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McLaughlin Natural Reserve


The McLaughlin Reserve's chaparral, woodland, grassland, and aquatic communities are home to numerous birds, including both habitat generalists and specialists.


A total of 187 bird species in 53 families have been sighted at the reserve. Of these, 20 species were seen prior to 1984 but have not been recorded on the reserve since then. An additional 16 species have only been recorded once in the past 15 years. The number of species sighted at the reserve has increased since the construction of the Davis Creek Reservoir, which has provided habitat for at least 36 species of water birds and shorebirds.

Birds that have seldom been seen at the reserve, or whose status in the area is poorly understood, are indicated by an asterisk (*) in the list. (To view a bird list click here.) If you see any of these species on or near the reserve, please take detailed notes on the birds location, behavior, the habitat it is using, how you identified it, whether it is in a mixed flock with other species, etc.; report such sightings to the reserve manager to add to the records.

Two rare bird species have each been sighted only once at the reserve. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) was once common in California, but has declined as its nesting habitat, dense riparian woodlands, have been lost to farming, water diversions and development. The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), the largest woodpecker in North America, is uncommon everywhere except the southeastern United States. It prefers dense, mature forests for excavating nest holes.

Two species at the reserve were Federally listed as threatened or endangered because of eggshell thinning caused by DDT. The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) suffered heavy declines from the late 1950's to early 1970's. With the ban of DDT in the US in 1972, these and other species have begun to recover, and the Peregrine was delisted in 1999. Bald Eagles are commonly seen around Davis Creek Reservoir in winter, and Peregrines have been seen soaring over the mine pit.

Chaparral birds

Birds that are chaparral specialists often have relatively short wings and a long tail, which gives them maneuverability through the dense brush, and a drab brown color, which makes them inconspicuous as they forage in the bushes and on the ground. Although their drab plumage may make them inconspicuous as they forage, it may pose problems in mate finding; to compensate for this, many chaparral species have melodic songs that enable them to communicate without being seen. Most chaparral species are dietary generalists, taking advantage of the wide array of foods that become available throughout the year.

The California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivium) typifies chaparral birds in all respects. Although its melodious song is a common sound in the spring, these large brown birds are seldom seen due to their cryptic color and secretive foraging behavior. The Wrentit (Chaemaea fasciata) has been called the voice of the chaparral; its distinctive song, sung year round, is an accelerated series of pit notes, speeding up like a bouncing ping-pong ball. Wrentits, although common residents, are seldom seen as they move through the vegetation gleaning insects. They rarely venture into open areas, fire roads or wide trails.

The two species of towhee found at the reserve are common resident chaparral birds. These large sparrow-like birds are ground-feeders with large, conical bills typical of seedeaters, yet they are both omnivorous. The California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis) does not have a melodious song, but an unmusical, sharp chink note that is often repeated between members of a pair. The Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) (formerly the Rufous-sided Towhee) has bold black and white markings on its wings and back, a black head, and rufous sides. Although its color may seem conspicuous, it is actually ideally colored for the patchy light of the chaparral understory where its broken color pattern prevents it from having a clear silhouette.

The common chaparral hummingbird is the Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), which can be seen visiting a variety of flowers throughout the year. The male has deep rose red head and throat, green back and grayish ventral surface. The female only has a hint of red on the throat, and none at all on the head. The male's song is a jumble of high squeaks and raspy notes, and can often be heard sung from a perch near a flowering plant.

For the first few years after chaparral burns, the bird community changes. Fire-following annual herbs attract seedeaters such as Lesser Goldfinch and the Lark Sparrow. The Sage Sparrow can be the most abundant breeding bird for the first decade following a fire, until the canopy closes and the Wrentit once again predominates.

Oak Woodland Birds

The blue oak woodland at the reserve provides both vegetative structure and an abundant food resource for birds. Western Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica), Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), and Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorous) forage heavily on the acorns, while Oak Titmice (Parus inornatus), Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicanus), American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) and Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) nest in the cavities of older oaks.

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The Western Scrub-Jay is one of the most visible and vocal members of the oak woodland. Their loud call can often be heard as pairs or small family groups move through the trees and into the surrounding chaparral. They are well adapted for life in this arid environment, being able to derive all the water they need from their food, and extremely efficient in losing heat from their feet. During the hottest days they remain inactive in the shade. Like other corvids, jays cache food for later consumption. Each year, a single jay may cache several thousand acorns, often by burying them within the territory, and some germinate before being recovered. Thus Western Scrub-Jays may disperse and plant oaks.

Oak Titmice are abundant members of the oak woodland community. This small, grayish-brown crested bird prefers oak woodlands and is frequently heard before it is seen. One of its calls, a harsh tschik-a-dee, indicates that it is a close relative of the chickadees, and in fact they are in the same family. Oak Titmice are active and agile foragers that move through the upper canopy, gleaning small arthropods and seeds as they go.

Western Bluebirds also use the cavities in mature oaks for nest sites. These small blue birds have reddish breasts and sides, and are in the same family as thrushes. They eat a variety of foods, and can often be seen hawking from a low perch for flying insects. In the late summer and fall, large family groups of Western Bluebirds occur throughout the reserve, foraging on flighted insects and ripened seeds and fruits.

Raptors such as Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and American Kestrel use the oaks for nesting, roosting, and as perches while foraging. Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks eat primarily other birds, and their short, broad wings and long tail give them speed and maneuverability as they fly through the trees in search of prey. Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) may be seen in the winter as they perch in oaks adjacent to grassland clearings, waiting for a jackrabbit or other medium-sized mammal to pass by.