To Get Involved
San Joaquin Wildlife
& Sage Audubon
Celebration of TEN Years at the SJWS
6: Ten Breeding Birds of the SJWS
. . . . Visitors to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary quickly
realize that our quiet sanctuary may not be so quiet in springtime. Myriad
songs resonate over the ponds as many resident birds attempt to breed.
"Choose me, pick me," the males proclaim in their loudest and most cheerful
voice, trying to catch the attention of female birds. Birds absent
from view since last spring are now perched atop the bulrush with heads
thrown back, beaks wide open, and singing their hearts out. Our naturalists
and school children enjoy these easy views of the usually elusive Marsh
Wren, Song Sparrow, and Common Yellowthroat.
. . . . Each spring, the marsh is an even busier place for birds
that are already occupied with the ever-constant task of survival.
In addition to finding food and water, avoiding predators, and competing
for space, birds interested in reproducing more of their kind must now
engage in a whole list of energy-depleting activities. They must
pair up, investigate and select a nest site, collect appropriate nest material,
build the nest, lay eggs and incubate them until they hatch, and care for
the chicks until they fledge or fly away. At each step lies the risk
of failure: a mate is not found, the nest falls apart, predators eat the
eggs, or the young die of starvation, disease or predation.
. . . . Close to forty bird species have successfully nested at
the wildlife sanctuary in the last ten years. Whether you are a new
or long-time Audubon member, we invite you to come visit the sanctuary
this spring and see (and hear!) for yourself how exciting this time of
year is for the birds. IN CELEBRATION OF OUR TEN YEARS AT THE SAN
JOAQUIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, here is a look at ten breeding birds.
common diving bird builds a floating raft of plant material, and you might
see it carrying long strands of bulrush many times its own length across
the ponds. The tiny chicks have zebra-striped heads and ride on their
parents backs. In summer 1993, volunteer Grace McElhiney and I crouched
silently amongst the cattails along Pond B to photograph their nest; she
still teases me about what crazy tasks I ask volunteers to do!
Because herons breed in colonies, a single heron nest was a surprise in
1994. The adult made elaborate flight circles over the nest that
was located high in a eucalyptus tree between the creek and Pond 1.
Unfortunately, the two chicks did not survive.
Few birders have seen this species because it is so secretive. So
when a pair raised a brood in Pond A in 1999, scores of birders arrived
with spotting scopes to watch. What a delight to see the chicks scrambling
to hang on to the bulrush and growing each day. We hope they return
and breed again!
This successful waterfowl is a great delight to our visiting school children
who happily count the number of chicks seen following a female. Little
do they know that the ten counted during one week become only 6 or even
3 in successive weeks. Mallards have large broods for a reason; those ducklings
are tasty morsels for many avian and mammalian predators.
In 1994, a killdeer propelled us onto the local news channel and newspapers
when "one has made the mistake of nesting in a busy parking lot. But she
couldn’t have chosen a better one. It’s at the Sea & Sage Audubon
headquarters in Irvine." We put safety cones around the nest and
redirected cars and school buses, while visitors watched from our front
porch using a spotting scope. Despite these precautions, the nest
failed due to an opportunistic raven. Killdeers nest here every year
on dirt, short grass, and yes, even gravel.
Hummingbirds nest around the Duck Club as early as December and January.
The female does all the work, from building the small cup nest on top of
a branch to incubating and feeding the 2 chicks. Chicks need protein
to grow, so mom flits about catching small bugs. Look for this behavior
on your next visit, and you just might find a nest nearby!
If you think only Cliff Swallows make mud nests, think again. Phoebes
are common along creeks and ponds where water ensures the availability
of mud for nests. According to Sylvia Gallagher, “nests are frequently
placed under the eves of park restrooms.” So, guess where our phoebe
to a shortage of nest sites (dead trees),we installed 105 artificial nest
boxes since 1997. We all love to watch the swallows’ aerobatics as
they dash in and out of these boxes. To volunteer to help monitor
these Tree Swallow nest boxes, contact biologist Christine Mukai at cmukai@chambersgroupincom.
require a vertical surface with an overhang (cliff, bridge or building)
and a nearby supply of mud. Our beginning bird camp youngsters have
walked to the Campus Drive bridge to witness the phenomenal colony of mud
nests. Imagine how many trips and beaks full of mud were needed to
make just one nest, let alone hundreds!
year, House Finches attempt to nest on the front porch eaves of Audubon
House, and our volunteers sweep up the litter of twigs from their unsuccessful
efforts. Finches have better luck on the light fixtures of the Duck
Club where they are easily seen by our school children.
to learn more? I recommend Sylvia Gallagher’s Atlas of
Breeding Birds-Orange County, Kenn Kaufmann’s Lives of North
American Birds, or for more serious students, the Birds of
North America series.