Beak of the Week: Cape May Warbler

Even though it doesn’t officially begin until Saturday, let me be the first to wish you a Happy International Migratory Bird Day! On account of this glorious occasion, coupled with Danielle and my trip to Cape May, New Jersey last week (arguably the birdiest spot in the country) what better bird to feature than the Cape May Warbler!

Did you know that the adult male Cape May Warbler retains his plumage throughout the year??

Common Name: Cape May Warbler

Latin Name: Setophaga tigrina

Range:  Breeds in southern Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the Great Lakes region. Winters in the Caribbean.

Habitat: Found in coniferous and spruce forests and gardens.

Diet: Primarily insects, especially budworms, during breeding season. Nectar and insects during migration.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Cape May Warbler, Setophaga tigrina

The “Cape May” Warbler is a bit of a misnomer. Though the species occurs in the area of Cape May, NJ, it was only named so because that is where it was first identified by Alexander Wilson in 1811. In fact, the species can be widely found throughout Cananda and the East Coast.

Happy Birding!


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Beak of the Week: Elegant Trogon

On Saturday, Cinco de Mayo celebrations will occur with friends, feasts and fiestas!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!!!

Originally observed regionally in Mexico to commemorate the victory of Mexican forces over the French army at The Battle of Puebla in 1862, the holiday is now widely celebrated in the U.S., too, to honor Mexican heritage and culture.

Male Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, AZ

Common Name: Elegant Trogon; Formerly Coppery-tailed Trogon

Latin Name: Trogon elegans

Range:  Southern Arizona to northwestern Costa Rica. Most birds are non-migratory in their range. Approximately fifty mating pairs migrate to southern Arizona for breeding season.

Habitat: Sycamore or Pine-oak canyons and mountain forests.

Diet: Mostly insects and fruits.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Fun Fact: With such a small number of the species in the U.S. during breeding season, the Elegant Trogon is often considered the most rare of wild bird species in the United States!

Happy Cinco de Mayo and Happy Birding!



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Beak of the Week: Black-headed Grosbeak

What a pleasant Earth Day surprise!  Just yesterday, I saw a Black-headed Grosbeak at my feeder for the first time ever.

Thanks for the visit, pretty bird!

My family and I had just finished up our usual Sunday brunch and returned to my house to watch the Los Angeles Lakers take on Oklahoma. Per usual, we spent more time staring out the window at the bird feeders than watching hoops on TV. Eventually, I decided to retreat to the couch and enjoy some much-needed relaxation. Just as I melted into my soft, comfy cushions, my father shouted, “Danielle, Danielle, come here!  Slowly…. Shhhh…”

“Dad, are you joking? I just sat down! It can’t be that good.” Regardless, I leapt from my heavenly couch and ran back to the window to see what he was pointing toward.

“Shut up!” I whispered. My jaw dropped.

“A Black-headed Grosbeak. Well, that’s a first. So cool!” I exclaimed.

Eat away, Mr. Grosbeak!

Thrilled, I continued to stare.  It isn’t every day that one sees this migratory bird at one’s feeder.  In an effort to savor the sight of this striking bird – with its tawny orange breast, meyer lemon belly, black licorice wings, matching tail, and flashy white patches – at my feeder, I grabbed my bins and sat there for nearly 30 minutes trying to memorize this beautiful image.  Completely distracted by the bird’s bright colors and thick, prominent bill, I failed to realize that the feeders were nearly empty, despite the fact that they had been filled just two days ago (insert blushing backyard birder here).

Black-headed Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus

Worried that the lack of food would deter this stunning male from returning, I immediately ran to pour some more sunflower seeds, mealworms and millet in the feeders. By this time, it was nearly dark, and I was beginning to worry whether or not I’d see him again…

And then there were two! Seriously.  Just when I had lost hope of seeing this stunning male Black-headed Grosbeak at my feeder again, he showed up with a friend! I couldn’t have been happier.  My husband, Jonathan, grabbed the camera and started snapping away…

Watch it, Mr.!

Common Name: Black-headed Grosbeak

Latin Name:  Pheucticus melanocephalus 

Range: Medium to long-distance migrant. Found in southwestern British Columbia (Summer), the western and midwestern United States (Summer), and Mexico (Winter; some year-round residents).

Habitat: Prefers deciduous forests, mixed wooded areas, backyards, and gardens.

I suppose I can share…

Diet:  Insects, fruit, and seeds.  Including: Spiders, snails, beetles, butterflies, Juneberries, Poison Oak, Elderberries, dock, pigweed, chickweed, Figs, Mulberries, Cherries, Apricots, Plums, Blackberries, and Crabapples.

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

Did you know?!?

  • In central Mexico, where the Black-headed Grosbeak and Monarch Butterfly winter,  the bird is of the only predators of the notoriously toxic butterfly. Black-headed Grosbeaks have been observed feeding on the Monarchs in 8-day cycles, presumably to regulate toxic levels.
Did you know that the Black-headed Grosbeak is one of the few bird species that can safely eat the poisonous monarch butterfly? I sure didn’t!

Happy Birding!

Danielle + Michelle

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A Hungry Osprey Goes Fishing

I’ll never forget the first time I caught a halibut.  It was one of my proudest moments. My father woke me up at 4:30 am to go to the fish market.  We stocked up on some blood worms, sardines, and other fishy bait.  An hour later, we were knee deep in the waters of Newport Beach, California enjoying the first of many father-daughter fishing trips.

That day, at age five, I caught my first 34-inch, 19 pound Halibut (Paralichthys californicus).  A love affair with fishing (and worms apparently) had begun…

Earlier today, a friend posted this video to my Facebook page (Thanks, Lauren!!).  Upon watching this AMAZING video of an Osprey skillfully plucking fish from the water, I was pleasantly reminded of that special childhood moment I spent surf fishing with my dad. Though I have witnessed osprey feeding on a number of occasions, I have never before seen such great footage of an osprey (or any other raptor for that matter) dramatically plunging down to snatch fish. I just had to share…

Check out this video from Arkive!

If you’re interested in learning more about the Osprey, click here.


Happy Birding!


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Beak of the Week: Greater Flamingo

The ability to fly will always remain one of the most fascinating things about birds—especially when you examine that of a Greater Flamingo!

A Greater Flamingo in flight

Even though the bird requires a running start in order to become airborne, it is miraculous how such a seemingly disproportionate body glides though the air with such grace and ease. In addition to being breathtakingly beautiful, wearing hues of a color I can only describe as “Flamingo Pink,” this incredible bird is great fun to watch, too!

A Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus

Common Name: Greater Flamingo

Latin Name: Phoenicopterus roseus or Phoenicopterus ruber roseus  

Range: Africa, southern Europe and southern Asia.

Habitat: Estuaries, saltwater and alkaline lakes, mudflats, coastlines and lagoons

Diet: Small mollusks, shrimp, plankton, insects and small fish

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Flamingos here, flamingos there, flamingos everywhere!

  • The Greater Flamingo is the largest, palest, and most widespread of all the flamingo species.
A fourteen day old Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
  • A flock of flamingos is called a “stand” or ”flamboyance.”
A flamboyance of flamingoes – Rio Maximo, Camaguey, Cuba.
  • The gorgeous hues of the Greater Flamingo are obtained by consuming a diet high in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments.
A close-up view of a particularly colorful Greater Flamingo
  •  The backward bending ‘knees” of a flamingo’s long and stilt-like legs are actually the ankles. The actual knee is closer to the bird’s body and is hidden by its plumage.
Legs, necks and a single head of greater flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) standing in muddy water feeding

The Flamingo in history…

The plastic, pink flamingo has become one of the most popular lawn decorations in the United States since its creation in 1957. An icon of pop culture, its creator, Don Featherstone, even won an IG Nobel Prize for his creation…

Pink Flamingo Lawn Ornaments by Don Featherstone

If you’d like to read more about our birding adventures and flamingo sightings, take a look at our Flamingoes Over Tuscany post!

Happy Birding!


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Beak of the Week: Common Ostrich

Whether you gathered with friends and family around your seder plate or celebrated Easter Sunday with your loved ones, the egg was most likely a part of your traditional holiday weekend.  Here, learn about a very large egg, and the huge bird who is responsible for laying it—the Ostrich!

A recently hatched Ostrich – too cute!

Common Name: Common Ostrich

Latin Name: Struthio camelus

Male Common Ostrich, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Range: Originally Africa. Introduced to southern Australia.

Habitat: Open, arid plains.

Female Common Ostrich with her eggs, Addo National Park, South Africa

Diet: Mostly plants, leaves, and seeds. Occasionally consumes small animals.

Conservation Status: Least Concern. However, there has been a decrease in range and population numbers.


The outstanding ostrich…

  • Is largest, tallest and heaviest of all bird species.
  • Has the largest eyes of any land animal—each one is bigger than the size of its brain!
  • Is the only bird to have two toes per foot.
  • Will occasionally eat small stones and pebbles to aid digestion.
  • Cannot fly, but is the largest bipedal runner in the world. It can reach speeds of approximately 40 mph.

Think Easter eggs are bright and colorful? Check out how some artists decorate ostrich eggs!

Cynosure of All Eyes by Farha Sayeed
By Hungarian Artist, Csuhaj Tunde
Painted Ostrich eggs at Easter by Jeremy Taylor
Painted Ostrich Egg by Katya Trischuk Mangov
We Have All The Time In The World, Rupert Shrive, 2008
Original pen and ink drawing by Ann Ranlett
Brahms Concerto: Violin, Cello and Orchestra by Carina Charlton


Happy Holidays and Happy Birding!!!

Danielle & Michelle

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Beak of the Week: Emperor Penguin

As I started to look forward to celebrating another birthday this week, I decided I would review my bucket list and admire all of the wonderful possibilities I have created for myself—among them: visiting Antarctica. Albeit cold, errr freezing, there are several reasons why I dream of trekking to this pristine part of the world. For starters, I can only imagine how breathtaking the majestic landscape must be. But more obviously, the native wildlife is the greatest draw—particularly the birds, especially the penguins!

Looks like these guys are all ready for a black tie affair…

Common Name: Emperor Penguin

Latin Name: Aptenodytes forsteri

Range: Circumpolar Antarctic

Habitat: Harsh, freezing conditions in Antarctica

Diet: Fish and squid

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), the largest living penguin species

Five cool facts about the Emperor Penguin…

  • It is the largest of all penguins reaching a height of nearly four feet and weighing approximately 90 pounds.
  • It lives in the coldest climate on earth and is the only species that remains in the Antarctic during the winter on open ice.
  • Males are responsible for the incubation of a single egg each winter. Once the female lays her egg, she travels approximately fifty miles in search of food, a nearly two month long expedition, while the males remain without food.
Does it get any cuter than this?
  • Since emperor penguins do not have specific nest sites, pairs use vocalizations for identification.
  • An Emperor Penguin can hold its breath for up to twenty minutes.
Behind the scenes at Sea World with “Tut” the King Penguin – SO cool!

Are you as smitten with penguins as I am? Check out Sea World’s Live Penguin Cam to observe some incredible penguin behavior. You’ll love it!

Happy Birding!


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World Sparrow Day

On March 20th, national and international organizations, NGOs, clubs, reserves, universities and individuals around the world will partake in awareness programs and festivities to celebrate the 3rd annual World Sparrow Day (WSD).

While many avid bird feeders may find this hard to believe, it is true; the ubiquitous House Sparrow is declining in number.  For the many Americans who consider this species a lowly pest…think again.  The adaptable House Sparrow is declining in its native lands, and this is something about which we should all be concerned. Why?  Well, usually, a decline in the number of what we consider a “common” species of “least concern” can signify more encompassing environmental threats.  You see, the birds we sometimes take for granted aren’t guaranteed to be around forever….

Whenever World Sparrow Day comes around, I am always reminded of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratoriu), a species that went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.  Makes you think, right?

How can you help spread the word? It’s simple…

This year’s WSD theme is called ‘Chirp for the sparrow! Tweet for the sparrow!’ It was designed as a call to action – a call to sparrow lovers, nature supporters and conservationists everywhere to spread the word to save the sparrow and other common species. Use any means of communication available to you (text, email or phone) to encourage family and friends to learn about WSD and the importance of common bird species by directing them to Or, you can engage in social media by blogging, sharing your thoughts on websites and spreading the word on social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

I hope that the next time you see a House Sparrow, you take a moment to appreciate the species and feel fortunate to see these birds as often as we do here in North America.

Happy Birding!


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Beak of the Week: House Sparrow

In honor of World Sparrow Day 2012, we bring you the House Sparrow!

A male House Sparrow enjoying a wiggly snack!

Common Name: House Sparrow

Latin Name:  Passer domesticus

Range: Found year-round throughout the Southeast and southern Midwest regions of the United States, as well as areas of Mexico and parts of Central America. Summer range is in the Northeast and north Midwest of the United States and Eastern parts of Canada.

Habitat:  House Sparrows are found in most places – from city streets and parks, to trees and feeders. The only places where House Sparrows are rarely found are in undisturbed woodlands, forests, deserts and grasslands.

Diet:  In urban areas, the House Sparrow feeds largely on food provided directly or indirectly by humans.  Seeds and plant matter, including berries, and fruits make up a great portion of the bird’s food intake. Bugs are also part of a House Sparrow’s diet! In fact, in order to get their necessary protein, young House Sparrows are fed mostly on insects, such as worms, crickets, flies, caterpillars and grasshoppers, until about fifteen days after hatching.

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

A Male House Sparrow Enjoying Mealworms From A Pacific Bird Mealworm Feeder

Feeding Tip: Attracting sparrows to your backyard is easier than you might think. First, start by creating an inviting bird habitat. This includes providing survival materials, such as food, water, a nesting place and protection from predators.  For example, bird feeders filled with safflower seeds, millet, worms, insects, fruit pieces, berries and nutmeats will attract a reasonable number of sparrows to your home. Take notice! Sparrows will feed on insects, seeds and nutmeats year-round, and during warmer months, they will seek out a greater number of insects in order to provide protein and nourishment to their young.  A clean water source will also aid in your quest to attract sparrows.

Splish splash, I was taking a bath…

As always, please remember to place food and water away from any overhanging trees so that squirrels will not compete with birds for food. And, do your best to keep pet cats indoors and away from sparrow nesting spots. Doing so will make your home much more appealing to these beautiful birds. Sparrows love to ground feed, and if they don’t perceive any great threats,  they will be feasting before your eyes and as happy as ever!

5 Interesting Facts About The House Sparrow:

  • When introduced, the House Sparrow spread quickly, sometimes at the rate of over 140 miles per year.
  • The ancient Greeks associated sparrows with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, on account their perceived lustfulness.
  • Sparrow fledgelings usually fly after 15 days.
House Sparrow Eggs
  • Even though they are not water birds, sparrows can actually swim in order to escape predators (I had no idea!).
  • Sparrows are now on the threatened birds’ list in many parts of the world… To learn more about the declining number of sparrows, read about World Sparrow Day.
Happy World Sparrow Day & Happy Birding!

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Beak of the Week: California Condor

Since February’s Beak of the Weeks celebrated some amazing backyard feeder birds in honor of National Bird Feeding Month, I thought I would highlight a foreign feathered friend this week.  However, as luck would have it, within three days, I experienced a relatively local bird in two distinct, but very much related communities. It is with great excitement that I share my happenings with you, as I introduce the California Condor…

A California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

As some of you may know, the California Condor was on the verge of extinction by the 1980s on account of lead poisoning, habitat loss, and poaching.  In fact, by 1982 only 22 birds remained alive and intervention was necessary for the survival of the species. Fortunately, with successful conservation programs, almost four hundred birds are alive today…

California Condors at the Grand Canyon

On Tuesday morning, at approximately 4:30am, Danielle and I woke up, put on our birding gear and headed to Frazier National Park in Maricopa County.  There, despite taking directions involving “a tree and a port-a-potty” from a hilarious, displaced Englishman, we met up with Richard Crossley (An revolutionary field guide writer and author of The Crossley ID Guide)  and Wes Fritz (Excellent Birding Guide specializing in Central and Southern California) and went in search of several birds, with a particular interest in the California Condor!

As almost all birding outings go, sound positioning, perfect timing and a whole-lot-of luck are necessary to catch a glimpse of these large vultures. We were told that, under the right conditions, we would be able to see the Condor’s fly at approximately 9:00am by the “second sign on the long and windy road.” Hmmmm… another reliable set of reliable directions? We shall see.  Luckily, with Wes’ familiarity with the region and expertise, he guided us to success. Though still quite distant from view, even with an amazing pair of bins, it is not difficult to be in awe of these birds. Not only is their nine-foot wingspan unbelievable, but their survival story is one to be celebrated…

“Some time ago I was in a museum in Los Angeles and there, in several large drawers, I saw numerous skins of the California condor. It was dreadful to realize that here, in front of me, carefully preserved, lay more California condors than actually existed in the wild. The great ecosystems are like complex tapestries – a million complicated threads, interwoven, make up the whole picture. Nature can cope with small rents in the fabric; it can even, after a time, cope with major disasters like floods, fires, and earthquakes. What nature cannot cope with is the steady undermining of its fabric by the activities of man.” – Gerald DurrellBritish author and naturalist Gerald Durrell is the founder and Honorary Director of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust

On Thursday, my morning began quite similarly. I woke up at 4:30 am, packed the car and headed south on a two-hour journey to San Diego for the Avicultural Society of America conference. In addition to meeting several passionate bird lovers, I had the opportunity to connect with a longtime family friend, Frank Todd. In addition to being a published author, an enthusiastic behaviorist, and as close to a walking encyclopedia about birds as one can get, Frank also happened to work as the curator for the Los Angeles Zoo when TopaTopa arrived—the first California Condor in captivity and the father of the new generation of Condors…

Ornithologist Frank Todd

At this moment, my experience came full circle. The very birds we, as birders, were admiring, photographing, and documenting on Tuesday were triumphs of understanding, practice, time, and energy by conservation teams. Though such different fields of study, these two worlds are highly dependent on one another.  Birding is much greater than seeing birds. It’s about understanding them, observing them, appreciating them and ultimately acquiring insight about our own interaction with them and with nature.

Common Name: California Condor

Latin Name: Gymnogyps californianus

Range:  Today, the range of the California Condor is limited to parts of Arizona, California, and Utah.

Habitat: Mountainous regions, Coniferous forests, and Savannahs. Often found by cliff sides.

Diet: Carrion of mostly large animals, including cattle and deer.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered.

Visit for more information about California Condors and conservation efforts.

Happy Birding!


P.S. Many thanks to Richard and Wes for an AMAZING day!  And, Richard, we hope your trip to California means that we’re one step closer to enjoying The Western Crossley ID Guide, because Danielle and I (and SO many others) cannot wait!!!

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