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Protecting bird habitat

Protecting bird habitat
A California Quail, the state bird, in Glen Ellen.Photo by Paul Goguen

By Ellie Insley

Now is the time to prepare for this year’s fire season by doing defensible space vegetation management. Yes, now, in the middle of winter, before March 1, is the best time! Beginning in early March birds will be nesting and breeding, and it’s best not to disturb them.

There are other good reasons to prune in the winter season: many plants are dormant, the best time for pruning; and it’s cool out, so the work is more pleasant than in summer.

But most important – birds such as quail, goldfinch, junco, and others nest on the ground or in the shrubs and tall grasses. If you look closely, you’ll find towhee nests in low forks (3-12’ high), shrubs or small trees – live oak, Ceanothus, coffeeberry, even poison oak, and many ornamentals. So please don’t remove vegetation when nesting is in full swing, March through August!

Home hardening is the most effective thing you can do to protect your house from fire, along with vegetation management. Many government entities require that homeowners maintain defensible space in the area within 100’ of the home. The goal is to interrupt a fire as it approaches the home by removing dead vegetation and ladder fuels. So pruning dead branches from trees and shrubs, increasing vertical spacing between shrubs and lower limbs of trees, and creating islands of shrubs with space between to interrupt the movement of fire is key.

Remember: Most birds nest from March 1to August 31. Vegetation removal can be very disruptive during bird breeding season, so get it done early. Many birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it’s illegal to damage or remove bird nests.

Here’s an excerpt from Cornell Labs, a preeminent source of bird research about California quail nesting: “Female California Quail typically hide their nests on the ground amid grasses or at the bases of shrubs or trees. The nest is usually a shallow depression lined with stems and grasses, and often placed near vegetation or rocks for protection. Nests range from 5-7 inches across and 1-2 inches deep.” Let’s provide a welcome home for the quail, our state bird, by respectfully timing our fire-wise vegetation management.