Birds Without Borders: A Guide to the Illegal-Alien Avians of OC
National Geographic

Birds Without Borders: A Guide to the Illegal-Alien Avians of OC

Every Thanksgiving, I contemplate the ancient and global phenomenon of migration. Since the beginning of time, humans and wildlife have wandered all over the planet in search of hospitable habitat. Migrations are stimulated by the constant change of environmental conditions.  When habitats become unfavorable, inhabitants must travel elsewhere. During the fall and winter, certain birds migrate to Orange County because our Mediterranean climate is so comfortable. 

Yellow-rumped warblers, white-crowned sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, cedar waxwings, hermit thrush, and American robins are some of the birds that delight us with their presence.


Groups of yellow-rumped warblers (aka "butter-butts") appear on the laurel sumac.  They feed on the clusters of berries.  Yellow flashes catch your eye when they flap their wings.  Their beaks snap when they snatch flies from the air.

White-crowned sparrows appear to wear zebra-striped football helmets as they maneuver across open terrain.  They sing a melodious song, which sounds like a high-pitched version of the British Intelligence Communicator from the Our Man Flint and Austin Powers films.

Dark-eyed juncos appear to wear menacing black hoods with pale parrot beaks protruding.  Like hooded thieves, they sneak behind unsuspecting bird watchers.

Cedar waxwings search for red, ripe toyon berries. Their sleek crests and silky plumage are reminiscent of the costumes from a Venetian ball. They gather in large groups at the tops of the flickering yellow sycamore trees.  Their piercing whistles stream like piccolo Pete fireworks.

Hermit thrushes are even more secretive than dark-eyed juncos.  They cautiously scurry in between hiding places and poke their heads up to watch for danger.  The dark hatch marks on their breasts look like chocolate smears on a toddler's bib.

American robins are known for pulling earthworms out of wet lawns.  With yellow bills, brick red breasts and gray coats, they march forward, halt, and bob their heads like dancing soldiers in flamboyant uniforms.  Their repetitious chatter echoes throughout the wooded canyons.

As greedy developers continue to destroy wildlife habitat in OC with excessive and inappropriate projects, migration opportunities disappear for those who seek refuge in wild places.   

When Europeans colonized North and South America, they displaced wildlife and humans.  Wetlands, shrublands, woodlands, forests, and tribal villages were replaced with farms, towns, and cities.  Birds and other wildlife were forced to migrate.  Tribes were enslaved, killed, or evicted from their homes.  Just like the birds, the tribes had to migrate to survive.  Now the situation is dire for wildlife and keepers of indigenous ways.  When your home is erased and your lifestyle is not tolerated, where are you supposed to go?    

Will migrant birds be prevented from crossing the border because they don't have proper ID?  Will wildlife have to purchase property in order to avoid eviction?  Are local tribes expected to adopt a completely dysfunctional way of life that contradicts thousands of years of experience and wisdom?

I hope we can celebrate diversity and share our environment.  Everyone has migrated at one time or another.  Since our occupation in this environment is temporary, maybe we should try to live in harmony with all living things.

The Annual Christmas Bird Count with the Audubon Society is December 16th.

Enature is an excellent online field guide for birds and other wildlife. Link right here.

Read Before The Wilderness to learn about environmental management from Native Californians.

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