Saturday, January 5, 2008

Our Backyard Bird Habitat

The ivy wall, post trimming.
I know this isn't the most interesting photo. But it's our backyard bird habitat--the only one we've got. This ivy wall, along with the manzanita bush (on the left) and the eucalyptus tree (on the right) harbor a lot of birds. Recently we had to get the ivy trimmed, mostly because of the ivy berry disaster of last year (described at the end of this post). It's tough to trim because the fence is so tall. Finally I found a tree-trimming service that would lower a man in a bucket up and over the fence from the parking lot on the other side, where the bucket truck was parked. He had a heavy duty hedge trimmer and skimmed off the extra ivy growth, including berries, as I watched. And not a moment too soon. We had already had a flock of starlings visit about a week ago to guzzle berries. They returned to guzzle again, but this time in our neighbors' stretch of the ivy wall. At least the birds did not gather to digest their berries on our deck this year, so I will cautiously rate our $375 trimming job a success.
I was worried, though, that the resident hummingbirds, not to mention all the other bird visitors, would abandon the cape honeysuckle if it got trimmed too much along with the ivy, and thus our backyard. Not a chance. The trimmer had barely glided back over the fence to his truck when a flock of bushtits descended on the cape honeysuckle, perhaps to glean newly revealed insects. Our hummingbirds continue to defend the territory as their own. After the trimming, a northern mockingbird--perhaps the one the hummingbirds terrorized-- has been lurking in the ivy, too. There's even a scrub jay that often visits our yard in the mornings to eat his peanut. Someone in the neighborhood is passing out peanuts. This morning we had a break in storms, and I watched as the bushtits explored the manazanita bush, then a pair of goldfinches, then the hummingbird, before the rain started again.
I think we have more birds in our backyard in the winter than in the summer. Maybe in the summer there are other spots with abundant food, so our yard is not as enticing. Not that our tiny urban yard is very enticing in the winter, either. But I'm not foolish enough to think that there's anything that special about our yard. Wherever there's food for them, there are birds, even in the city. Also, we have been moving toward more and more California native plants, many of which tend to bloom in the winter and spring (wet season), such as manazanita. The native plants seem to provide more food and habitat for birds (and butterflies) than naturalized plants, and they're easier to grow.

This is what I saw this morning: the hummingbird sipping nectar from the new manzanita berries (the photo is from Las Pilitas nursery website, which specializes in California native plants and can tell you which butterfly and bird species are attracted to which plants). It turns out that Anna's Hummingbirds adore manzanita. Maybe all this time they have been defending the manazanita bush, waiting for it to bloom. As I make my garden plan for the year and decide what to plant, I'm keeping in mind what bird and butterfly species I want to attract. Too bad I can't get rid of the ivy.

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