Northern Mockingbird, image courtesy of William Hallstrom.
Bob Gorcik volunteers at Arlington Garden. He has been a birder since he was in middle school. As an undergraduate in college, he was a wildlife research assistant, which allowed him to study birds up close.
In this segment I’ll be introducing some of the native birds that can be seen in and around not only Arlington Garden but also in some common urban California environments, such as small city parks and the minimal landscaping surrounding apartment buildings.
Perhaps the best local bird to start out with is the familiar gray-colored long-tailed Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). Despite the name, they are generally only found in the southern half of the US (and Mexico) where they are typically the most common native songbird in urban and suburban areas. Easily identified by their ability to mimic other birds (hence their name) they sometimes sing well into the night, especially during mating season, often to the annoyance of local residents who are trying to sleep!
Another of the most common native birds that can be found not only in Arlington Garden but around nearly any residential street and small city park is the House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus). These common finches, characterized by the red-headed males were originally only found in the southwest quarter of the US until introduced to the east coast in the 1940s and is now found across the mid-latitudes of North America.
A member of the Flycatcher family of passerines, the Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) is more limited to California and parts of the US Southwest than the previously two mentioned birds. The original habitat of Black Phoebes were any riparian corridors with abundant vegetation and flying insects to eat, especially where there is steep river banks for nesting, but they have adapted very well to similarly nesting under roof eaves of buildings wherever there are trees nearby and water from hoses and sprinklers and their subsequent runoff.
Though there have been several different species of hummingbirds (Trochilidae family) that have been seen in Southern California, the two most commonly seen species in Arlington Garden and across coastal Southern California are Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) and Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin). Since hummingbirds are the family with the smallest birds, and they fly very rapidly, it can be difficult for amateur birders to identify them in the field. One way to differentiate the two is that the Anna’s Hummingbird has iridescent purple-pink plumage, whereas the Allen’s Hummingbird has more iridescent orange plumage.
I will end this segment by mentioning two of North America’s most widespread and common native birds that are as common in Pasadena as they are in nearly every other region across the continent. The first of these is the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) named for their sad “mourning” cooing sound. Mourning Doves are very easy to observe as they are not only common, but they are also ground feeders who forage for seeds, although they may perch higher up in trees and utility wires. Secondly, the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is typically seen flying overhead and roosting in tall trees and rooftops, but it can be seen nearly everywhere there is open space (even a large parking lot) and a few trees nearby to perch. They will eat nearly anything including our own human food leftovers thrown in the trash.
Arlington Garden in Pasadena is a local birding hotspot. The native California and Mediterranean flora found throughout the garden provide food sources for a great diversity of bird species in part through the availability of intact fruits and seed heads and the local pollinating insects that provide prey for insect eating birds. The fact that the garden is composed of smaller sections representing the many ecosystems that can be found in our region also contributes to the diversity of bird species found at Arlington Garden.