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Birds are quirky, it’s just an evolutionary fact.
Ask Charles Darwin. His careful observation of these quirks helped uncover the secrets of evolution. It’s part of what makes them so fun to watch, right? They’ve each got their own special thing going on, their own unique style of survival. There are some species, however, that are especially unique in their behavior. Maybe I’m being too polite – others might say this bird behavior is just downright, well…strange.
Take these five endangered birds from San Jose’s Coyote Valley. Each calls this fragile landscape home for at least part of the year and each, on occasion, behaves in ways that might even make Darwin scratch his head. Here’s what I’m talking about:
The loggerhead shrike, also known as “butcher birds” are famous for impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire. I know, pretty strange (and really gruesome). But they have a good reason for this rather violent behavior in that it helps them tear off bite-sized pieces of their prey. Clever, eh?
Between 1966 and 2015, the global population of loggerhead shrike declined by over 75%, mostly as a result of the destruction of their habitat. Their story isn’t all bad news though. If provided with the open space it needs to hunt efficiently (like in Coyote Valley), this species has the potential to make a quick recovery thanks to its incredibly fast reproductive rate.
Who’s screaming? Nope, it’s not a gaggle of girl scouts. There’s a good chance it’s a Swainson’s hawk screaming at its mating partner (don’t worry, this is normal marital behavior for this bird species). But it’s not just any scream, it almost sounds like someone stepped on a cat’s tail.
In the spring, nearly the entire population of Swainson’s hawk migrates from Argentina to the grasslands and valley bottoms of North America to breed. But suitable habitat for this raptor is shrinking in California and places like Coyote Valley are becoming increasingly important for their survival. In fact, the first successful nesting of this species in Santa Clara County since the 1800s took place in Coyote Valley.
Tricolored blackbird form some of the largest breeding colonies of any bird species in North America. They like to party (which in the bird world is a little strange). We’re talking massive nesting colonies that, when the population was healthy, consisted of more than 200,000 nests.
But with nesting colonies that large, it’s difficult for this species to find suitable nesting habitat – especially as so much of it has been converted to agriculture or urban development. With the continued protection and restoration of Coyote Valley, however, these massive colonies could one day return to our corner of the Golden State.
In parts of the West, this subterranean raptor is known as the “howdy owl” due to the friendly nod they share when approached by human visitors. Tip your hat next time you see one.
Coyote Valley still offers refuge for a few western burrowing owls, who spend their winters on the valley floor but leave in the summer to breed. Experts are concerned about the precipitous decline in year-round resident and breeding pairs throughout the state. It is likely breeding pairs will soon disappear from Santa Clara County if we do not actively protect and restore this habitat.
When was taking your partner out for a nice meal ever a bad idea? White-tailed kites have this all figured out. As part of the courting rituals for this species, males will bring a tasty meal to their female companion. But instead of just plopping it down in front of her, she flys up to him, flips upside down and grabs it from his talons. Pretty romantic if you ask me.
After being rendered nearly extinct in California in the 1930s and ‘40s, this species has made a successful comeback. They depend on open valley floors like Coyote Valley to continue to flourish.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.