LBA Woods: A Bird Refuge by Bob Wadsworth

The LBA Woods, the largest remaining solid patch of forest in the Chambers Basin, is a refuge to birds and other wildlife in the middle of an urban environment. With the continued march of forestland clearing, such refuges are disappearing and wildlife wind up with nowhere else to go. It’s little wonder that songbird populations are declining.

Birds and other animals we see in our neighborhoods need more than street trees and ornamental yard plants to carry out their lifecycle. They often require a larger patch of solid forest to overwinter, breed and forage. Research has shown that many birds are more successful in larger forest patches than in small ones. It is not sufficient to assume that if there are no endangered species that there is no wildlife impact from forest removal.

This forest provides habitat for a number of birds we wouldn’t otherwise see in urban areas, yet it is only a couple of blocks from many homes. Neighbors can see these birds as they come and go from the forest. I’ve seen families of hawks, owls and ravens with young birds in this forest. These are birds more commonly seen in rural areas. The spectacular western tanager, two species of hummingbird, black headed grosbeak, and pileated woodpecker with their bright colors and striking songs are all here.

Each season brings a different assortment of birds. I’ve identified at least 55 bird species that use this forest at least part of the year. In the spring and summer, a number of species arrive from California, Mexico and Central America to nest here. Other species that have overwintered here move north or into the mountains to breed. In the fall, the parent and young migrants are fat and ready for the long flight back. Birds that migrated north in the spring return either to stay here or to refuel and continue on their way south. This forest is a fueling stop for birds as they fly through on their way north or south. It is also a refuge for those who will overwinter.

The secret of this forest is that it has an abundant assortment of food and shelter for birds. The LBA Woods forest is relatively young. There are a few trees of 24 inch diameter but most are 12-16 or smaller. There is a well-developed understory of small trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.

These plants supply berries, foliage and seeds used by insects, birds and other wildlife. The insects in turn are food for a great number of birds.

As you walk through the forest, you’ll come across small birds such as chickadees, kinglets, warblers or bushtits hopping from branch to branch picking off small insects. Flycatchers and swallows catch bugs on the wing. You’ll hear towhees shuffling through dry leaves on the ground searching for grubs or small worms. You might see cedar waxwings with their crest and silky plumage picking Indian plum berries or cherries. You might hear woodpeckers digging tree trunks for tree-boring insects; or hummingbirds zooming as they display for their mate or zip between flowers.

A forest is much more than street trees and landscaped yards, especially when the neighborhood trees and plants are non-native and never part of the habitat in which these birds evolved. Every time we lose a forest from our urban areas, we lose contact with these magnificent bird species. If this forest disappears, there is one less place for our birds to breed, overwinter or to stop over and replenish themselves for the long migration.

The 55-plus species of birds identified in the LBA Woods are listed here.