A Bald Eagle Makes a Rare Visit to San Francisco

This website usually focuses on threats to our parks, trees, and nature from tree destruction and pesticides. But sometimes, we just want to celebrate the nature and the wonderful life we see in our amazing city. From whales in the Bay to this amazing young bald eagle visitor…

We republish this article from the CoyoteYipps website with permission. All photographs copyright to wildlife photographer Janet Kessler. Please seek permission before reproducing.

 

History is Made: A Bald Eagle Lands in San Francisco!!

Occasionally I post things not related to coyotes, and this post is one of them. It was Thursday, August 3rd at 8:30 am when I and several friends, including John, Paul, Juan, Anna, Ruth, Debby and Lori watched this huge bird fly in from the north, heading right for Bernal Hill, which is a grassy *island*, so to speak, that rises above, and stands out from, the sprawling city below.

We have a number of these *islands* in the city, some of them are grassy and golden, and some are treed and green. Bernal Hill is of the golden variety during the summer months and emerald during the rainy season. After landing on the ground, the bird flew up to a perfect perch — a dead branch. There it remained for two full hours before continuing its flight west and out of sight. During those two hours, the bird looked around, preened, shook itself, scratched itself and pooped!

I contacted Dominik Mosur, San Francisco’s pre-eminent bird expert, and the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met about birds. He says, “Based on my experience, and documented data available to me, both Bald and Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in San Francisco City and County airspace. There was a Bald Eagle sighted perched at Lake Merced many years ago, but aside from that one, there have been no additional historical records of either eagle species actually landing here since we converted the Franciscan ecosystem into city/suburbs.”

“This bird is young, likely just out of a nest. You encountered it as it was probably leaving its parent’s territory for the first time.”
“Bald eagles started nesting close to San Francisco in the last decade (Crystal Springs Watershed to the south, a few years longer up in Marin in the Mt. Tam watershed) and consequently sightings of them flying OVER the city have increased. However, as I mentioned, it’s one of just a couple of records of Bald Eagles perching in SF in modern times — probably going back to the pre-Gold Rush days!” Sightings of this bird in San Francisco are indeed extremely rare, which makes this sighting a truly special event.
[More amazing pictures below]

 

Advertisements

My Hummingbird Adventure, by Laurel Rose

This article is reposted with permission from CoyoteYipps, a blog about San Francisco’s urban coyotes. We republish it here as an interesting story – and a lesson in how difficult it is to see a bird’s nest even if you are looking for it. (Emphasis added; all pictures copyright Laurel Rose)

We urge all city departments and homeowners to trim or remove trees only in the safe Fall months: September to December

 

MY HUMMINGBIRD ADVENTURE by LAUREL ROSE

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage. The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20 feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil-thin tree trunks.

skinny trees (copyright Laurel Rose)

This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments required by the city for the green waste bins. I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job. I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!

Tiny hummingbird nest on a twig

This is how I found the nest (copyright Laurel Rose)

The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree. Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source. My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.
I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick. I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been. Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).

Baby hummingbird (copyright Laurel Rose)

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory. Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!

Two hummingbird chicks in the nest

Two hummingbird chicks on the first day

Two Hummingbird chicks

Second Day – Hummingbird chicks

Box put up to rescue hummingbird nest

A safe space for a hummingbird nest

Day 2: I secured a new box in the other Honeysuckle tree because we were having some very windy days.

 

Box fastened into tree to rescue a hummingbird nest

Box fastened well against the wind

Day 3: I wasn’t sure if Mama was feeding her chicks with the new placement of the box with a different type of access, but I caught her in the act (see video below)

 

Mama hummingbird entering box to feed chicks in rescued nest

Mama hummingbird entering to feed the chicks – click for video (copyright Laurel Rose)

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Hummingbird chick near fledging

Day 4: They changed so much from one day to the next

Two hummingbird fledglings

Two hummingbird fledglings

Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight.

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

Hummingbird chicks just before departing nest

When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.

hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

Hummingbird sitting in chain link fence

hummingbird-in-wire-2I looked around for the other chick and had noticed what I thought was a leaf caught in one of the links on the fence, but a closer look told me otherwise.

Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera. I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.

Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was. A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.

If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick. It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May. The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.

*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December

Owl Drama Up High In The Forest (and Some of it Low in the Forest)

[Photos and story by Janet Kessler]

front row seat by the wise guy who didn't try to fly the coop today - copyright Janet Kessler

Front row seat by the wise guy who didn’t try to fly the coop today

Today two of three Great Horned Owlets attempted fledging from their Eucalyptus tree nest. It was time. The third has not left the nest. Owl eggs are laid asynchronously, so the youngsters actually mature at different rates and this one was not ready. So he had a front row seat for the drama that followed!

second fledgeling lands on the ground (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Second fledgeling lands on the ground (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Animal Care and Control comes to the rescue! (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

Animal Care and Control comes to the rescue! (photo courtesy Kerry Bostrom)

The first fledgeling successfully departed, swooping over to a flimsy pine tree close by.  A second one, with high hopes of succeeding like his sibling, also took off, but immediately fell straight to the ground below his tree where it remained sitting under a bush.

Animal Rescue came and tried tossing the grounded bird back up its tree, but after two attempts and after the chick flew across a field, the parents called to it and it clambered up a hill which was not accessible to people or dogs. It would be safe here where its parents would encourage it to a tree branch without danger of a dog going after it.

Mom and Dad work to save the grounded fella after Animal Control’s attempts didn’t work

The first fledgeling made it to a flimsy limb close by

The first fledgeling made it to a flimsy limb close by

The first fledgling who had made it to a tree close by, discovered that its perch was mighty flimsy and precarious. So it attempted to move. It bent its neck — owls can’t swivel their eyes so their entire head must move when they focus on something — looking carefully at the piece of Eucalyptus bark close by which probably looked sturdier than the limb he was on. The Eucalyptus bark was a familiar item since he had spent all his time until now in a Eucalyptus tree filled with pieces of bark like this. He grabbed the bark ever so carefully with his talons. Oh, no!

Carefully watching where to put his feet for the move

Carefully watching where to put his feet for the move

He slipped! As he strained to gain a footing, we could see that he was held up by only a feather on his wing. It was touch and go for a minute, but the fellow successfully and skillfully extricated himself from that possible dangerous situation. Now he is sitting on that branch without moving. By the evening he’ll probably have the strength to move to a safer spot. Mom and Dad will keep an eye on him and they will continue to feed him, even on that flimsy limb. With all this drama, the littlest owlet probably felt safe remaining in its nest in the fork of the Eucalyptus, where it will remain a few more days until it is ready to fledge.

Oh, no! He lost his footing!

Oh, no! He lost his footing!

2015-05-05 (8)

Footing is regained! Whew! It was probably more dramatic for the spectators than the young owlet

Footing is regained! Whew! It was probably more dramatic for the spectators than the young owlet

 

Finally, Good News for the Glen Canyon Owls

The last two years weren’t good to the famous Glen Canyon Great Horned Owls. All the  work that was going on, the removal of trees near the nesting tree, the changes to the canyon – they disturbed the owls enough that there were no babies. Even though there’d been other successful nests in San Francisco.

That’s changed this year. The owls are back with a trio of baby owls. Here are some shots taken by wildlife photographer Janet Kessler. [This post was edited, as promised, to add in more owl pictures.]

[Edited to add: We normally would wait on publishing this until the owlets were fledged and flown, to avoid disclosing where the youngsters are. In this case, the story had already been published in the local online newsletter, so we decided to share the news with our readers.]

glen canyon owlet 2015 copyright janet kessler

Three baby owls!

Three baby owls!

Mama owl standing guard

Mama owl standing guard

Two baby owls together

Two baby owls together

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama sitting proudly in back of two of her chicks

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Mama grooms her youngsters after feeding them

Meanwhile, here’s another Glen Canyon bird – a Steller’s jay. This picture is also courtesy Janet Kessler.

steller jay glen canyon - copyright Janet Kessler

Woodpecker Diversity in San Francisco

watchful acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Watchful acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Wildlife photographer Janet Kessler shared these photographs of an acorn woodpecker in Glen Canyon in late August, 2014 (and they’re copyright to her). It was a great capture, though she wasn’t thrilled with the quality. “They were taken under bad lighting at a high ISO,” she explained.

2014-08-27 (1) acorn woodpecker

Acorn woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

We loved their expressiveness.  Acorn woodpeckers have clown faces with a comical red crown. They reminded us of a childhood song,  ” Hear him pickin’ out a melody/ Peck, peck, peckin’ at the same old tree/ he’s as happy as a bumblebee…”

It’s a delight to find so many species of woodpeckers in San Francisco.

The Audubon Society started its Christmas Bird Counts in 1915, and by 1945 they had held 18 counts. In those 18 counts, only three species of woodpecker showed up: Northern flickers; downy woodpeckers; and acorn woodpeckers like these birds here.

downy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Downy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Northern Flicker(c) Richard Drechsler 2012

Northern Flicker(c) Richard Drechsler 2012

MORE DIVERSITY

Woodpeckers need trees, preferably mature trees. All those tree-planting efforts from the turn of the last century have created a wonderful habitat for birds. 

Recent Christmas Bird Counts in San Francisco doubled the number of  woodpecker species. In addition to the earlier three,  they showed Hairy woodpeckers; Nuttall’s woodpeckers; and sapsuckers (both red-naped and yellow-bellied, a division that didn’t exist in 1945).

hairy woodpecker (c) janet kessler

Hairy woodpecker (c) Janet Kessler

Hairy woodpeckers, like the ones in the pictures here, are larger than downy woodpeckers and have bigger beaks.

Hairy Woodpecker (c) Richard Drechsler 2009

Hairy Woodpecker in San Francisco (c) Richard Drechsler 2009

This is a red-breasted sapsucker, photographed in San Francisco.

Sapsucker (c) Janet Kessler

Red breasted sapsucker (c) Janet Kessler

And recently, birders have reported seeing a Lewis’s woodpecker in Buena Vista Park, flying between cypress trees and “a tall eucalyptus.”

Lewis's Woodpecker (c) Richard Drechsler

Lewis’s Woodpecker in San Francisco (c) Richard Drechsler

NEXT GENERATION!

Northern flickers are breeding in the city now. (The photograph here and in the linked article are also by Janet Kessler and copyright to her.) The baby birds in the picture below are nearly grown.

Red-shafted flicker family in eucalyptus tree nest - San Francisco - Janet Kessler

Red-shafted flicker family in eucalyptus tree nest – San Francisco (c) Janet Kessler

Nuttall’s woodpeckers are breeding here too. We’d like to thank Richard Drechsler for these wonderful pictures of a Nuttall’s woodpecker nest, below.

Nuttall's woodpecker in nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

Nuttall’s woodpecker in nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

It was taken in the Potrero Hill area – where, incidentally, Caltrans is cutting down a lot of trees and neighbors are trying  to save them.

nuttall's woodpecker at nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

Nuttalls woodpecker at nest (c) Richard Drechsler 2011

We would like to thank Janet Kessler and Richard Drechsler for giving permission to use their photographs in this article.

Don’t Cut Trees in the Nesting Season!

This year, the issue of tree-trimming or cutting during the nesting season was highlighted by the sad destruction of black-crowned night herons’ nests when the Oakland Post Office decided to get its trees trimmed. Five young herons were injured, others may have died. The tree trimmer potentially faced criminal charges, but was so remorseful – and so willing to pay for the care of the baby herons – that everyone was relieved when he didn’t.

Most people just don’t know that it’s a bad idea to trim trees (or worse, remove them) during the nesting season. Even aggressively trimming undergrowth could damage or destroy birds’ nests.  In San Francisco, the season extends approximately from February to September, depending on many factors including the weather.

Each year, Wildcare, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates hurt or orphaned wildlife,  gets a deluge of baby birds during the summer. Most of  them are displaced by tree-trimming or removal.

2012-04-11 bewick's wren nesting

Birds nests are difficult to spot, even for experts. Herons’ nests are large and noisy, and the Oakland Post Office staff surely knew the birds were there. But most birds hide their nests. Unless they are huge ones like nests of hawks or owls, the parent birds need to conceal their young from predators. Humans, who typically aren’t really looking out for them, would usually miss seeing them altogether. It may take even experienced birders hours of observation to be sure. Nests of hummingbirds, for instance, are around the size of a quarter. They’re common in San Francisco but very difficult to spot.

BROCHURES AND INFORMATION

Here’s Wildcare’s page  “Stop! Don’t Prune Those Trees!”  It explains the problem in a user-friendly way, and also gives references of two bird-friendly arborists who can do emergency work if needed.

 “Spring (and summer!) are busy baby season— procrastinate now!

When is wildlife nesting? There is some variation, but most wild animals have their babies in the spring, between March and June. However, many species will also have a second brood in July or August if food supplies are sufficient. If you can plan to trim your trees in the winter months, you can completely avoid the possibility of damaging a nest. It’s also a healthier time for the trees, when the sap has gone down and trees will be in their dormant phase. Call WildCare at 415-456-7283 if you’re unsure when it is a safe time to trim or remove a tree. “

The Golden Gate Audubon Society has published an excellent brochure:  Healthy Trees, Healthy Birds that is available as a PDF on their website. Here are pictures of the brochure (the download will be clearer and can be printed).

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 1

GGAS Healthy Trees Healthy Birds brochure 2

IT’S ILLEGAL TO DISTURB BIRDS’ NESTS

Disturbing – or worse, destroying – a birds nest is illegal. It’s a strict liability offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine per offense.  There are laws at the Federal, State and City level. Here’s what they say:

  • Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This applies to over 1,000 bird species, including many that are found in San Francisco. It makes it ” …illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird…” (“Taking” means to harass, harm, or pursue a bird.)
  •  California State Code 3503, 3503.5: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird, except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.”  California State Code 3503.5 relates to birds of prey: ” It is unlawful to take, possess, or destroy any birds in the orders Falconiformes or Strigiformes (birds-of-prey) or to take, possess, or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation adopted pursuant thereto.”
  • San Francisco County Municipal Code 5.08: It’s unlawful “to hunt, chase, shoot, trap, discharge or throw missiles at, harass, disturb, taunt, endanger, capture, injure, or destroy any animal in any park...” (with exceptions for small rodents like gophers).

The general rule is to stay 50 feet away from song-bird nests, and 500 feet from raptor nests.

TREES IN “POOR CONDITION” ARE GREAT FOR BIRDS

Sometimes, trees are removed because they’re in poor condition – dead or dying. Those are often the very trees that birds love, especially those that nest in cavities. Like this flicker (a kind of woodpecker) nesting in a half-dead eucalyptus tree. If you weren’t watching very patiently, you would have no idea that a family of young birds (three in this case) were being raised here.

The eucalyptus-tree nest hole of the red-shafted flicker - San Francisco. Janet KesslerPLAYING SAFE

The only safe way is to NEVER cut trees or thin dense bushes during the nesting season – and even when working in the off-season, typically September to February, to be very observant and watchful before starting work.

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree

Rat Poison Killed the Glen Canyon Owl

We’ve just heard back about the results of the necropsy on the barn owl found dead in near Glen Canyon. As suspected, it died of consuming rodents poisoned with rat poison.  This is the letter we received.

Edited to Add: If you would like to spread the word to people not to use rodenticides, we have a flyer/ poster you could use. It’s here as a PDF: Avoid rat poison to save owls

The dead Barn Owl we found and took to WildCare for rodenticide testing, Patient #1754, was found, indeed, to have died of rat poisoning.

dead barn owl found in Glen Canyon Park

Many people don’t know that when a hawk or owl or other predator eats a poisoned rodent, that animal gets poisoned too. Please STOP using rat poisons (rodenticides)! These poisons are killing the very animals, like this Barn Owl, that naturally control rodents.

The Barn Owl was found to be internally toxic, diffusely discolored and badly hemorrhaged throughout. There was evidence of a heavy load of the rodenticide brodifacoum in her system — enough to kill her.

Shockingly, over 86% of tested WildCare patients show evidence of exposure to rat poisons! These animals are eating poisoned rodents and carrying varying loads of toxic poison in their systems as a result. Rat poison used by residents of San Francisco is having dangerous and detrimental effects on the wildlife of our area. A Great Horned Owl was found dead last year due to the same rat poisoning.

Rat poisons kill by making whatever animal eats them bleed to death internally – slowly and painfully. While the poisoned rats or mice are still alive, they (and their deadly load of poison) can be consumed by other predators including cats and dogs. Rodents are the basic food source for a number of different predators all the way up the food chain. It is a terrifying prospect; to kill many animals while targeting only one. We need to find better ways to live well with wildlife.

If you need help with any wildlife issues, please contact WildCare Solutions at 415.456.7283 (456-SAVE), or http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/wildlifesolutions.

Barn Owls are one of the most common owl species in the country, but seeing one, especially in the City, is always a treat. These silent nocturnal hunters often appear completely white against the night sky as they glide over open spaces in search of rodent prey. A family of Barn Owls can eat over 3,000 rodents in a single 4-month breeding season, which makes them a magnificent source of rodent pest control, but also one of the most common victims of secondary rodenticide poisoning. Barn Owls nest early in the season, usually producing eggs sometime between January and March.

A special thanks to everyone who made a contribution to the testing, especially to the San Francisco Forest Alliance for their substantial donation. 

Thank you for taking the initiative in finding out what killed her. It’s a first step in spreading the word to save other owls.