The Birds of Bidwell Park (and in Your Home Garden)

This week In a North State Garden has the pleasure of interviewing Drs. Carole Burr and Roger Lederer, a husband and wife team based in Chico who in 2010 published a lovely little handbook entitled “The Birds of Bidwell Park.” Going into its second printing as I write, the book is dedicated to the founding mother of Chico, Annie Bidwell. A manageable 83-page field guide to 80 of the birds you are likely to see while walking or hiking in Bidwell Park, the book was in part inspired by Carol and Roger’s granddaughter Olivia Calvin, who is an artist following in her grandmother’s footsteps. “Without interest in and dedication to the protection of our natural resources by our and future generations, our lives and theirs will be diminished in countless tangible and intangible ways. We need to foster the interest of those coming after us through exposure to the beauty and importance of the natural world,” they write in the opening Acknowledgements of the book. Although highlighting the birds found in Bidwell Park, given the size, range and diversity of habitat that is Bidwell Park, the book is easily a guide to many of the birds you are likely to see in the North State generally. And the birds you may very well want to attract to your home garden. Photo: An acorn woodpecker hangs beneath a granary tree branch in Upper Bidwell Park.

There is something about birds that I think most gardeners if not most people find inherently fascinating. Could simply be their amazing gift of flight, but I think it’s more than that. They bring a rainbow of colors and patterns to the garden. They bring music to the garden with their many songs and sounds – from chirpy cheerful chat, soothing calls, ear-catching gentle melodies to piercing shrieks of a falcon nearby. And they bring movement, from the littlest wrens playing in the duff beneath bushes and in the undergrowth of the garden, to the often upside down climbing along branches and tree trunks of nuthatches and woodpeckers, to the almost silent soaring of the vultures overhead in summer, their shadows on my lawn reminding me of fish circling in a bowl. Photo: An early cover design for The Birds of Bidwell Park – featuring Carol Burr’s drawing of a cedar waxwing.

Birds animate our gardens, complementing and completing a circle of life with our plants. Birds – and all wildlife really – add wonderful and sometimes quirky personalities (beyond our own) to our gardens and provide very literal proof that our gardens, and we, are part of something far bigger. Photo: A goldfinch rests between feeding on the branch of crepe myrtle in winter.

Birds in the garden is always a topic of interest to gardeners – in any season: which birds are visiting our area at what times of year, how to attract them to the garden, how to care for them once they are there. Photo: Goldfinches play and wash in a handwrought bird bath with a sprinkler going off in a native plant garden bed.

Carol, a native of New Jersey, and Roger, a native of Illinois, met while teaching at CSU, Chico in the early 1970s. Roger became interested in birds by way of a wonderful professor he had while in college – he had thought he would study fish, another life-long interest of his. Walking with the two of them one morning, cameras and binoculars in hand, we see, watch and discuss close to 20 different species of birds in a 45 minute stroll near the Five Mile Recreation area of Bidwell Park. Turkey vultures were hunkered down in the tops of leafless tall trees, acorn woodpeckers, flickers and a nuthatch worked the mid story of the forest – putting acorns here and there, creeping rightside up and upside down looking for bugs and whatnot in the bark of the winter oaks; oak titmice, phoebes, towhees, ruby-crowned kinglets, sparrows and warblers darted from the undergrowth scrub to the open grass areas, from the water’s edge to the tree canopies looking for their food and fun. All the while Carol and Roger told stories of the different birds, their habits and histories. Just what you will find in their book. Photo: Top: Carol Burr’s illustration of an acorn woodpecker. Below: Author Roger Lederer and artist Carol Burr.

For “The Birds of Bidwell Park,” Carol, Professor Emeritus of English from CSU Chico, drew the elegant illustrations. Many of her drawings illustrate not only the colors and shapes of a bird, but often a bit of its personality as well. At the risk of anthropomorphizing these wonderful creatures, many of which could be offended by such insinuation, I will say that to me Carol’s illustration of the Great Horned Owl has captured nicely what I think of as this large bird’s general aura of disdain and dismissal. In winter, we have two Great Horned Owls which roost in the oaks near our garden and you can hear their deep resonant calls in the dark of late evening and early morning. Catch site of them in the day and they sleepily look away or around you – sideways glance is about all you’ll warrant. Likewise, her illustration of the Barn and Cliff Swallows captures these birds’ swift, darting flight and seemingly inquisitive and engaging gaze. Photo: Carol Burr’s illustration of a great horned owl.

Roger, ornithologist and Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at CSU Chico, wrote the book and his descriptions flesh out what Carol’s illustrations hint at. For each bird, Roger tells us what to look for when identifying them, including their colors and specific markings as well as their behavior. He discusses what time of year and in what kind of habitat we are likely to spot them in the North State, and additionally, almost every one of Roger’s description adds one or more tidbits of interest about the bird’s natural history, for instance the interesting story about the original introduction to the United States of the starling – one of Roger’s favorite birds to watch. Photo: Top: A bald eagle fishes over an open mountain lake. Bottom: Carol Burr’s illustration of a European starling.

Different legends and keys provided in the book – right at the top of each page – quickly and easily tell you what kinds of habitats each bird likes, as well what time of year you are likely to see them. The book includes almost all the information that most easy going gardener types might need to get started identifying the birds they see while out walking in the bigger wilder garden of the North State open spaces such as Bidwell Park, or in their own home gardens. Photo: Birds actively coming and going on the handy perch of a century plant’s flower stalk. Don’t be too quick to cut your plants back and they will help to attract ever more birds to your garden.

With just a little careful observation and extrapolation, most gardeners can use the information found in the book to learn more about how to attract your favorite birds to your garden. When I asked Roger and Carole what tips they have for gardeners wanting to attract a wide variety of birds, Roger’s response summed it up so well: “The more complex and interesting the plants in your garden, the more complex and interesting your bird life will be. And don’t be too tidy.” Photo: Sapsuckers enjoying some leftover persimmon fruit.

Put most simply – birds need just what we need: a variety of food accessible year-round, clean water, shelter for making a home and nest, or just to rest while fedding or migrating, shelter from the weather and shelter from predators (not necessarily all the same place). Food can be seasonal bird feeders – shelter can be bird houses, but both food and shelter can also be provided by the kinds of plants or areas that the birds rely on in the wild. Plants or places that will have nectar, berries or bugs they like to eat – this could be dead wood, this could be open ground for them to dig in and peck out grubs and worms. Looking through this book, you will begin to learn the names of your favorite birds. Using this book to help you observe these birds more closely will help you to learn some of the plants – especially native plants – the birds would thrive on in your garden. Photo: A hummingbird sips nectar from a salvia. Many good native and adapted plants including salvias, California fuchsias, agastaches and penstemons bear the fluted flowers that hummingbirds love. Photo: Carol Burr’s illustration of a white-breasted nuthatch.

For more information on “The Birds of Bidwell Park” and Dr. Carol Burr and Dr. Roger Lederer, visit Roger’s site at: http://www.ornithology.com/, or read his fairly regular entries at: http://www.norcalblogs.com/birds/2010/05/the-birds-of-bidwell-park.html. Roger is happy to go on bird walks with groups large or small, if you would like to see if he is available, give him a call: 530- 343-1117. Photo: Swallows fill the evening air above a twisty creek with both sound and movement as they devour the evening’s hatch of bugs.

Want to learn more about the birds of our area and how to support them? We in the North State live in the amazing Pacific Flyway – one of the world’s largest corridors for migratory birds moving north and south in spring and fall. I suggest you take a drive to some open water sometime soon to check out the loud and lively activity of traveling birds that is taking place around you throughout the winter months especially. Yo may also want to visit the Audubon Society’s annual Snowgoose Festival taking place in and around Butte County at the end of January: Photo: Waterfowl resting on open water as they make they migration through the North State.


January 27 -30 – Chico: Snowgoose Festival – Experience the Wonders of the Pacific Flyway Over 50 guided field trips and workshops; Junior Naturalist Activities; Art Exhibition & Reception and Avenue 9 Gallery & The Artistry; Banquet and Silent Auction – John Muir Law, Naturalist; Exhibits and Vendors Galore! Registration begins in early December: www.snowgoosefestival.org; 530-345-1865; info@snowgoosefestival.org. Photo: A mallard duck mother and her brood on their way from our home garden back to the nearby creek.

The festival will include many good workshops and field trips for all levels of naturalists, as well as this gardening specific workshop on Attracting Wildlife to the Garden, presented by John Whittlesey, owner of Canyon Creek Nursery & Design in Oroville:
$7 Adult ; $5 Youth
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Location: Chico Masonic Family Center
Description: Gardens can be more than attractive settings for homes and ways to meet the functional needs of people. With thought, planning, and wise plant choices, gardens can be designed to create inviting habitat for wildlife as well as people. I will talk about factors to consider when designing a habitat garden, including the types of plants to use, with an emphasis on California native plants, and gardening practices that will encourage more birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife to come into the garden.

Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook – become a fan today! Photo:A little house wren cheeps on the porch railing of a North State home garden.

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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6 Responses

  1. gamerjohn says:

    Damn starlings. Just read that they were brought to America by some rich nut who wanted to have each of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's plays and poems in New York's Central Park. Since then from a couple dozen there are millions of the invaders forcing out native birds.

  2. Pamela says:

    This is a wonderful article, and the photos are simply magnificent!

  3. While traveling to Biggs this past weekend, I noticed the open waters flanking the 99 were blanketed with beautiful white birds…snow geese, I imagine. A beautiful sight! Thanks for the nice post.

  4. yeah,I just thought you might want to know that your blog is messed up whenever you view it on my iphone. I?m not certain if it's something to complete with my telephone?s browser or your site? just saying…

  5. Mary H Hayden says:

    My friend and I were sitting in her back  yard when suddenly 2 bright gold birds perched on a wooden pole.  They were the size of an adult blue Jay. They seemed to be together. They flew to the top of an oak tree. There were a few more of them in the oak. They remained there flying back and forth for 1/2 hour.

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