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Birds — put out the welcome mat and they’ll drop in

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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There’s plenty to see out there. You just have to look. That’s the advice of longtime bird-watching enthusiast Roger Strahle, owner of Wild Bird Station in Auburn. Right now, fall migration season is in full swing, with flocks of winged visitors making their way through foothill skies. But every part of the year is good for bird watching, Strahle said. “Each season gets its own birds,” he explained. Strahle and his wife have seen hundreds of species over the years. “When we travel, we bird watch,” he said. “We go to see a lot of other things, but we take our (bird watching) gear with us. When you leave home, you are going to see other species — even going to Lake Tahoe you’ll see different birds because it is a higher elevation.” To make your yard a welcoming spot for birds, just provide food, water and cover. “The more flowers and bushes — particularly berry bushes — the better,” Strahle said. The ideal environment for birds includes trees of various heights and plenty of bushes. And install bird houses — the simpler the better — for the cavity nesters. One of the most common species of cavity nesters locally is the blue bird, Strahle said. “The Western blue bird is a delicate little bird with a neon blue back,” he said. “Other locally common cavity nesters are the oak titmouse, tree swallows and house wrens. Each has a different preference.” Blue birds need a 1½-inch opening in the birdhouse, while the opening needs to be only an inch for wrens. Equally important, birdhouses must be firmly affixed to a post or tree. If the structure is just hanging from a tree limb, birds will ignore it. A pond, fountain or bird bath will provide a drinking and bathing spot. Keep bird baths filled with water that is changed frequently. To attract a variety of birds, install several types of feeders. “Each species has a favorite food — so vary the selection,” Strahle said. Thistle will bring goldfinch, pine siskin, mourning dove, dark-eyed junco and sparrows. Perching birds — such as the American goldfinch and lesser goldfinch — will eat directly from a feeder. Ground-feeders — sparrows, quail and towhees — will eat seed that falls to the ground. For hummingbirds, supply nectar. Scrub jays, plain titmouse, and evening Grosbeak appreciate striped sunflower seeds. Cracked corn will bring ducks, pheasants and California quail. The red-breasted nuthatch and woodpeckers like peanut hearts. Among other birds that may visit your feeders are black-headed grosbeaks — likely to appear in spring and summer — white-breasted nuthatch and oak titmouse. Pine siskins are most likely to drop in during the winter. Winter months also bring more ground feeders, including white crowned sparrows. “I just saw one the other day,” Strahle said. “… If you have the right environment, you’ll see quail and towhees.” A rare sighting is the lazuli bunting. You may also get orioles — particularly the Bullocks oriole — at hummingbird feeders. If you’re bird watching, be sure to look skyward. “The more you look up there, the more you’ll see,” he said. Strahle recently saw his first group of sandhill cranes this season. “They go over in a group of 30 to 50 and they’re all cooing at the same time,” he said. “Most people aren’t tuned into it so they don’t hear it.” High in the sky you’ll also see birds of prey – accipiters. The sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper’s hawk are common to the foothills, as are the buteos — they are the ones that you see floating in the sky. You may also see red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks. “They’ll be in the top of trees or in the sky,” Strahle said. “They eat rodents and snakes and float around up in the sky looking for prey.” The sharp-shinned hawk will even chase a bird to catch it. “I’ve seen lots of chases and lots of unusual catches,” he said. Newcastle residents Robert and Jennifer Allen get plenty of winged visitors to their five-acres, which includes a pond, bird feeders and bird baths. When those “fine feathered friends” find their way into the yard, the Allens have the camera ready. “We think it is fun to watch them and when we find an unusual one, we take a picture of it,” Jennifer Allen said. One of the more unusual birds they’ve seen is a green heron. “My husband contacted a field biologist at Sierra College and sent a photo to have (the bird) identified,” she said. “They came back right away and identified it. They said it is semi unusual for herons to migrate this far into the foothills. They’re usually close to the water. (The heron) stays in the pond. He stays in the tulies and ambushes the frogs. He’s been there at least two months.” The Allens also get flocks of visiting turkeys. One turkey, that they’ve named Henrietta, was left behind. “The flock seemed to have discarded her,” Allen said. “She just hung around and I?think she thought we were part of the flock.?She’d look in the window and come up to the door. She’d sit in front of the living room window looking in.” Then there’s a colorful oriole that was mesmerized by a piece of bottle brush. “He was after that bottle brush and he just hung around and hung around,” she said. “That bird came here every morning for a long time. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.