Monday, May 17, 2010

Surprise Hummingbird Babies

I have a conflict of interest in May. Birds are nesting and the city of Los Angeles requires the cutting back of vegetation for wild fire abatement. Actually, I've been trimming back greenery for the past few months. It takes me a while because I have to be very careful not to disturb or destroy bird nests.

Dead trees are the first thing on the Fire Department's removal list. But at both my local Serrania Avenue Park and while leading a bird walk at the Los Angeles Zoo, I've seen woodpecker and titmouse nests in just such unwanted dead wood. When we remove all of the old wood, these cavity nesting birds are impacted by a lack of nesting sites.

Our own yard has been a twitter with fledglings–3 Bewick's wrens, 5 Allen's hummingbirds, an Anna's hummingbird, 5 lesser goldfinches, a California towhee and an oak titmouse. I thought most of the nesting was coming to a close in the yard because the last week has been edge-of-summer warm. But I looked up on Wednesday and noticed a short beak sticking out of the nest where the Allen's hummingbird DR successfully fledged her first chick in February.

This female Allen's hummingbird is close to successfully raising 5 chicks to flying all in the course of 5 months. She laid her first two eggs in this nest in mid-January. First Chick Fledges. Her second nest was in another holly-leaf cherry over the sidewalk. Now she is back using the first nest with slight additions. It's a good example of why you shouldn't remove bird nests. Many are reused or the materials are scavenged and reused.

Somehow I missed the laying, incubating, and hatchling stage this time around. Here were two chicks with the beginnings of primary feathers tucked tightly into a reworked nest.

The holly-leaf cherry that is home to this nest needs to be thinned. In fact, it was on my list for last weekend. But trimming this shrub now would threaten these two young hummingbirds.

Before I start to trim a tree or shrub I stand back and watch it for a few days. Is there a bird frequenting a specific area of that plant? Has there been a nest there in the past? As I trim I try to go slowly and pay attention for activity or youngsters I might have missed.

Obviously the best time to cut back plants is after nesting is over in the fall and winter, but the city requirements don't coincide with the needs of wildlife residents. Besides, a great deal of plant growth has occurred since our spring rains. Maintaining sanctuary for wildlife can mean maintaining a delicate balance between animal needs and human needs.

Wild fire is a serious problem in Southern California, but fortunately native plants are now seen as beneficial and not just as fire fuel. The Fire Department even gives out native holly-leaf cherry and oaks for people to plant.

When trimming your plants remember that other creatures may be dependent on them. If you want wildlife to make a home in your yard, you have to respect where they build those homes.

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