Osprey Sighting in Rocklin 1-11-2017

In between the deluge of rain that the latest January storm has brought us, the sun decided to make an appearance for a day before the rain returned. We happened to catch sight of an Osprey passing through the local Rocklin area on this day. It is difficult to tell from the photos but this bird is much larger in size than many of the raptors we commonly see in the area. It also has a a voice distinctly different from other local birds. The Osprey spent some time hovering in one spot before deciding to move on. Our resident Red Shouldered Hawks did not seem to be keen on its presence in their territory as there was quite a bit of vocal activity going on while the Osprey was present.

Return of the Monarchs

     Since the decline in the population of Monarch Butterflies over the past years it has been rare to see any individuals pass through the Rocklin CA region.  (Button bushes and purple thistle flowers growing in wetlands nearby used to attract a passing Monarch in the older days.  In recent past years one might catch a glimpse of an orange butterfly fluttering past only to realize upon closer inspection that it was not a Monarch but instead a Gulf Fritillary sp.)

Cooper's Hawk

(Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper's Hawk adult Rocklin CA Placer-County

Cooper's Hawks are designed for hunting in a forested habitat. Short, rounded wings, and long tail help this accipeter maneuver with speed among the trees as it hunts for prey. The adult hawk in this first image was watching a group of quail moving through the blackberry brush below. It is interesting to note that flying at high speeds through wooded areas sometimes proves to be hazardous to the birds -- in a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone. The Cooper's Hawk gets its name from the American naturalist William Cooper (1798–1864), one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History which later became the New York Academy of Sciences (Cooper collected the first specimen of the species in 1828).

With a diet of mostly other birds (and occasionally small mammals), they are often seen hanging around backyard bird feeders waiting for their next meal to arrive. Over the years Cooper's Hawks have adapted to living near humans and are now fairly common urban and suburban birds. One of the human caused hazards to Cooper's Hawks and other raptors has been ingesting rodenticides from poisoned prey. Accumulation of these poisons can cause liver damage and a slow death from internal bleeding. Recently as 2015, some EPA restrictions were placed on these substances that may help reduce numbers of deaths caused by this type of poisoning. To read more about this subject follow this link (Raptors and Rat Poison).

Due to its similarity to the Sharp-Shinned Hawk the Cooper's Hawk can prove to be a challenge for an untrained eye to ID. In general Cooper's Hawks are larger in size than the Sharp-Shinned, have a rounded tail compared to the square tail of the Sharp-Shinned, and have a dark gray cap on their head that is distinct from their pale gray nape and neck area. For more information about how to determine the identity of a Cooper's Hawk versus a Sharp-Shinned species visit this helpful link (Project FeederWatch, tricky bird IDs, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk). (All efforts were made to correctly ID the hawks in the photos of this posting however it is possible that mistakes were made -- if found please note correction and send to the contact us section of this blog.)

Red-Shouldered Hawk

(Buteo lineatus)

The Red-shouldered Hawk species is divided into five subspecies. Four are found in the eastern US and come in contact with each other while the single western subspecies remains isolated from the others by about 1000 miles. Opposed to the more densely forested habitat of the eastern subspecies, hawks of the western US typically reside in riparian areas, oak woodlands, and suburban areas with large trees. Previously they were only found in California and southern Oregon but in recent years their range has expanded north into Washington. In the mid-20th century pesticides such as DDT had an effect on populations of the past. Today ingesting prey poisoned by rodenticides is among the hazards they face. Currently the biggest threat to Red-shouldered Hawks is habitat loss.

Red-shouldered Hawks can be distinguished from other similar species by their long banded tails that allow them make sharp turns and the crescent-shaped translucent markings across their outer wings that can be seen when the feathers are backlit. They are smaller in size than Red-tailed Hawks. Capable of killing prey equal to their own size or smaller they capture it by dropping directly onto it from above. Sometimes birds will cache food near their nest site for a later meal.

White-Tailed Kite

(Elanus leucurus)

White-tailed Kites feed almost exclusively on rodents and can be seen at heights up to 80 feet above, facing into the wind, and hovering over prey below before dropping to ambush their meal. This behavior of being able to hold a stationary position in the air without flapping is known as "kiting". Due to shooting and egg collection in the 1930s/40s the White-tailed Kite population dropped to numbers that almost led to extinction. Land development and modern farming techniques also removed nesting trees and cover vegetation for its main prey item the vole. Conservation efforts have helped them make a come back today although their distribution is still patchy. The California Department of Fish and Game set aside grazed pastures in northern CA which help support about 10 times the number of raptors today, including White-tailed Kites. It is thought that the introduction of the house mouse from Europe may also have played a part in helping increase their numbers. The species is somewhat rare in the Rocklin location -- sightings by the author have been mostly in late Oct to Nov (also in Jan 2015) when they seem to be passing through the area alone or in small groups.

Turkey Vulture

(Cathartes aura)

The Turkey Vulture belongs to the family of New World Vultures. Their scientific name Cathartes aura comes from the Latin "purifying breeze". They can be found from the southern tip of South America through out the Americas to the lower regions of Canada. In our local area they are commonly seen soaring on the thermals rising up from the foothills. Turkey Vultures keep cool in the heat of the day by a process called urohidrosis in which they defecate/urinate on their non-feathered legs and feet to cool the blood running through surface vessels by evaporation. This process usually causes the white apprearance of their legs and feet from the uric acid in material expelled.

While roosting at night Turkey Vultures lower their body temperature by as much as 6° to a temperature of about 34° Celsius (93°F). This may explain their behavior of spreading their wings open in the early morning as the sun rises to soak up heat before taking flight. It is also thought that this sun-bathing behavior may help to bake the bacteria from their wings and dry them from dampness. Because Turkey Vultures do not have a syrinx (which is the vocal organ of birds) they only produce sound of low grunts and hisses. These sounds are usually made when threatened or during courting rituals.

Size = 24 to 32 in.

Weight = 1.8 to 5.1 lb.

Wingspan = 63 to 72 in

Diet consists of carrion which they locate by smell.
In much of the southern US resides year-round. Northern birds (typically in the west) can migrate long distances without feeding, some reaching South America. Western birds migrate in flocks.
Turkey Vultures do not build nests but rather choose a favorable location that is isolated and typically much cooler than surroundings (by 13°F or more).

Nest Location = rock crevices, caves, ledges, thickets, mammal burrows and hollow logs, fallen trees, abandoned hawk or heron nests, and abandoned buildings.

Clutch size = 1 to 3 eggs. 1 brood

Incubation = 28 to 40 days.

Fledging = 9 to 10 weeks.


  1. "Turkey Vulture, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Turkey Vulture". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Turkey Vulture". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.

Great Egret

(Ardea alba)

The Great Egret along with its cousin species the Snowy Egret were once in danger of disappearing in America when their plumes were collected to decorate fashionable hats in the late 1800s. In a 9 month period it was calculated that as many as 130,000 birds were killed to collect their plumes for the London market alone. Among others their plight motivated conservationists Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall to form the Massachusetts Audubon Society which was the beginnings of our National Audubon Society. Over time the species made a comeback. In 1953 the National Audubon Society adopted the Great Egret as its emblem symbol where it can be seen in the logo today.

Local Great Egrets are commonly seen most of the year wading in wetland areas or even in backyard ponds waiting to ambush their wet meal below. They can be distinguished from both the all white Cattle Egret and Snowy Egret due to their larger size.

Nuttall's Woodpecker

(Picoides nuttallii)

Named after naturalist Thomas Nuttall in 1843, the Nuttall's woodpecker resides primarily in California (although a few can be found a short distance into Baja and rarely in Oregon). They reside year round in their oak grove chaparral habitat foraging for insects among the trees. Members of a bonded pair remain together most all year. As primary cavity nesters that do not reuse their nest site year to year, they excavate new holes in live or dead trees like cottonwoods, willows, sycamores or even utility poles. These spaces later prove useful as nest sites to other similar sized bird species within the habitat.

Northern Flicker

(Colaptes auratus)

Although now considered just one species, there are two different forms of Northern Flickers. In the east and north the Yellow-shafted Flicker can be found while Red-shafted Flickers are the form we find here in the west. Differences between the forms can be seen more easily on birds in flight since the red or yellow coloration is found under the tail and on the primary feather shafts of their underwings. The two forms can interbreed in areas where their range comes in contact. It has been observed that Red-shafted Northern Flickers spend the winters in our local area and usually arrive from their migratory trip in mid-September.

Despite being a member of the woodpecker family, Northern Flickers spend more of their time foraging for insects on the ground (even though they can use their beaks to hammer through wood). Having the ability to probe underground with a tongue that can protrude as much as 2 inches beyond the tip of their bill allows the flicker to capture nutritious ant larvae. Ants can make up 45% of the flicker's diet. Flickers also use ants as a means to keep them free of parasites with a behavior called anting, where they use the acid from the ants to assist in preening. Other than insects, their diet also consists of berries and seeds especially in the winter. Berries often are the source of pigments that either of the two forms of flickers incorporate into their feathers. This information along with presence of a type of invasive honeysuckle berry helped solve a mystery of how birds with reddish coloration (previously assumed only to be determined by genetics) were found thousands of miles east of the hybrid zone in the 1960s. For more information about this topic follow the link to this article here (Mystery Solved: Invasive Berries to Blame for Turning Flickers’ Feathers Pink).

Northern Flickers do behave like the other members of their woodpecker family by drumming on objects as a form of communication or territory defense. Sometimes they will even drum on metal objects to make as loud a noise as possible.


(Charadrius vociferus)

Killdeers are the kings of camouflage especially when it comes to their nesting habits.....this photo was taken in the gravel parking lot across from Sierra College.

Mother bird feigns injury to distract those in the vicinity of her nest and lure them out of the area....

Length: 7.9 to 11 inches

Weight: 2.6 to 4.5 oz

Wingspan: 18.1 to 18.9 inches

Lifespan: The oldest recorded Killdeer was at least 10 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Kansas.

Diet consists of

Nest built of

Clutch size =

Incubation =

Fledging =

Killdeer chick photographed early morning 6-21-17 near Monte Verde Park, Rocklin CA. Parent birds were nearby and displaying broken-wing behavior in attempts to lure photographer away from chick.


  1. "Killdeer, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "Killdeer". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "Killdeer". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.

California Thrasher

(Toxostoma redivivum)

But for its unusual looking long curved bill, the California Thrasher might seem like just another drab brown bird however it possesses several qualities that make it unique. California is the only US state in which it resides and its range does not extend much further south than Baja California. Of the Thrasher species found in the West it is the only one to be found along the California coast. Unfortunately with increasing urbanization it has disappeared from many coastal areas.

The California Thrasher belongs to the Mimidae family of bird which also includes the well-known mockingbird. Mimids are notable for their vocalization, with some species that have the ability to mimic the songs of other birds as well as other outdoor sounds. The California Thrasher is an expert mimic with a song that is a little less repetitious than its mockingbird cousin. It is the largest bird in the Mimidae family and unlike other Thrasher species it has dark-colored eyes. Its short wings and prominent curved bill gives it a slightly awkward appearance (one can't help wondering if this bird wasn't an inspiration for the muppet "Gonzo"). Its uses this bill to turn over leaf litter and excavate the soil to find an insect meal.

Although the California Thrasher is relatively common where it occurs, its populations have declined by about 35% between 1966 and 2015 (according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey). It appears on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. The species rates a 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score.