Birds, Birds, and More Birds

| August 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

Last March my grandson (Nic) and I went to the San Diego Bird Festival, an annual event put on by the Audubon Society at the Marina Village Conference Center.  Nic and I attended three of the scheduled presentations.

The first was a talk on the parrots of San Diego given by Brooke Durham.  Our local parrots are not native to San Diego.  They originated from “the wild-caught pet-trade birds” which either escaped from or were released by owners who couldn’t cope with them or by smugglers trying to avoid punishment.  Not considered feral, they are considered to be “naturalized,” since they managed to find a way to live free in our climate. They live on non-native ornamental urban foods such as the un-ripened centers of pinecones, magnolia flowers and seeds, persimmon fruit, figs, guava, pecans, olives, and apples.  They have no protection in California and are considered endangered as they are declining globally. 

SoCal Parrot, founded by Durham, “is the first nonprofit to be focused on releasing wild, naturalized parrots back into an urban environment.”  Its mission is to “bridge the gap of care and consideration for wild, naturalized parrots and to be a resource for wild parrot rehabilitation, education, and protection.”

If you want to help the wild naturalized parrots, consulting and working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a good place to begin.  Our local parrots need more protection.   A protocol for rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing urban wild parrots is needed.  This means all captured parrots and others in their family should be tested for psittacosis and other diseases; the birds should be micro-chipped, and the public should collect and share as much data as possible about these birds.  Everyone should help with the conservation of any and all members of the parrot family.  This means providing the various departments with non-invasive samples as well as biometric data for research. To encourage people to get jobs protecting wildlife, we need to provide housing for wildlife rehabilitation and research interns, beginning next year.

Raptors were our next presentation.  A member of the Raptor Society began by taking out a kestrel, the smallest of the falcons.  He keeps birds of prey hooded since not seeing where they are seems to help calm them.  Raptors are carnivorous, preying on insects, birds, fish, and mammals.  Unless an injured or immature raptor is considered irrevocably unable to be able to care for itself in the wild, rescuers make every attempt to keep it from becoming comfortable with humans.  Should one imprint on a human, it may think it is a human as well and might try to mate with him or her or perhaps try to kill another human it sees as a rival.    

Falcons have black stripes on their faces.  They are cavity nesters seeking homes in holes, nesting boxes, or even balls strung on wires.  They like nesting boxes as well.  Many are aerial hunters and snatch their prey from the air.

Females are usually larger and more aggressive than the males making the female preferable for use in hunting. Their handlers wear leather gloves; a raptor may land on your hand with 90 to 100 pounds per square inch of pressure.  The beak exerts 200 to 250 pounds per square inch.  They are not to be taken lightly.

The peregrine falcon is the largest falcon and hunts medium sized birds by swooping down on them and seizing them mid-air.  Peregrines may reach speeds of 69 miles per hour in one of their half mile-plus pursuits.

In the sixties the peregrine population dropped alarmingly due to pesticide poisoning.  They are now making a comeback all over the world except in Antarctica and some oceanic islands.

Another bird we saw was a great horned owl.  Whereas falcons are diurnal; more than half of all owls hunt at night.  Black-eyed owls are nocturnal; yellow eyes are diurnal; orange eyes are crepuscular and hunt at dawn and dusk.  Owls’ eyes are huge for the size of their heads; 70 per cent of the head is eyes. For the size of their heads; 70 percent of the head is for eyes. 

An owl’s hearing is exceptionally acute.  The ears are set at different levels diagonally across the head.  The owl also has 14 vertebrae in its neck whereas we have only seven.  Thus, the owl can turn his head 220 degrees.  By moving the head up and down and left and right and with its offset ears, its physicality allows it to accurately pinpoint its prey.  Soft feathers enable silent flight providing undistracted hearing.

Because the owl, like many birds, lacks a sense of smell, the great-horned owl hunts skunks.  It also hunts rattlesnakes, squirrels, mice and rats.  Owls also have no real gizzard.  Since they eat bones and fur (they swallow their prey whole), they cough up the indigestible parts of their meals in what we call “pellets.”

Our final lecture was on the woodpecker.   Woodpeckers and members of its family are found everywhere except Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Madagascar and the extreme polar areas.  Woodpeckers eat insects as well as fruit, acorns and nuts.  Their physical structure is adapted to their odd eating style.

They pound wood at what has been measured to be over 1000 times gravity’s force!  Stiff pointed tail feathers press against the tree to help support their weight.  In this position, the neck muscles absorb the shock of pecking from the head and transmit it to the shoulders and upper body, down to the tail, and into the tree! 

Inside their skulls they have layers spongy bone to protect their brains.  They also have an extensible tongue, which has muscle, bone and cartilage.  Its length and construction allow the woodpecker to wrap it around the side of its head, under the lower jaw and into the mouth. This stabilizes the skull and provides more support.  It, too, absorbs shock.  Their brains are long and skinny as well exposing less surface to impact.

The strong pointed beak can be used as a chisel and a crowbar to remove bark and find insects.  They have bristle like feathers covering their very narrow nostrils to filter out wood particles while they drill for food.  Their feet have two sharply clawed toes facing one way and two facing another.  This enables them to grasp the sides of trees and balance while they poke around for food. 

Nic and I have gone to at least three spring Bird Festivals. It is always educational and fun, and it is free.  We highly recommend it!

Many falcons are aerial hunters and snatch their prey from the air.

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Category: Animals, Education, Local News

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.