Wildlife at Jug Handle

At Jug Handle we are regularly visited by wild creatures of the north coast areas-from birds such as the Osprey or Red-Tail Hawk, to animals including raccoons, rabbits, opossums and even the Grey Fox.


It had rained Sunday night, so I went down to the Greenhouse Monday afternoon to turn off the irrigation system. Blue Oak School was just due to arrive for check in.

Soon as I entered the Greenhouse, I heard the chirping.  Uh-oh–a bird’s trapped in here. Heading for the sound, I was opening the rear doors wide open when I heard the awful thump.  The bird had hit a window full speed ahead.  Knew the sound from my days with picture windows on Navarro Ridge Road.

a Black Phoebe

a Black Phoebe

I saw the little creature stunned on top of the plant cage just below the newly washed windows of the front .  So clean, it had looked open.  Having some experience with stunned birds before, I realized the bird was not dead, but–knocked out.  So I gently picked up the limp bird  and saw its eyes open–and  here was our little friend, the Black Phoebe, in my hand!  The Phoebe graces  Jug Handle most afternoons with a show of darting for insects mid-air as they are insect hunters-diving and swooping for their live meal.

The Phoebe stood on my finger, but would not fly off.  I walked around with it for a bit hoping it would recover and fly, but it stood fast, just looking at me.

Black Phoebe on the wire at Jug Handle Farm (photo by Jack Tomlin)

Black Phoebe on the wire at Jug Handle Farm (photo by Jack Tomlin)

Just then some children, newly arrived, headed down the hill from the Farmhouse to explore.   Of course, they all wanted to touch or hold little Phoebe, but I declined , saying the bird was in shock, best to let it recover without handling.

One little girl begged to hold the bird.  I said  no, but started walking uphill to show Phoebe to  some more  of the group.

Just then, the bird  flew onto the shoulder of the  girl who so wanted to hold him!  Standing on her shoulder, the bird stayed for a few moments; but as the girl  walked uphill to show others, suddenly the  Phoebe recovered and flew off, high into the  old alder tree at the bottom of the hill.

We all cheered!  Black Phoebe had survived!

Foxy a grey fox

Above is a May 2012 video clip of ” Foxy”, a Jug Handle regular, and her kits, shortly after they were born–in a den they hid under our caretakers’ residence.  The location that year made photography easy for our experienced staff, Galen Schlich and Sherri Fabre.

Blue Heron catches a Gopher for lunch!

Great blue herons have been known to choke to death by attempting to swallow prey too large for their long, S-shaped necks. Though they are best known as fishers, mice constitute a large part of their diet, and they also eat insects and other small creatures.

Herons eat the bones because there is no way for them to fillet their fish.  Also, the calcium and other nutrients in whole prey items are great nutrition for the birds.

Herons are able to digest almost all of the prey that they swallow, but will cast out indigestible pellets. They have very acidic stomach secretions that protect their stomachs from being punctured by sharp bones: Herons swallow the fish whole, so the bones aren’t exposed at first, and by the time the bone ends are exposed, they’ve been softened by acids.

As an alternative to walking or standing, herons also occasionally exhibit a range of other foraging techniques that enable it to access deeper water where it is unable to wade. This includes hovering above the water, plunging beneath it, and simply swimming on the surface.

Herons forage throughout the day. When raising hungry chicks, they spend almost all of their time hunting to find enough food. If the nest is not located right near a feeding area, herons may travel 1.5-4 miles to their main feeding areas. Some individuals go as far as 18 miles, but most stay within a 2-mile range.

They get water mostly through their diet as fish and other dietary items contain sufficient fluids to keep the birds hydrated.

This great blue heron has returned to the field at Jug Handle on more than one occasion to hunt.

More photos of “Foxy”

Pictures of Foxy also appear on our website and in the Farmhouse kitchen. Those beautiful photos were taken at our food garden by earlier Jug Handle caretaker Monica Van Hall. Above is a slideshow of some of them

Jack Tomlin, President of Jug Handle’s Board of Directors, took  these photos in January 2014, at Jug Handle’s back yard bird feeding station.

Fox sparrow visits the backyard bird feeder at Jug Handle

Fox sparrow visits the backyard bird feeder at Jug Handle

Hairy woodpecker attacks the walnut tree in Jug Handle back yard

Hairy woodpecker attacks the walnut tree in Jug Handle’s back yard — already well marked through the years.

Acorn Woodpecker

A male Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

A male Acorn Woodpecker

Northern Pygmy-Owl – Glaucidium californicum

Sub Species
G. c. grinnelli stretches along the West Coast of North America from S.E. Alaska all the way to S. California.
G. c. californicum is the most widespread race in North America. It ranges from the northern interior of British Columbia and east to Alberta then south into Nevada and S. California .
G. c. pinicola is found from Idaho and Montana south to California and Nevada. This race is sometimes combined with G. c. californicum.

Description: A small owl lacking ear tufts. Male and female are identical in plumage. Except for a very limited area in Southern Arizona where the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is also found (see the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl biology for the differences), this little owl is not likely to be mistaken for any other owl. First this is a diurnal owl (active in daytime); its small size, plump shape, long narrow tail, bold white eyebrows, brown streaks on white under parts, and white spotting on a brown head and forehead make it very distinctive (the backside is also brown with larger white spots). It has 2 black patches on its nape, outlined in white, that vaguely resemble an extra set of eyes. It has a dark brown tail with white bars; grayish-yellow bill (darker at the base); and lemon yellow iris. The owl becomes more grayish-brown overall in the Rockies and there is a red phase bird that is more cinnamon-brown overall. This little owl is very bold and will often allow a very close approach. Although it is not brightly colored, it very often brings a crowd of mobbing songbirds along with it that will betray its location. It also has a distinctive low evenly spaced toot (call) that makes finding this owl among other daytime birds easier (regularly calls although actively vocalizes most in March through mid-June and September through October).

Food and Feeding: The list of possible prey in the Northern Pygmy-Owl’s diet is quite large. This may include all of the small mammals, small to medium sized birds, reptiles, larger insects, and amphibians within their range. The Owl’s preference seems to be mice, birds, and large insects with studies indicating that about 90% of their diet is comprised of small mammals and birds. This little owl is a bold and ferocious daytime predator. It will kill birds such as Gambel’s or California Quail that are more than twice its weight. To see a Northern Pygmy come tumbling out of a tree with its talons firmly locked into an American Robin, that is half again its size, is an impressive sight and reminder of how fearless it is.