More Backyard Wildlife

Great horned owls

Kelly Rockwell photographed this pair of young great horned owls near Cheney Drive. They are old enough to be out of the nest, but still have some of their baby fluff. The owlets’  parents will continue to look after them throughout the summer and fall—good news for their human neighbors, bad news for the local rodent population. Great horned owls are among the longest lived raptors, and most pairs mate for life, potentially remaining in the same neighborhood for more than a decade. When these owls are fully mature and able to cope on their own they will disperse to find mates and territory of their own—with luck in a place like Topanga where toxic anticoagulant rodenticides aren’t used and they can eventually raise the next generation of owls. Photo by Kelly Rockwell



The small but beautiful Sara orangetip butterfly is a harbinger of spring in the Santa Monica Monica Mountains. This species appears after the first rains in winter and vanishes by early June. The caterpillars of Anthocharis sara evolved to feed on native plants in the mustard family, like rock cress, but the species has adapted to the abundant presence of non-native mustard and can be found wherever mustard grows. These butterflies are also frequent garden visitors, drawn to nectar from a wide variety of flowers. Males have the orange tip on their wings that gives the species its common name. The females have sulphur-yellow wing patches. Orangetip butterflies can be spotted throughout Topanga Canyon right now, but not for long. When summer arrives, this ephemeral spring beauty will disappear. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann



At this time of year, the arrival and antics of many birds at our house in Topanga take us to a world away from the complexity and migraine intensity of modern life. This year we have been treated to an unusual nesting pair—a ruby-throated hummingbird nesting with a plastic parrot on the parrot’s metal swing. From almost any direction and every hummingbird position it looks as though the parrot is the approving and loving father overlooking and guarding the shy mama hummingbird. Despite the constancy of the parrot’s pose—he is plastic of course—he still appears to be taking an active part. Mama Hummingbird is sitting on eggs that take 16 to 18 days to hatch. —Judy and Richard Hillestad


Baby blue jays

This nest full of five baby blue jays is getting a little crowded but hardworking Mama and Papa Bluejay have had some help from the Hammond household, aka “The Peanut Factory.” They are literally eating out of their hands. It’s not easy bringing up quintuplets. Photo by Jane Hammond.


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