A Few Site Visits

Between the bouts of rain, I spent time at some of our sites to make sure our bird survey areas were marked. It’s also a good opportunity to check if the nestboxes are still up. After the strong winds and rain we’ve had this fall, I wasn’t surprised to find a few tree branches and boxes had fallen. I was able to put some of them back up nearby, while others will need to be moved or replaced.


The sites look quite different in December, now that the trees are mostly bare and the new grass is just coming up among the fallen leaves. There’s not much to block my view or my path, although the low light and fog can make it a little bit harder to spot birds.

The Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count will start this weekend. Birders throughout North America and beyond will be organizing groups to go out and see as many birds as we can. The local Yolo Audubon Society will be surveying Putah Creek. Hope we all see a lot of birds!

Siblings after fledging

A male banded Western Bluebird was seen recently near the UCD Equestrian Center, and this one was the brother of the banded female I posted about last time! Both birds were banded with the same color combo in June of 2018 in the Arboretum. This seems to be our only record of two bluebirds from the same brood being seen again after fledging from the nest. [Correction: One other pair of broodmates have been seen again, both from the Arboretum as well. One was seen there again two years later while the other was found further west at our Picnic Grounds site.]


Adult Tree Swallow with silver leg band visible, May 2019.

Since Tree Swallows have been easier to catch than bluebirds, we do have several records of multiple Tree Swallows of the same brood identified again after fledging. Some were found near each other in the same area, and others moved far apart to different sections of Putah Creek. Broodmates on Putah Creek are rarely both/all seen again in the same year.

Speaking of bird families, an interesting nest camera video was recorded by researchers in Pennsylvania this year showing interspecies parental care. (Click the above link and scroll down to see the video.) Sometimes birds of one species are found feeding another species’ nestlings. In this case, an Eastern Bluebird was helping a Tree Swallow pair take care of their offspring. I don’t believe we’ve ever observed this sort of behavior on Putah Creek.


Campus bluebirds

I recently spotted two bluebirds in a parking lot on the UC Davis campus – and one was banded! I was able to see its color band combo and find it in our records. She was banded as a nestling in June of 2018 in the Arboretum. I could only get a photo of the other bluebird, though, and it didn’t have bands.


Western bluebird in a tree on the UC Davis campus

It’s tricky to get useful (let alone high-quality) photos of songbirds. If a better, bulkier camera isn’t an option, a phone camera used with binoculars can work pretty well. There are also affordable telephoto phone lens attachments out there, which is what I’ve been trying out lately. I’m hoping it’ll be a more portable option for quick bird photos.


October changes

As bird surveys continue into October, I had the opportunity to go see how the Winters Putah Creek Park is changing. The new plants are growing nicely, giving a better idea of how this site will look next spring when our birds start nesting again.



A banded juvenile bluebird, possibly the same one as in the last post, was seen this past weekend again in Northstar Park in Davis. White-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows are also around Davis in large numbers now that we’re further into fall. Hopefully the birds that are still migrating will be alright through this week’s windy weather.


Juvenile bluebird

Kelli O’Neill recently saw one of our banded bluebirds foraging in Northstar Park, where Alison Ke monitored the new nestbox trail this year. This juvenile western bluebird came from one of those boxes. After checking its leg band combo with our records, I found out that it hatched on about July 17th and was banded on July 30th. It came from a brood of four total nestlings, the second brood in that box this year. Both broods were very successful. It’s great to know that this bird is still doing well and taking care of itself!


Juvenile western bluebird catching bugs in the grass. Its metal and plastic leg bands, partially visible in the photo, were used to identify it. Photo by Kelli O’Neill.

We’ve mostly been busy looking at our data in the office lately, but we’re still doing avian surveys as the fall migration period continues. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather and hopefully seeing a lot of birds.


Fall migration

Migratory birds have started to make their travels from their breeding ranges to their winter locations. It’s a good time to keep an eye out for uncommon birds passing through and welcome the winter residents back to California. Golden-crowned sparrows, for example, will be heading down here from Canada while yellow warblers will mostly be leaving for Central America.

Flycatchers will also be heading south, including the ash-throated flycatchers that used our nestboxes this year. The rest of our nestbox species will still be around as winter comes, though groups will migrate a bit.


Interdam, one of our nestbox sites on Putah Creek near Lake Berryessa earlier this week

Lately I’ve been seing summer species such as Wilson’s warblers, migrants such as a solitary sandpiper that I saw while with a *Friends of North Davis Ponds group, and what seems like an increase in Canada geese.

Keep your binoculars handy as we get more migrating species passing through!


Recaptures and resights

It’s always exciting to see or catch a banded bird. This year we were able to catch a dozen previously-banded birds, and more were seen and recorded. Many of these birds had hatched last year or the year before, and they often return to the same area where they hatched, at least for the breeding season. However, there was one male western bluebird sighted that apparently moved from Winters to east Davis and was about eight years old!

Other birders often report their sightings to us. Below are a couple of photos by Ryan Bourbour of a banded house wren he saw near Old Davis Road in Davis. It hatched in that area just three months ago. Good to know that it’s still doing well!



Notable recaptured birds this year include two female tree swallows at our Interdam site that were at least four years old, each building nests just one box over from their last known nest. One has successfully raised at least 11 total known chicks so far. We also recaptured a female bluebird named Amanda that used the same box at Russell Ranch for two years. She was at least three years old and has raised at least five chicks that we know of. Captured birds are quickly and gently measured and examined on the spot before we set them free again minutes later.

Many previously-unbanded adult birds were banded this year too. We don’t know if they came from nearby natural cavities or from further away, but hopefully we’ll be able to find out where some of them go from here.