Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association Providing interpretive programs for the public

Birds

RED TAILED HAWK (Buteo Jamaicensis)
Hawks are classified into three categories, one of which are the Buteos.  Buteos are the largest of the hawks and are often times seen circling overhead looking for food.  They also are found perched on trees and have a broad wing span and broad tail.  These hawks have a distinct red or rufous coloring on their tail that may or may not have a black terminal band.  While soaring they vocalize with their hoarse 2-3 second scream.  This is a very common sound in the State Park, so keep your ears alert!

As a raptor, red tailed hawks eat meat, including small rodents like squirrels, chipmunks, and even snakes.  They have a sharp hooked beak which helps tear flesh from their prey and their claws (called talons) help capture the meal and hold the prey in place while they eat.   To help capture the prey their feet have three forward facing toes and one backward facing toe that assist the hawk in grabbing or clamping down on the prey.  Though they prefer grasslands to help spot their prey, they are also found in deserts and forests as well. Amazingly, the red tailed hawks vision is eight times as powerful as a humans vision!

Red tailed hawks are very common throughout the State Park and have adapted well to the urban edge.  They are the birds that you may see sitting on a light pole along the road or on a freeway entrance ramp.  They are in search of their next meal!  Red tailed hawks are about 22 inches long and weigh in around two to four pounds.  These birds of prey are found throughout North America and do not migrate for the winter season.  Instead they make minimal adjustments in their range to meet their dietary requirements… in other words, they go where the food is most abundant.


GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaeto)
With a wingspan of up to seven feet the golden eagle is a formidable bird of prey.  Their feathers are almost entirely dark brown with pail brown median tail bands.  These birds are found throughout much of North America and prefer to be solitary creatures.  They live to be 15 to 20 years old and their hunting territory extends up to 160 square miles!

Golden eagles eat anything from ground squirrels to snakes to even house cats!  They are well adept hunters and sometimes migrate to other lands when the food gets sparse. They breed with the same partner for life and tend to stay in their nesting territory permanently.  Females lay a clutch of one to three eggs each year.  Interestingly, both male and female golden eagles share in the rearing of the chicks.

This bird species is protected throughout the United States through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  In fact it is a felony to possess a golden eagle feather and can be punishable up to 10 years in prison or $10,000.  Native Americans are able to possess their feathers as it is a recognized part of their culture.  Though not seen often there are golden eagles that hunt in the Park on occasion.


RED-WINGED BLACK BIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
The red-winged black bird maybe one of the most common birds in North America.  Interestingly, this bird is normally associated with freshwater marshes and its breeding range extends from Northern Canada to Central America. The male birds have territories and in fact, in one region up to 15 females were found within a single male’s territory!  These birds forage during the day, looking for grain and seeds like other black birds, and roost at night.

Red-winged black birds are fiercely defensive of their nests and will try to fend off any harassing hawk, crow or even humans.  They will hover close and make an aggressive vocal attempt to get the intruder out.  These birds, known for their solid black body and bright red wing, reach about 9.5 to 10.5 inches in length.  They are unmistakable in the field… you can’t miss the red wing against the black feathers!

This bird is likely to be seen perched on a branch during breeding season.  Each nesting pair of birds will use twigs and grasses to build a cup shaped nest to hold their brood. Three to five pale blue spotted eggs will be laid by the female.  Their diet consists mainly of insects, dragonflies, beetles, butterflies, and spiders.  Their predators include the coyote, raccoon, owls, red foxes, and crows.  They play a vital role in our ecosystem by controlling the insect population.


BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
The burrowing owl is found in open landscapes throughout North and South America.  The habitat in the Park works well for this ground-dwelling bird, since it prefers grasslands, agricultural areas (which are in lands adjacent to the Park), and areas of low lying vegetation.  Unlike other owls, this species is diurnal, meaning most of its activity occurs during the day instead of the night (nocturnal).  These owls normally live to about nine years and have no natural enemies.

Adult burrowing owls have brown feathers with white speckles.  They also have distinctly long legs and big yellow eyes.  Their bellies are brown with white bars across it.  They are not much bigger than a robin — reaching about 10 inches long, with a wingspan of 21 inches.  Burrowing owls weigh in at only four pounds.   They eat small mammals, frogs, lizards, insects, and even scorpions.  They have been known to catch their food by air and by foot, the latter of which is not a common habit among owls.

This species has suffered greatly from human activity throughout its entire range.  The owl utilizes burrows of other species, such as prairie dogs.  For areas where cattle were located, such as the State Park, cows often broke their legs in the burrows and the cattle grazing operation suffered.  Consequently an eradication program was begun to kill off the ground dwelling animals.  Unfortunately not only did the burrowing creatures die, but the burrowing owls did too.  This decline in the species has prompted its listing as a Species of Special Concern throughout its range.   The last burrowing owl to be spotted in Chino Hills State Park was in the 1980s.


CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica)
California’s state bird, the California quail, is found throughout the southwestern United States.  This ground dwelling bird is easily identified with its grey coloring, white bands and black curving crest that droops forward from the top of their head.  These birds tend to breed in shrubby areas and their nests are located on the ground.  This makes their young and eggs susceptible to nest raiders, like raccoons.  Once the eggs have hatched, both parents care for the little birds.  There are normally about a dozen eggs per mother.

Their diet consists of worms, seeds, insects, and berries.  You may see them scratching at the soil.  This helps them find food and literally dig it up.  Quail are also sometimes found along the roadways in the Park.  When startled they either take off in flight or their preferred method of escape is to run on foot.  They gather in flocks called coveys and one habit they’ve taken to is a dust baths.  They have a very recognizable call, which sounds much like “Chicago.”

It is thought that some quail populations are suffering due to loss of habitat, while others think they do well on the urban-wildland interface.


CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER (Polioptila californica)
The California gnatcatcher resides in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats, both of which exist in Chino Hills State Park.  Their diet is focused mainly on insects and spiders and they prefer California sagebrush to be the dominant plant type.  Interestingly, their breeding patterns are influenced by the amount of precipitation and females tend to lay 3-4 eggs each season.  This species is highly susceptible to predation by raccoons, snakes, and even ants.

These year round residents do not migrate and their call is very easy to identify.  The “mew mew” sounds just like a baby kitten and if your quiet you can probably hear them the coastal sage. (Please note: it is considered harassment to mimic the call of the California gnatcatcher).  They average in size from about 4-4.5 inches and are slate gray in color, with a lighter colored stomach.  They also have a black cap on their heads.

This species was listed by California as a Species of Special Concern, but the United States Fish and Wildlife Service took it one step further and listed it as an Endangered Species.  This listing was done, in part, because 70-90% of its habitat has been converted to urban uses.  Roads have also played a major role in the decline of this species.  The little birds are not very good long distance flyers, so a two-lane road presents a giant obstacle to them.   In addition, increased fire frequency is another major problem as fires burn their preferred habitat and convert it to grasslands.


GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo Virginianus)
Great horned owls have distinctive, bright yellow eyes and their feathers are reddish brown. Their name comes from large ear tufts, that looks metaphorically like great horns, but that have nothing to do with hearing.  Interestingly, female great horned owls tend to be 10-20% larger than their male counterparts.  These owls tend to be 18-25″ tall with a wingspan of 36-60″ and a weight of 32-64 oz.

Wild great horned owls usually live to 13 years and most of their deaths are related to human interactions (hunting, collisions with cars, etc.).  These beautiful birds live all throughout North America. Nesting season begins in January and February and normally 2-4 eggs are laid in a nest formerly occupied by other birds.  Territories are maintained by the same pair of owls for roughly 8 years.

Great horned owls tend to be more active at dusk and have the well known “whooo whooooo whooo” call. They tend to perch on snags to watch for prey below.  Smaller prey are usually killed instantly by the large talons and then eaten whole, while larger prey are captured and taken elsewhere to be ripped apart and eaten in bits.


BARN OWL (Tyto alba)
These owls occupy habitats nearly all over the world and have the widest distribution of any land birds.  These owls are well known for setting up nests in church steeples and barns.  In the Park they may be found in tree hollows pretty high up and their wings provide silent flight.

Their white heart shaped facial disc is quite distinctive and easily identifiable.  Males and females are generally the same size with a height of 12-15″, wingspans of 42″ and weight between 15 and 20 ounces.

Barn owls are mostly nocturnal (active during the night) but may be seen at dawn or dusk.  They specialize in hunting small ground mammals, utilizing low perches like fence posts to find their next meal.  Depending on food supply, these owls can breed all year.  Most barn owls die in their first year of life and their life expectancy in the wild is only one to two years.


RAVEN (Corvus corax)
The common raven is an all black bird including the eyes, legs, and beak.  Ravens are found all throughout the Park and are easily identified in flight by their wedge shaped tail.  This inquisitive bird is confident and also solitary (they tend to be alone and aren’t social like crows).

Ravens are exceptional raiders of birds nests, eating the eggs of their fellow fliers. In fact, they’ve been known to work in pairs to eat small just hatched birds.  In addition, they are able to mimic the call of other birds.


CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
The American crow is familiar all over the continent for intellect, hoarse, cawing callings.  Their tail shape differs from ravens in that rounded and wingtip feathers are split like fingertips.  Also unlike ravens, crows are very social and tend to “hang out” together in trees. One common trait, crows share with ravens is their inquisitive nature and problem solving skills.

Crows thrive around humans, but also inhabit fields, open woodlands, and forest.  This is probably the most common bird found in the Park.  Interestingly, the crow has been largely affected by the West Nile Virus and die within one week of infection.  Please do not approach a dead bird.

Though not considered a scavenger, crows are often seen eating roadkill.  Their beaks are not capable of breaking through the skin of animals like squirrels, therefore crows must wait for the true scavengers to open the feast for foraging.


TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Turkey vultures are large black birds that are larger than most raptors, except eagles and condors.  “TV’s” are true scavengers and feed on the bodies of dead animals.  They are frequently found flying over roadways and open areas to find the carrion (dead animals).  Turkey vultures find the carrion through a well developed scent receptor in their brain.  In old cowboy flicks, turkey vultures were called buzzards.

Though technically dark brown, turkey vultures look black from a distance.  When flying turkey vultures have a distinctive “v shaped” wing pattern and often look drunk when they fly teetering from side to side.  When seen stationary, turkey vultures have red faces with no feathers.  This allows the bird to stick its head into the carrion and not (after feeding) have carrion remnants stuck in their feathers.

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