Backyard birdwatching in winter and fall months

By Hospital Manager Jo Joseph

Migration is a fascinating annual occurrence whereby some species of birds make long distance journeys from one location to another in order to find food as the seasons change.  Fall is the time of year when birds are migrating from their breeding grounds (summer) to their non-breeding grounds (winter).  Right now there are many species that can be seen in your backyard and in birding hotspots like the LA River basin, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, and local beaches.

The greater Los Angeles area not only provides multiple layover areas in which birds can rest during their journey but is also the end point for some birds migrating south.  At the end of summer we say goodbye to insect eaters like Cliff Swallows, Hooded Orioles, and Black-headed Grosbeaks who head down to Central and South America to winter.  And we welcome a plethora of Western Grebes, Northern Shovelers, and Western Tanagers.

In your backyard be on the lookout for small songbirds like Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrows, all who spend the winter in this region.  You may also be lucky enough to see the tiny, dove-sized Sharp-shinned Hawk!

My favorite birds to see are the ones you can only see during migration.  They don’t spend any more time in this area than absolutely necessary, stopping in on their journeys to or from somewhere else.  The most exciting one this season is the Yellow-breasted Chat we are currently rehabilitating. Sadly this bird was caught by a free roaming cat and sustained serious injuries to its wing. It is really important to keep cats indoors all year long. Over a billion birds a year die as a result of injuries from free roaming house cats. The massive amount of outdoor cats has caused a decline in native songbird species.

It’s really important this time of year to be on the lookout for migrating songbirds that may be injured.  They can succumb to migratory exhaustion which can make them more vulnerable to human-caused injuries such as window strikes and attacks by free roaming house cats.