[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 18
1929 - Swift justice: Thomas Vernon sentenced to life in prison for Saugus train derailment & robbery 1 month earlier [story]

Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Jan 23, 2014

evelynevandersande_mugA friend was complaining about bird identification a few weeks ago. “I go outside and I can recognize a scrub jay and a mourning dove, but that’s about it. There are all those little birds fluttering about, and I have no clue what there are. How do I start to learn about them and recognize one from the other?”

Of course, always a good way to learn about birds is to come to a bird walk. There is one at Placerita Canyon State Park on the second Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and another one at the Castaic Lake Recreation Area on the first Saturday of the month at 8 a.m. It is a good way to learn the basics. Do not be intimidated. All levels of birders come to those walks. Just bring binoculars and a field guide.

A field guide is just a bird book with pictures explaining what the bird looks like, where you usually find it, and a few facts about its behavior. If you do not have a bird book, I recommend buying one with drawings of the birds versus photos of the birds, because they are a bit easier to use for identification. The artist makes sure all of the important specifics of the birds are easy to see, while a picture is just a fleeting instant snapshot of a bird.  Sometimes the picture does not clearly show every little detail, such as a spot under the belly or bars on a wing.

blackphoebeIf you just want to stay in your backyard and don’t want to look for a bird that’s just passing though in migration, or one that’s difficult to identify, I will choose something easy to see: the black phoebe.

It has a pretty name and it is here year-round. It is a good-sized bird, a bit chunky, larger than a house finch, and has only two colors: black with a white belly. So that is easy to remember. Male and female look the same, and both sing.

In this case, knowing its behavior makes the identification easier: They pump their tails up and down incessantly when perched.

They also have a small crest often worn flat on their head, but it gives them a funny look like they are wearing a beret.

One main reason you will see this bird so easily in your garden, on the paseo or in every city park is because of one crucial feature: the sprinkler system. Actually, often you can see a black phoebe perched on a sprinkler head, due to its need for water.

It belongs to the flycatcher family, which is the largest bird family on Earth. It is an insectivore, has a straight and thin beak, and won’t come to your bird feeder. It waits on a perch about 7 feet off the ground before flying out and catching its prey in the air.

Black phoebes eat bees, wasps, flies, beetle bugs, grasshoppers, spiders, etc. They can even catch small minnows from the surface of a pond. They feed mostly during the day but can also catch insects in the evening around an electric light.

BlackPhoebeInFlightThey are not shy and sometimes come really close to inspect what you are doing. When I put my bird cages outside, one often comes to see what is going on and perches on the back of a garden chair, checking us out for a good, long while.

They can be found in the chaparral, too, but they need to have a source of water because their nests are made of mud. Black phoebes are plentiful, and their number is actually increasing, based on bird surveys. Why is that? Human developments have helped them find good sites to build their nests under the eaves of buildings and under culverts and bridges.

Black phoebes are monogamous. Couples stay together during the nesting season as long as five years. They go their own way during the rest of the year.

They reuse nests from prior seasons and often raise 2 broods.

They have a neat courting ritual where the male makes a display flight in front of the female, fanning his tail and doing all kind of zig-zagging and spiraling to show off. At the end, and to impress her even more, it goes to the tree top and starts to sing with gusto. If she is in agreement, the female will decide where the nest will be built while the male will show her a few spots by hovering in front of different places.

The nest is made of mud lined with plant fibers, usually attached to a wall, taking advantage of an existing roof above for protection. The female does all of the construction herself or refurbishes her previous nest.

black phoebeThey will chase other birds from their nest if they are small, such as house finches, white-crowned sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers. If they are big like Cooper hawks or American kestrels, they will sound an alarm call and flee. On the other hand, they won’t shy away from larger predators such as coyotes, cats or ground squirrels. They will attack them swooping down and snapping their bill at them to deter them.

Why do we seem to see more black phoebes in the winter? They are resident in Southern California and do not migrate. This indicates that some individuals come from the north and go south to spend the winter with us. Also, some black phoebes move to higher elevations only during the mating season and then go back down into the valley for the rest of the year.

Why the sweet name of black phoebe? It describes the common song of the Eastern phoebe, a close relative. The black phoebe also has a sweet little 2-note call – “tee-hee” – and you will want to hear that.

Go outside. If you see a black-and-white bird, a little larger than a finch, close to your sprinkler head with a funny little patch of feathers on its head, you have it made. You made a perfect identification of a black phoebe.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 28 years. She lives in Newhall.


Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

1 Comment

  1. Kathy McAlpine says:

    This is my favorite bird to watch. When they fly, it’s like watching Woodstock in Charlie Brown cartoons fly. There are tons of them at Santa Clarita Central Park every summer on the fences near the baseball fields.

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Sunday, Dec 10, 2017
Derelict since the 1994 earthquake, the Pioneer Oil Refinery in Newhall was the first productive oil refinery in the American West and is believed to be the oldest existing refinery in the world today. Unfunded restoration plans have come and gone. Now that the surrounding property is under development, will the promises be kept?
Friday, Dec 8, 2017
A National Memorial designation for St. Francis Dam will honor those who lost their lives in the nation’s worst engineering disaster and the role it played in ushering in a new era of oversight for dam construction.
Thursday, Dec 7, 2017
Eliminating net neutrality would allow Internet service providers such as Verizon, Comcast, Spectrum and AT&T to create a “slow lane” and a “fast lane” on the Internet, prioritizing certain companies over others and dictating what websites you’re able to visit and at what speed, or even blocking you entirely from visiting certain websites of your choice.
Monday, Dec 4, 2017
In his monthly message for December 2017, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin encourages residents to shop and party locally during the holidays to keep the cash in our community.
Friday, Dec 1, 2017
The big day is almost upon us and a year of celebrations is wrapping up. On December 15, 2017 our city will officially be 30 years old.
Thursday, Nov 30, 2017
Create and decorate your own holiday wreaths, centerpieces, candles and ornaments using a large assortment of fresh-cut greenery, pine cones and other beautiful natural treasures this weekend at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is reminding the public about criminals who are posing as government agencies and using the telephone as part of an extortion scam.
Sheriff: Beware of Phone Scams by Impostors
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce will host an open house at its new headquarters in Valencia on Thursday, January 4 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Jan. 4: Open House at New SCV Chamber of Commerce Office
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce has opened nominations for 2017 business awards in four categories.
Nominations Now Open for SCV Chamber 2017 Awards
Here's the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station's public safety report for Newhall (Zone 6) for the week of December 4.
Crime Blotter: Spousal Assault, Robbery, Grand Theft in Newhall
1929 - Swift justice: Thomas Vernon sentenced to life in prison for Saugus train derailment & robbery 1 month earlier [story]
A transformative epoch in Santa Clarita Valley history drew to an uncharacteristically quiet close Saturday with the death of Bobbie Trueblood Davis at age 93.
Pre-City Leader Bobbie Trueblood Davis Dies at 93
"The final tax reform bill released punishes homeowners and weakens homeownership, and in fact, it looks at homeowners and the housing market as nothing more than a piggy bank," said C.A.R. President Steve White.
Realtors: Final GOP Tax Bill Punishes Homeowners
1925 - Jenks Harris robs Piru bank of $11,000 [story]
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]
The National Weather Service has called a Fire Weather Watch for this weekend for Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains and valleys including the Santa Clarita Valley due to gusty northeast wind and low relative humidity.
Weekend Fire Weather Watch Called for SCV
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies arrested a 21-year-old man who had an outstanding warrant and was allegedly in possession of cocaine in Canyon Country early Thursday.
Bicyclist Arrested for Warrant, Cocaine in Canyon Country
Valencia-based Princess Cruises, voted the #1 international cruise line in Japan, announced its 2019 program featuring Japanese-built Diamond Princess returning for her sixth season, sailing roundtrip from Tokyo (Yokohama) and Kobe.
Princess Cruises Unveils 2019 Japan Cruise Program
Valencia-based Princess Cruises released its 2019 Canada and New England cruise schedule, featuring Regal Princess and Caribbean Princess on the line’s largest fall deployment and the opportunity to visit Greenland roundtrip from New York
Princess Cruises Sets Fall 2019 Cruises to Canada, New England
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department looks back at five years of work by its Domestic Highway Enforcement Team, which has disrupted the operations of the drug cartels by confiscating millions of dollars in illegal drugs and drug money.
Elite LASD Drug Enforcement Team Disrupts Cartel Operations
College of the Canyons quarterback Andrew Brito, wide receiver Desean Holmes and linebacker KJ Latu have been named to the 2017 Region III All-California Community College Football Team.
Brito, Holmes, Latu Represent Cougars on All-State Team
Tickets and sponsorships are now available for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's 2018 awards ceremony and installation of new officers at Tournament Players Club in Valencia on Friday night, January 26.
Jan. 26: SCV Chamber of Commerce 2018 Awards, Installation Gala
Sponsorships are now open for the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation's 2018 Economic Outlook Conference, set for Thursday, March 8, 2018 at a location to be announced shortly.
SCV 2018 Economic Outlook Conference Tickets, Sponsorships Open
SetPoint Medical, a Valencia-based biomedical company developing therapy for chronic inflammatory diseases, has received approval from the FDA to initiate a pilot trial in the U.S. for patients with drug-refractory rheumatoid arthritis.
FDA OK’s SetPoint Bioelectronic Therapy Study for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., representing the United States - and states and regions leading on climate across the globe - joined world leaders at the One Planet Summit Tuesday, the two-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement.
Brown in Paris: ‘We Can’t Wait for White House to Wake Up’
The regular Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 19 has been canceled, according to a notification from the city of Santa Clarita today.
City Cancels Dec. 19 Planning Commission Meeting
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, December 19, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Dec. 19: L.A. County Board of Supervisors Meeting
L.A. County's Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force officials unveiled their final recommendations, endorsing a plan to use a voluntary system of trackable bracelets to find people prone to wandering, like those suffering from Alzheimer’s or autism.
County Task Force Calls for Tracking Bracelets to Locate Lost Individuals
The Community Development Commission of the county of Los Angeles looks back on 35 years of advancing its core program areas: affordable housing and housing, community and economic development.
County Community Development Commission Marks 35th Anniversary
Metro is seeking two new members to join the Measure M Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee.
Metro Seeks 2 New Measure M Oversight Committee Members
The California Air Resources Board approved a $663 million low-carbon transportation plan Thursday to increase the use of clean cars, heavy-duty trucks, buses and freight equipment.
Air Resources Board OK’s $663 Million for Clean Vehicles
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station has released its public safety and crime information report for Saugus (Zone 4) for December 4-10, 2017.
Crime Blotter: Shoplifting, Petty Theft in Saugus
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed his strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s illegal attempt to suspend the 2015 Clean Water Rule for two years.
California AG, 10 Others Oppose Feds’ Suspension of Clean Water Rule
Conservation groups on Friday lobbied a federal judge for permission to join a fight between the federal government and a ranching association over a trio of California amphibian species.
Conservationists Lobby to Join Fray Over Frog Habitat
1987 - Incorporation: Santa Clarita officially becomes a city [story]
With an offense that challenged the program’s single-season goals record, The Master’s University women’s soccer team was almost almost never out of any game it played: The Mustangs were always within striking range.
Lady Mustangs Within Range of Directors’ Cup Top Spots
When Ed Jackiewicz met Tera Trujillo in spring 2015, she was studying at a desk she’d carried to the corner of the California State University, Northridge soccer field, in a “time out” of sorts, unable to practice because she’d just earned a D in an economics class.
CSUN’s “Under Armour Faculty” Promotes Academic Success in Student-Athletes
When Rafael Munoz recalls his time at the Layer 8 Computer Security Club at California State University, Northridge, he feels proud and thankful.
CSUN’s Tech Education Makes Top 10 List
The city of Santa Clarita Arts and Events division is currently seeking proposals for solo exhibits for 2018 in the gallery space at The MAIN, the City’s newest arts venue in Old Town Newhall.
City Seeking Artists for 2018 Solo Exhibits
NORTHRIDGE, Calif.---CSUN Men's Basketball returns to the road for the final time in the non-conference season this weekend.
CSUN to Face-Off Against Formal Rival Eastern Washington
Here is a list of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Friday:
Dec. 15: Santa Clarita Arts Calendar
This Friday and Saturday (Dec. 15-16), The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance brings their annual Winter Dance Concert to the REDCAT stage.
Dec. 15, 16: Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Concert at REDCAT