L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Birds

Your morning adorable: Parakeet plays fetch

We've seen a dog dance the merengue, a pig play a set of musical bicycle horns, a hamster race through a minuscule agility course and a rabbit walk upright on his hind legs. So we've experienced our share of shock at the unusual abilities of animals.

But we've never before seen a parakeet play fetch.

So we were bound to be impressed by YouTube user chibudgielvr's parakeet, Chi-Chi, who not only learned the trick but also seems to relish performing it.

But another of Chi-Chi's skills impresses us even more than his fetching -- he also knows how to put his toys away when he's done playing. That's a skill that, we're betting, makes Chi-Chi a joy to live with -- not like some destructive parakeets we can think of.

Your morning adorable: Bird receives a new toy and can't contain his excitement
Video goodness: Mynah bird loves his corgi friend

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: chibudgielvr via YouTube

California is now home to 100 wild California condors

California Condor

Big news in the world of endangered species conservation: There are now 100 wild California condors in the state, more than there have been in half a century. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which announced the population count Wednesday, credits a captive breeding program begun in 1982 with helping the species rebound. The Times' environmental blog Greenspace has the details:

Young condors born in captivity are released into the wild every fall at Pinnacles National Monument in Central California and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on the southwest side of the San Joaquin Valley. The flock will get another bump over the next few months with the release of 11 juveniles.

The big birds are also reproducing on their own in the wild, adding 16 young to the California population since 2004.

At the time pioneers arrived in the western U.S., California condors' range extended from British Columbia to Baja California. But the birds have been imperiled by habitat loss and population declines in the species they prey on, as well as lead poisoning from ingesting lead fishing tackle and meat from animals shot with lead ammunition.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently denied a petition from conservation groups to ban lead shot, saying it did not have the authority to regulate ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA said it would consider a request to ban lead fishing tackle separately, because "there are no similar jurisdictional issues relating to the agency's authority over fishing sinkers."

Recently hatched California condor chick, parent treated for lead poisoning
Lead poisoning blamed for deaths of three California condors in Arizona

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A 2-year-old male California condor soars in the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary near Big Sur, Calif., in 2001. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

Your morning adorable: Parakeet plays soccer

Color us impressed by Phil, a bright little parakeet with a talent for soccer.

It occurs to us that Phil should really form a team with Momo the English Angora rabbit, Chief the American paint horse, Annie the Shetland lamb and Patch the miniature horse foal. Though their skill levels vary widely, these animals would be sure to delight spectators. (Phil and Momo would have to be sure to steer clear of the larger animals' hooves, though.)

Paul the soccer-prognosticating octopus could predict the outcomes of their games. And we know a bunch of animals -- from elephants to roosters and lions to lobsters -- who could join their ranks.

Photos: Surfing dogs catch a wave, and they're sittin' on top of the world
Your morning adorable: Young giant panda is terrible at soccer (in a cute way)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: hutch1081 via YouTube

Despite two recent bird deaths, the short-tailed albatross is rebounding

ANCHORAGE — Fishermen harvesting Pacific cod in the Bering Sea saw a rare sight over the past month: two short-tailed albatrosses, spotted on different days in different places.

The bad news: The critically endangered birds were dead, entangled in fishing gear and drowned. They had fallen victim to what is a fatal attraction for some seabirds -- the lure of tasty bait on a fast-descending industrial fishing line.

The good news: The loss of two birds is not the blow it would have been a decade ago, when the population was only in the hundreds and the loss of four in two consecutive seasons could have triggered fishery shutdowns under the Endangered Species Act.

Recent data suggest the population, now estimated at 3,000, has been increasing at a rate of 7.5% a year, said Kim Rivera, seabird coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska.

Rivera said it was her sense that the deaths of the two birds did not represent an impact on the population.

Continue reading »

Video goodness: Mynah bird loves his corgi friend

We're big fans of talkative birds -- remember Marnie, the charming Indian ringneck parakeet who gushes over his new stuffed bunny with adorable enthusiasm?

Kaleo, the equally enthusiastic (if infinitely more gravelly-voiced) fellow above, is a mynah bird -- a species known for its impressive talking abilities. Kaleo chooses to use his gift of speech to discuss other types of birds and extol the virtues of his corgi pal, Jack.

Jack "joined me one morning as I was having my coffee," YouTube user cmhhawaii explains. "Kaleo flew over to my hand as I was petting him and told me how he felt." Sadly, Jack has since passed away, and cmhhawaii says Kaleo continues to say, "I love Jack" and ask where he is.

Kaleo was rescued as a baby and has lived with cmhhawaii ever since. She reports that he's able to ask for his favorite fruit (papaya, if you're wondering) by name, tell her he missed her when she returns home from work and ask for the opportunity to take a bubble bath.

Your morning adorable: Beatboxing cockatiel struts his stuff
Your morning adorable: Dog and bird play ball

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: cmhhawaii via YouTube

Imperial Valley's western burrowing owls suffer a steep drop in population


Southern California's Imperial Valley, long considered a place where the western burrowing owl thrives, has seen a dramatic decline in the species' population in recent years.

The steep drop -- from 4,879 pairs in 2007 to 3,557 pairs in 2008 -- has prompted conservationists to call for an immediate inquiry by state wildlife authorities.

In 2003, the California Fish and Game Commission rejected a petition from groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society to offer state Endangered Species Act protections to the owls.

In the wake of the recent population drop, environmentalists are renewing their call for the species to receive a "threatened" listing.

"It's alarming to see such a rapid, single-year drop in owl numbers in an area that is supposed to be a stronghold," Jeff Miller, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "Breeding owls have been eliminated from a quarter of their former range in California over the past two decades as their habitat has been destroyed and they've been shoved aside for urban development."

Learn more about the Imperial Valley's western burrowing owl population at The Times' environmental blog, Greenspace.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A western burrowing owl. Credit: Robin Silver Photography / Center for Biological Diversity

Your morning adorable: Gentoo penguin chick flaps his wings as if trying to fly

We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw YouTube user ashokbo's video of a young gentoo penguin that looks suspiciously as if he's giving himself flying lessons.

Ashokbo suspects the little guy "has not learned that he is a penguin and [cannot] fly!" (We wonder if he isn't merely practicing his swimming skills, but we like ashokbo's idea better.)

This enthusiastically flapping fellow is a resident of Petermann Island, an Antarctic island that's home to a large population of gentoo and Adelie penguins.

A gentoo penguin is easily distinguishable from other types of penguin by the markings on its head (white patches behind each eye that meet at the crown of its head), its orange beak and its bushy tail feathers. Gentoos are the third-largest type of penguin, behind the emperor penguin and the king penguin.

Your morning adorable: Humboldt penguins chase a butterfly
Your morning adorable: Little penguins North and South are released in Australia

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: ashokbo via YouTube

Your morning adorable: Bird receives a new toy and can't contain his excitement

We've seen cute birds -- oh boy, have we ever -- but we don't think we've ever seen a bird with a sunnier, more delightful disposition than Marnie, an Indian ringneck with a heart of gold.

Marnie "has quite a collection of stuffed rabbits but always enjoys a new one," his owner, YouTube user chesawoo, explains. (Other videos show the expansion of Marnie's stuffed-animal collection to include a teddy bear and his reaction to meeting another stuffed rabbit. Each video is more precious than the next, and viewing them in a single sitting is just about guaranteed to make you reevaluate your entire worldview and decide to say, "Cute," "Gimme a kiss!" and "Wheeeee!" more often.)

Indian ringnecks, a type of rose-ringed parakeet, are known for their talking ability and skill at mimicry. (But then, you probably could have guessed that.)

Chesawoo, please tell us where we can send fan mail and stuffed-animal gifts! We are enchanted.

Your morning adorable: Poodle and parrot are best friends
Your morning adorable: Beatboxing cockatiel struts his stuff

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: chesawoo via YouTube

New plan for maintenance at Whittier Narrows Recreation Area is designed with nesting birds in mind

Great Blue Heron

When local ornithologist and conservationist Michael San Miguel heard the call of a marsh wren that had apparently been disturbed by an effort to cut down cattails in South El Monte's Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, he went into action, e-mailing county officials and Audubon Society chapters to protest park maintenance that interfered with wildlife.

Sadly, San Miguel didn't live long enough to see changes made; he died in July while conducting a spotted owl survey in the San Gabriel Mountains. But his concern for Whittier Narrows' birds has led to a new, more bird-friendly maintenance plan for the park in which tree-trimming and the cutting of vegetation will be restricted to winter months when it's less likely to interfere with nesting.

"But no matter what time of the year it is, if a bird is nesting nearby, we will stop trimming and cutting," said Mickey Long, natural areas administrator for the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department. The plan does allow for work to be done outside the winter months if it's needed to rectify a safety issue, such as the removal of a dangerous tree limb.

The move toward a new maintenance plan will impact an area frequented not just by marsh wrens, but also by great blue herons, double-crested cormorants and other birds. One of the three manmade lakes in the park has been designated as a wildlife preserve, and "that lake's two islands are now regarded as bird sanctuaries," according to Long. Naturalists have welcomed the plan, which may be implemented at other regional parks if it proves successful at Whittier Narrows.

Learn more about the new park maintenance plan in environmental reporter Louis Sahagun's recent story in The Times. Read about the best times of the year to prune your own trees and shrubs at The Times' home and garden blog, L.A. at Home.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A great blue heron flies over Legg Lake in the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area in South El Monte. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

An unusual sight in downtown L.A.: Thousands of migrating Vaux's swifts delight birdwatchers

Vaux's Swifts

Southern California birdwatchers are celebrating the return of a tiny bird called the Vaux's swift to L.A.'s downtown area. Vaux's swifts have taken up residence in the unused chimney of the Chester Williams Building at the intersection of Broadway and 5th Street, and the local Audubon Society chapter is inviting the public to take a peek during two bird-viewing parties over the next few weeks.

Vaux's swifts prefer to nest in hollow tree trunks, but a chimney will do in a pinch, and members of the species have been known to roost by the thousands in abandoned urban chimneys along their migratory paths. These particular Vaux's swifts are expected to stay in L.A. until early October before continuing south for the winter, according to the Los Angeles Downtown News.

The tiny birds aren't new to L.A.'s downtown; for years, they used the chimney of the Nabisco Bakery Building as a stopover on their trip south. (They were forced to find a new nesting spot when the building was converted into lofts and the chimney was sealed, the Downtown News reports.)

Vaux's swifts are diminutive gray-brown birds closely related to chimney swifts and sometimes mistaken for bats by urban dwellers unused to seeing small, rapidly flapping creatures in the sky. You can see them with the added benefit of expert commentary and Audubon Society-provided binoculars at the organization's free Birds Over Broadway events Friday and Oct. 1. Both events begin at 6 p.m. on the top floor of Joe's Auto Park, 440 S. Broadway.

Sightings of endangered least Bell's vireos in Playa Vista area hearten bird lovers
San Juan Capistrano's famous swallows take up residence in Chino Hills

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Vaux's swifts fly with a view of the moon in downtown L.A. before traveling north on April 23. They're once again in downtown as they prepare to fly south for the winter. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times


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