Amid the weedy vacant lots, tired storefronts and roughened asphalt of Compton, crows and pigeons thrive.
But, if residents think these often derided city birds are the beginning and end of urban avian life, they need only venture to nearby Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park in unincorporated Willowbrook.
There, even a novice birder quickly runs out of fingers on which to count the species dotting the county park’s trees and lakes. Canada geese, cliff swallows, a snowy egret, cedar waxwings, mallards, ruddy ducks, coots, black phoebes and grackles swoop and splash with abandon. A twittering bushtit adds a bit of plant fluff to its unusual hanging nest, drooping like an old sock from the branch of a eucalyptus tree.
On Saturday, the park will be one of more than two dozen locations throughout Los Angeles County where birders and bird lovers will celebrate feathered things with free walks, tours, bird-sketching workshops, photography lessons and the like. From morning till dusk, individuals will be invited to join Audubon Society authorities and naturalists to scan the skies for raptors and hummingbirds.
Participants in what is being billed as the first annual Bird L.A. Day include the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Loyola Marymount University, Theodore Payne Foundation, Friends of the Ballona Wetlands and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
Even downtown L.A. hipster hangouts will get into the act. National Park Service experts will be on hand for Birds & Beer at the Ace Hotel Upstairs Bar, Angel City Brewery and Perch.
“We’re going to introduce birding to a community that probably knows little about it,” said Dan Cooper, a bird ecologist, who will set up his spotting scope and binoculars for visitors to Magic Johnson Park. “Kids are naturally curious.”
That has certainly been the experience of Brad Rumble, principal of Esperanza Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles and a board member of the Los Angeles Audubon Society.
Previously, as principal of Leo Politi Elementary School, Rumble made a name for himself and his school by ripping out concrete and planting native flora. The plants attracted insects, which drew birds. Fascinated students, seeing nature unfold before their eyes, learned so much that their test scores in science soared.
Now at Esperanza, Rumble is working similar magic with third-graders, who have become experts on two species of ducks in nearby MacArthur Park: mallards (dabbling ducks that feed mostly on plants near the water’s surface) and ring-necked ducks (which dive for their sustenance).
Come Saturday morning, the third-grade students and their parents will grab their binoculars and join Rumble at 7th and Alvarado streets for some urban birding on the concrete.
Los Angeles County lies along the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south route for migratory birds in America. In spring and fall, the region plays host “to hundreds of millions … of birds coming through Southern California on their way back to breeding grounds in the north or wintering grounds in the south,” said Garry George, renewable energy director with Audubon California.
With the array of local habitats — ocean, shore, wetlands, desert, mountains, back yards, foothills and lakes — “we have a huge abundance of biodiversity of birds,” he said.
Sprawling development over the decades has led to severe loss of habitat, but the region’s myriad winged creatures have shown a remarkable ability to adjust, Cooper said.
Consider the blue herons that now commonly nest in the non-native eucalyptus and pine trees of Marina del Rey. Historically, Cooper said, there is no record of nesting by herons in that area. But trees planted in the late 1950s and 1960s finally grew tall enough to become attractive to herons.
That sort of urban adaptation is important because birds play a key role in L.A.’s ecosystem. They eat insect pests and rodents and serve as food for predators. They also help distribute seeds that keep forests populated.
Susan Gottlieb, a philanthropist and Audubon California board member, helped get Bird L.A. Day off the ground. She said she hopes that children, in particular, will take their eyes off their digital devices for a few hours Saturday and train them on the sky and branches.
In her back yard, which the National Wildlife Federation has certified as wildlife habitat, Gottlieb pointed out dozens of Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds beating around the feeders hanging in her olive and bottlebrush trees. Since 1990, she has made it her goal to plant drought-tolerant native flora — penstemon, monkey flowers and orchids — to attract birds, butterflies and bees.
On Bird L.A. Day, she said, “the mission is to show people that Los Angeles has an extremely vibrant bird world. We’re not just an asphalt jungle.”
For information about Bird L.A. Day, visit the event website.