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California gardeners, take note: Prune now to avoid damaging birds' nests

January 12, 2010 |  6:27 pm

It's the time of year when many gardeners are tempted to begin the pruning process -- but that can damage birds' nests at a crucial time for breeding. What's a gardener to do? Sustainable-gardening columnist Emily Green offers some advice on The Times' L.A. at Home blog; here's an excerpt:

Hummingbird Birdsong can be piped into gardens. It's done at the museum and garden complex known as the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. However, for those who prefer the sound of actual birds, perhaps the single most important step that any gardener can take is to stop pruning during nesting season.

Some of us are familiar with the concept of stilling the saws to allow birds to breed, but we follow an Eastern calendar. Unfortunately, that time frame doesn't apply in Southern California. Whereas bird-nesting in the East is a spring event, it begins here in winter. Two of our most beloved local hummingbirds, Allen's and Anna's, started nesting in December and will be nesting throughout spring, says Kimball Garrett, collections manager for the ornithology department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Many of the early nesters, he says, are resident (not migratory) birds. The Breeding Bird Species Accounts from the San Diego Natural History Museum include kites, thrashers, sparrows, flycatchers, woodpeckers, mourning doves, hawks and owls among the birds that begin nesting in February.

If you or your gardeners solemnly swear that they would never interfere with a nest -- that they can prune around them -- be skeptical. Exposing a nest is a prelude to its destruction. Moreover, most trimmers won’t see them. Bird nests are easy to see only in children's drawings, where they usually resemble crows' nests. There's a reason crows build such big baskets: Those birds are fierce enough to fight off marauding squirrels.


Photo: An Anna's hummingbird visits a bird feeder.  Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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