More About Interspecies Feeding Among Birds

Pacific Coast Flycatcher

Dear Friends:

In order to do justice to Ann Allen’s lovely painting of her birdbaths in Where The Birds Are, I eliminated two photos which helped tell the story.

Interspecies bird feeding is unusual but not rare. The behavior is fueled by the powerful hormones which respond to the lengthening days in the spring.

Birds (male or female) may become a “helper” if their own nest is destroyed or if a bird is unable to find a mate. If nestlings have lost their parents and their calls are loud and persistent enough, a neighboring bird of another species may fill in as a parent.

Nestlings and fledglings learn their songs and calls from the feeding parents. Results can sometimes be disastrous as in the case where the helper, a gull of one species feeds gull of another species and the recipients no longer know when to migrate, I’m assuming our four juncos grew up to be proper adult juncos and didn’t leave for Mexico in the fall.

Where The Birds Are

“Birdbaths” by Ann Allen

In December each year, many in the country participate in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count. For the last ten years Samarkand has mustered up a dozen willing souls to walk Samarkand’s 16 acres to record the birds seen or heard. Half of their time was spent in Ann and Bob Allen’s Oak Crest garden, over the fence at the far end of the Native Plant Garden, where many species of birds come to visit their bird baths.

In the spring, local birds build their nests on the beams supporting the roof that overhangs part of their patio. Several years ago, when a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos were feeding their nestlings there, a stranger showed up with food in its beak. The Juncos chased off the intruder and then realized that a helper had shown up. The three birds fed the nestlings until they were old enough to leave the nest.

The stranger was a different species, a Pacific Slope Flycatcher with an upright posture and a slender beak for catching insects – a migrant who spent its winter in Southern Mexico. When the fledglings left the nest, the Flycatcher was out of a job. It called repeatedly for its lost family.

Come celebrate early summer at the Native Plant Garden, where you can enjoy orange poppies, blue and purple verbena, iris and fragrant sage. Stop at the sandstone fountain for wildflowers, birds and grand views.