By Max Wood
As a resident of the majestic Santa Monicas, did you know that almost half the total species found in the entire U.S. can be found in your backyard and down to the ocean? That’s almost 400 species! To boot, because the climate is so mild, many of these birds can be found here year-round.
Within the U.S., there are many bird species that occur only in California, which include Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Magpie, California Thrasher, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, California Gnatcatcher and Tricolored Blackbird. Many other species are mostly contained within California, such as the Wrentit, and many subspecies are entirely contained within California, such as the Santa Cruz Island Scrub-jay.
Are you inspired yet to grab a pair of binoculars and a bird book and head out the door? One of the reasons for all this birdiness here is the combination of a mild Mediterranean climate and relatively rapid changes in elevation. As you go from sea level to mountaintop in the Santa Monicas, you are able to scan the ocean for pelagic birds and pass through seashore habitat, coastal estuary and marshland for shorebirds and waterbirds like ducks.
Then, you can ascend slightly to coastal sage scrub and chaparral in search of dry-loving birds and keep ascending to grasslands for sparrows and meadowlarks. Keep going up to find oak woodland for titmice and nuthatches, and even riparian shrubs and trees for those birds you may have missed, such as numerous warblers, flycatchers, and Blue Grosbeak.
In our region, hiking and birding opportunities abound! Find a bird checklist here and take a look at the sheer number of species it’s possible to see in this region. The closest birding site to Agoura Hills is Cheeseboro Canyon, which contains grassland and oak woodland. This is one of the best areas for hawks and owls in all the Santa Monicas, and you’ll find them there year round.
There is a maze of trails of all lengths and difficulty levels that are waiting for you to discover them. If you want to get more involved, there is a master bander, one of those lucky folks who has a permit to capture and band wild birds, that runs banding stations throughout the year in the Santa Monica Mountains. His name is Walt Sakai, and he welcomes birders to join him in the field. Find current information and outings on his website. Assisting a banding effort is one of the best ways to get to know the birds in your area, because you get to see them up close and personal.
For something a little less adventurous, you can bring the birds right into your own yard! Set up a feeding oasis for the birds by providing black-oil sunflower seed and clean water in your yard. The birds would especially appreciate a birdbath during the hot summer months.
The Santa Monicas can offer you more than just a pile of birds, this place is also eye-poppingly beautiful. It’s win-win when you head outside with your binoculars and you’re your camera. Bring your family, and take a picnic lunch with you. If you need further inspiration, check out this stunning photo collection of birds found in the Santa Monica Mountains.