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Birds of the Laguna de Santa Rosa


Birds of the Laguna de Santa Rosa

by Lisa Hug

The natural area of the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed is a patchwork of forests, woodlands, grasslands and wetlands that provide habitat for over 200 species of birds. Some of these birds are resident, staying in the area throughout the year. Some of these birds are only in the Laguna during the winter, or only in the summer. Still others only pass through in the spring and fall.  The birdlife in the Laguna is always changing.

February is a transition month from cold rainy winter to warm breezyspring. Our -large and majestic mascot of the Laguna – the Great Blue Heron -  is growing its special breeding plumes used to attract members of the opposite sex.  Both sexes are adorned with these magnificent feathers. 

The colorful ducks of the Laguna wetlands are choosing mates for spring in February.  Two of the most spectacular ducks in the Laguna are the Hooded Merganser and the Wood Duck.  Both of these species will nest in tree hollows. Both species will choose their mates during the winter while residing in the food-rich Laguna waterways. The Hooded Mergansers however, leave the area to go further north. But the Wood Ducks will stay in the local area and nest.  Some of these tree-hollow nests can be 50 feet high. Imagine being a Wood Duck nestling, looking 50 feet straight down and knowing that you have to make that jump to survive!

If we look overhead, we will see that the Laguna sky is peppered withhawks and they are very active in February. The Red-shouldered Hawk is calling loudly to its prospective mates. The White-tailed Kite is hovering over the field, appearing like an angel through the morning mist.

While many birds of the Laguna are large and colorful, most of the beautiful sounds of the Laguna come from the small and inconspicuous species. The common Song Sparrow begins singing in February. Most people would think it’s pretty plain. It’s small and brown. It hides in bushes.  But when it sings, it can make the dreariest of winter days feel warm. Its voice is clear, melodic and complex, with just a hint that it might really want to be a growling jazz-singer.

The tiniest birds in the Laguna are the hummingbirds. You might think such tiny birds wouldn’t  want to be in Northern California in cold February. But, this is their most active month. Our resident Anna’s Hummingbird is already sitting on nests with eggs or even babies! And, our beloved Allen’s Hummingbird arrives from central Mexico. As soon the male arrives, he begins his complex mating display. He makes continuous U-shaped flights, swinging back and forth, while his wings whir.  Each progressive “top” of the letter U is higher and than the previous one.  Then, abrupt silence. He ascends up to nearly 100 feet high. From this height, he goes into a head-first stoop until he is just above a low shrub. Here, he stops by spreading his tail. This action creates friction with the air, simultaneously slowing him down and making a very loud “pop” sound. This dance is very effective with his sparkling orange throat flashing in all directions. Any female would swoon.

February is a transition month for the birds of the Laguna. Go out into theLaguna de Santa Rosa and experience it for yourself! Hike the Laguna Trail that connects Highway 12 to Occidental Road just east of Sebastopol. Watch the White-tailed Kite hover as it spies on its potential vole prey. Perhaps a hungry Great Blue Heron might have its eye on capturing the same crafty vole.  Listen for the beautiful Song Sparrow voice. Stop at the pond and admire the colors of the waterfowl. And search for the flying orange jewel, otherwise known as the Allen’s Hummingbird. 

You can learn about the status and seasonality of all the birds of the Laguna de Santa Rosa by ordering a newly published bird checklist on the Laguna de Santa Rosa website: While you are on the website, check out the many educational programs the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation offers. You can also stop by Great Blue Heron Hall on the second Saturday of any month. Also, look out for the “Birds of the Laguna de Santa Rosa” series coming up this spring.

photos © Thomas Reynolds