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The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


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May 2014

Birds of the Botanic Garden

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) nectaring on the rare yellow larkspur (Delphinium luteum) in our garden

An oasis in an otherwise beautiful landscape, the Regional Parks Botanic garden is loved not only by us hominids, but also by the likes of our local avian kin. On any of your botanical saunters in the garden you may have seen a group of birders gathered with binoculars pointed upward, admiring some distant brown dryad.

What bounty provides year-round splendor, sustenance, and shelter to the garden’s lucky bird residents and passersby? Flowers in our short but beautiful spring, fruit in the summer, seed in the fall and winter, and unique protection from the elements.

But more than the varying plant specimens and their resources, it is the garden’s vast diversity in habitat structures that makes it such an irresistible place to birds. Moreover, as Bart O’Brien, our Regional Parks Botanic Garden Director, illuminates, the garden provides a smorgasbord of “edges,” and these spaces are the feng-shui of a bird’s home.

It is fun to imagine the Botanic Garden as your front yard, where you can choose, at any given moment, how you want it landscaped. “Oh, today I feel like looking out through a lush northern California riparian woodland, or possibly it would be nice to linger among some cacti and enjoy the sun...”

Our beloved Es Anderson, longtime EBRPD volunteer and Botanic Garden wizard, made a short and detailed list of all the wonderful native garden plants that attract birds, not only as food but also for their specific habitat needs. As Es states, even our simple dogwoods (Cornus spp.) are “excellent wildlife plants: Being twiggy and deciduous, they provide good cover and nesting sites as well as foraging for insectivorous birds; Their fruits are a favorite of Black Headed Grosbeak, Plain Titmouse, Band-tailed Pigeon, Northern Oriole, flickers, robins, thrashers, vireos, woodpeckers, sparrows, and finches.” And as Es points out in her list, California natives, even when grown far from their particular native ranges, can become excellent habitat for local birds.1
As the garden’s devoted staff and volunteers—and most folks reading this—know, the garden is a rookery of sorts for its bird residents. In spring, the weekly plant sales afford us a visit to the black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) nursery. Nesting under the eaves of the Potting Shed, a family of these spritely flycatchers has dived in and out, raising their young, for generations. 
Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
 In addition, it doesn’t hurt to have some nature-loving guardian angels around in case a young phoebe that isn’t quite ready to fledge somehow makes it out of its nest.

Visitors might also spot Swainson's thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) nesting among the ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus), scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica) collecting acorns from rare oak trees, and hummingbirds sipping from rare plants and their flowers. A real ideal situation!

Swainson's thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

Scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica

Even the garden’s manicured lawns where we picnic and convene for the annual plant sale are paradise for some birds. Golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) can often be seen in the grass near the Sierra Nevada section of the garden. And the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is sometimes seen helping the gardeners hunt small burrowing mammals on those same lawns.

Golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)

I do think the birds know that this is a place away from some of the most prevalent park users: bicycles and dogs. The sparrows stay still that much longer on the lawns, and oftentimes as folks bend over to admire the bulb beds lucky Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) and dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) go about their business foraging for food. Our pond, home to salamanders and frogs, has even served as a leisurely buffet for that rare garden visitor, the snowy egret (Egretta thula).

Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Snowy egret (Egretta thula).

On a recent visit while enjoying a beautiful spring day, it took me two hours to make it past the Visitor Center. Right over the roofline among the Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), three golden-crowned kinglets pranced up and down among the bows, just out of sight, picking at insects. At first, a group of birding friends and I got excited by the odd chance these were worm-eating warblers (Helmitheros vermivorus), the same feeling, I imagine, experienced by a botanist spotting a rare dudleya high on a cliff and not quite being able to make out the exact rosette configuration. As I took some time to flip through the field guide, I was detoured from the warblers to the kinglets and read this description: “common in mature trees, usually high in spruces and other conifers…in groups of three to eight.”2

That’s them!

Golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

As I thought about how special it was to see these kinglets, I came to the conclusion that if the garden were not here with its conifers, I probably would not have seen them naturally in Tilden Park or in this part of the East Bay; I probably would have had to be in Point Reyes or somewhere in the foothills. The birds knew that these special trees were here, as well as how ideal the situation was in our beautiful Botanic Garden, and so they came.
  —James Wilson
1.Es Anderson, Native Plants that Attract Birds to Your Garden. Copyright 1990. Regional Parks Botanic Garden- East Bay Regional Park District.

2.David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. 2003. Chanticleer Press, Inc. Knopf Books, Random House Press.
Upcoming Classes
A click here will take you to a fuller description of the class as well as the class registration form
Saturday, May 10, 9 am–5 pm Botanizing California: The Special Habitats of the Santa Cruz Mountains Class is Full
Sunday, June 8, 10 am–1 pm Creating Hypertufa Containers Space Available
Thursday-Monday, June 19-23 The Grand Redwood Country of Northwestern California: Garden Fund-Raising Trip Space Available
Saturday, June 21, 10:30 am–2:30 pm Butterflies for Beginners Space Available
Saturday, July 5, 10 am–3 pm Marin's Mid-Summer Endemic Plants Space Available
Thursday-Monday, July 10–14 Montane Meadows, Serpentine Seeps, and Alpine Wildflowers: Garden Fund-raising Trip Space Available
Saturday, July 26, 10 am–3 pm The Amazing World of Lichens Space Available
Sunday, September 28, 9:30 am–4 pm Modern Textile Design with California Native Plant Dyes Space Available
Friday, October 3 , 11 am to Sunday, October 5, 12 pm Weekend on the Mendocino Coast Space Available
Sundays,October 12–
December 7, 10 am–1 pm
Learning to Identify Plants by Key Space Available
Illustration/Photo Credits
©Sandy Steinman Anna's hummingbird
©James Wilson Golden-crowned kinglet
David Levinson Scrub jay
Franco Folini Great blue heron, snowy egret
Jaime Chavez Swainson's thrush
John Moyer Steller's jay
David Hoffman Black phoebe, golden-crowned sparrow