November: Project FeederWatch Starts Nov. 1!
Project FeederWatch, the major citizen-science project in birding, starts Nov. 1 and extends through April. FeederWatch is an easy and fun way for everyone to contribute to science's knowledge of birds.
--Sign Up: Join as soon as possible at FeederWatch signup. It may take a few weeks for your print materials to arrive. Still, you can begin counting right away.
--Select Your Site: Choose a comfortable spot in your yard with a good view of feeders, if you have them. Even if you don’t have feeders, you still can count birds for FeederWatch.
--Choose Your Count Days: Pick two consecutive days, and count for as long as you wish each day. Then, wait at least five days to count again. For example, you could count for an hour or half-hour on Saturday and Sunday, then count again on the next Saturday and Sunday.
--Send in your results, using the FeederWatch app.
The FeederWatch web site will answer any questions you have about how to count. For example, you don't count birds that just fly over your yard. Go sign up now and start counting!
Left: Common feeder birds talk about their favorite foods. (by Justine Lee Hirten) How many can you name (see below)?
Cooler weather is when we can enjoy a cornucopia of warblers, wo come in from farther north to spend the winter in Southern California. The winter warblers include Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Townsends and Black-throated Gray Warblers. They flit through your bushes, tails bobbing, searching for little insects. The Yellow-rumpeds may visit a eucalyptus to sip nectar from its blooms. They all love mealworms, so the sure way to bring these lively colorful visitors to your yard is to keep your feeders stocked.
Right: A Townsend's Warbler looking for worms
Remember the nyjer feeder that got so few visitors last summer? There were so many wild foods then that few Goldfinches came to feeders. Well keep an eye on that feeder. November is when Goldfinches from colder climes, such as the mountains and high deserts, descend on the coast in large numbers in search of warmth and food. Keep the feeder full of nyjer or maybe our Finch Blend mix of nyjer and sunflower chips, which has more fat for those colder days and nights.
They don't show up very often, but someone in Pacific Palisades already has seen a Red-breasted Nuthatch on her feeders. In the fall and winter these small (4½ inches) cousins of our common White-breasted Nuthatch occasionally descend from their homes above 6,500 feet to coastal areas with pines. They happily visit feeders for seeds and shelled peanuts. If you attract them, you may see their adorable habit of creeping down a tree trunk head first, searching for bugs in the bark.
Left: Red-breasted Nuthatch walks down a feeder head first
In the spring birds pair off to breed, but in fall and winter they form mixed flocks, large numbers of different breeds foraging together. In Southern California, Dark-Eyed Juncos, White-Crowned Sparrows, Bluebirds and Yellow-Rumped Warblers are among the birds that will hang out together. Goldfinches often flock with Pine Siskins. Mixed flocks provide protection—more eyes to sound the alarm for a hawk or wandering cat. And the flocks keep moving, so local resources don't get exhausted. A bountiful feeder is sure to bring in a mix of interesting visitors.
Right: A plump Bushtit scans a bush for bugs
Little gray Bushtits also join the birds that flock this time of year. A fast-moving twittering group will comb a large bush for tiny insects and move on. They also alert each other to hawks with a high, trilling alarm call. Avid birders often use Bushtit calls to find hawks.
With the fall migration, we sometimes get unusual visitors. The LA Audubon reports that there have been sightings of Green-Tailed Towhees, birds that usually breed in chaparral-like habitat above 6,000 feet. Like their more-common cousins, the California Towhees, they look like big sparrows with gray and olive bodies, and green on wings and tails. You might hear a kitty-like "mew," if they are around.
Below: Green-tailed Towhee near its usual home in Gorman by Larry Naylor
November signals the end of the fall migration. The birds that are here this month will stay all winter, which means that, except for Orioles and Grosbeaks, the local bird population my be larger than ever. Though they may be able to find local wild seeds and fruits, those food sources will run out soon, and they will be back at your feeders.
The modest but occasionally spectacular Leonid meteor shower peaks this year from Nov. 17 to 18. Though shooting stars aren't as frequent as the Perseids, the Leonids have been known to create long fiery streaks across the sky. Visit Space.com for more details.
The birds in the Feederwatch illustration, clockwise from top: Chickadee (black sunflower), Tufted Titmouse (black sunflower, safflower), Cardinal (black sunflower), White-breasted Nuthatch (suet, black sunflower), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (sunflower), Blue Jay (peanuts), Downy Woodpecker (suet), Cedar Waxwing (berries), House Finch (sunflower chips), American Goldfinch (nyjer seeds), Oriole (oranges, berry jelly) and Bluebird (worms). Our local birds are slightly different: Oak Titmouse rather than Tufted, no Cardinals, Spotted Grosbeaks rather than Rose-breasted, Scrub Jays rather than Blue Jays, and we have many more Lesser Goldfinch than American Goldfinch.