Urban Wingers

Clogged freeways, protesters downtown, commuters snarling up traffic on Exposition Boulevard – what’s it all mean? Why, it’s time for bird watching for staffers at the Natural History Museum!

The 26th annual Dick Davenport Memorial Bird Walk held on the museum grounds on November 17, 2011 took place just a little off schedule this year given the high volume of traffic in and around downtown Los Angeles. But no matter, guide Kimball Garrett, Ornithology Collections Manager, arrived prepped and ready to spot some flyers. (Dick Davenport, you ask? Docent? Volunteer? Awww, go back and read your Doonesbury!)

Part professional development and part office camaraderie, the walk is none short of a mouth-dropping reminder of the diversity of winged life that exists in one small section of urban Los Angeles. More than 160 species of birds have been documented on the museum grounds, says Garrett who also boasts that Los Angeles County has the highest concentration of birds – 504 species – anywhere in the United States. “We’re going neck and neck with San Diego. We can’t let that happen,” he says with a smile.

The small group of binoculared-staffers eagerly followed Garrett as he deftly moved from tree to tree, scanning the branches and heavens for flapping and tweeting.  A Nuttall’s woodpecker on sycamore tree, a flock of blue birds high above, the cry of a black phoebe.


“It’s wrong to call us birdwatchers, it’s more like bird listeners,” says Garrett just before he invokes a “schwoosy” sound to pique the curiosity of a collection of bushtits in a tree. (Garrett’s ability to mimic bird vocalizations is the stuff of legends according to museum folk.)

During the walk, staffers learned the differences between crows and ravens, the physical attributes of a merlin falcon, how starlings were brought to New York City in 1880s, and discovered just what the heck “lerp” is.

(OK, we’ll tell: lerp is a crystallized honeydew dropping produced by larvae of psyllid insects as a protective cover. It’s usually deposited on eucalyptus leaves and a four-star favorite of many birds, including yellow-rumped or Audubon warblers.)

The walk meandered through the front grounds and into the Exposition Rose Gardens, past the North Campus construction where workers are digging pathways and planting new trees for the new 3.5 acre outdoor wilderness exhibit. Slated to open in 2013, the outdoor remodel will feature inviting greenery that should entice new birds species as well as insects, pollinators and other assorted critters into the museum’s domicile.  More opportunities for new bird spying, says Garrett. And more ground to cover on the next annual Dick Davenport Memorial Bird Walk.

Stay tuned…and get your binoculars ready, Los Angeles.

Story and photos by Brenda Rees


26th Annual Dick Davenport Memorial Bird Walk. 
Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 17, 2011
Traveling 0.8 mile(s)
Time: 0810-0945.
Mostly clear, calm, 62-65 deg F.


Coverage of area south of NHM, plus circuit around Rose Garden and quick check of “North Campus” of NHM.


27 species


Merlin (Falco columbarius 1 – flying SE over Rose Garden
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  1 – flushed from lawn south of LACM just north of State Dr.; second record for Exposition Park (the other in November 1994)
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  6
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia 8
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura 22
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (Brotogeris chiriri 4 –  two pairs high in flight
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  3
Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)  4
Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)  1 –  female
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans 5
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  10
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  20  – two flocks
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula 1
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  7 –  flock flying N over NHM
American Robin (Turdus migratorius 6
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  4
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  8
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum 20
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) (Setophaga coronata auduboni 20
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus 1 –  jacarandas on S side of NHM, then flew E to Spider Pavilion area (by KLG after bird walk was finished); 3rd record for Exposition Park.
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  1
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus 10
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria 1
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis 20
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus 10


Other notable sightings:


Monarch – 2 – plus chrysalis; North Campus bridge area
Eastern Fox Squirrel – 5
Korean Air Airbus A380 – 1