flocks. Usually you see them in pairs, picking through the bushes for bugs throughout the summer. But, starting now, a crowd may show up at your suet feeder, which is an important winter resource when their normal food, insects, may be in short supply.


                                   Below: Townsend's Warbler by Larry Naylor


Get out your worms! The warblers are back, and they're hungry. This time of year you can take your pick from Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Townsend's and Black-throated Gray Warblers, all of whom might be in your back yard. Warblers will be present throughout the region, so keep your mealworm feeders full.

In November, the busy fall migration "ends." The birds that have arrived in the last couple of months, the White Crowned Sparrows, a wide range of warblers and the California Gulls, will stay in the area for winter.

Along with many colorful and interesting birds migrating through is one that you may never see, but are likely to hear in November: The Common Poorwill. Its plaintive call—a two-note flute-like whistle and a quick cluck—is distinctive. These shy birds are notable for their camouflage, an intricate pattern of black and white that makes them look like the leaf litter where they often perch. If you are hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains in the evening, you may hear their call. For a preview, visit the Poorwill page at All About Birds.

Most of us know some birds, but sometimes it's hard to tell them apart, such as the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers That's one of the challenges in participating in Project FeederWatch, one of the most important citizen-scientist projects each year.  That's why Project Feederwatch includes an online guide to the birds that are hard to identify, like the two at the left. Project FeederWatch starts this month, and is a great way to learn about birds and contribute to our knowledge of our common backyard birds. Participating is easy:
--Sign up online at
--Choose a spot where you can see a feeder (yours or someone else's). You even can count from indoors.
--Set a schedule, such as Tuesday and Thursday at 4
--Count the birds that visit
--Enter your data online
The Project FeederWatch web site has lots of information about how to identify birds and how to count them. If you're a photographer, there is the Bird Spotter Photo Contest. Either way, it's a fun way to contribute to our knowledge of our birds. So, which is the Downy and which is the Hairy Woodpecker? Visit Project FeederWatch's Tricky IDs page to find out.

Left: A Red-Breasted Nuthatch is attracted to a peanut feeder

Add Nuthatches to the list of migrators that you may see this month. Breeding only in the mountains, they often show up closer to the coast in the fall and winter. Known for their ability to walk down tree trunks head first, they usually are found in stands of conifers, where they probe the bark for seeds and bugs. Most common are the larger White-breasted Nuthatches, though their smaller cousins, the Red-breasted Nuthatches, may take a vacation from their homes above 6500 feet for the warmer lowlands.

The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks from evening Nov. 16 to the morning of Nov. 17. It produces small meteors from the debris of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The moon will be just a few days past full, so its light may dim the show a bit.