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Endangered Bird Heard for the First Time on the Ojai Meadows Preserve

By on June 6, 2012 in News, Ojai Meadows Preserve, Press

The southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is indeed a ‘rare bird’ in every sense of the word and today it was heard and confirmed for the first time on the Ojai Meadows Preserve.  Bird expert and retired US Fish and Wildlife Service employee Jesse Grantham and his friend Peter Larramendy were bird watching on the Ojai Meadows Preserve early Wednesday morning and were stopped in their tracks by the bird’s distinctive fitz-bews.  Grantham said, “this is the first one I’ve heard in about 20 years.  It was fun!”

The southwestern willow flycatcher’s songs can vary in song pitch and length depending on geography and even from bird to bird, but the basic song pattern is the same. A “breet” call is sometimes given between fitz-bews.  Other vocalizations given on the breeding grounds include whitts (frequently used as an alarm call), brrr-kitters (an interaction call among flycatchers), and wee-os. All of these vocalizations can occur in combination, especially when a territorial flycatcher is agitated by an intruding flycatcher, a predator, or a cowbird. A variety of willow flycatcher vocalizations can be heard online at

These plain looking birds are late to arrive in the spring (from Mexico and Central America where they spend the winter), and they leave fairly early (August) to head back south for the winter. So a male on a new territory, which is what the Ojai Meadows Preserve is, will sing until he gets a mate. The chances of a female dropping into the Preserve may not be high, because he is a rare bird to begin with. If a female does arrive, and they like each other, the male will slow down his singing and start guarding his territory just in case another willow flycatcher happens to be around. The female does all the nest building and incubating. They both feed the young until they leave the nest. Then they hang around for a few weeks before they leave.

There is a particular species of bird at the Ojai Meadows Preserve which could be detrimental to the southwestern willow flycatcher’s babies if we are lucky enough for some to be fledged on site.

The southwestern willow flycatcher measures about 5.75 inches in length, and weighs only about 0.4 ounces. Overall, it is roughly the size of a small sparrow. Both sexes look alike. The flycatcher’s appearance is overall greenish or brownish gray above, with a white throat that contrasts with a pale olive breast. The belly is pale yellow. Unless you are an expert birder the best way to know if one is around it by learning its song and playing a tape of it back to the bird to see if he responds.

Southwestern willow flycatchers are listed as endangered both in California and Federally. Southwestern willow flycatchers are an important critical indicator of the health of southwestern riparian ecosystems (riparian meaning waterside vegetation).  The restoration of the meadows can be considered successful due to the dramatic increase in bird species found using the habitat. Since 2005, when bird species were first systematically recorded, 175 different species have been observed. Before restoration of the wetlands began there were less 100 bird species utilizing the Ojai Meadows Preserve.


Photo by Les Dublin

The Ojai Meadows Preserve, off Hwy. 33 and adjacent to Nordhoff High School in Ojai, CA., is a 58 acre wetland and upland restoration project. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC) began this project to provide wildlife habitat, recreation, and to assist with serious flood control issues.  The flood control issues were solved with the restoration, and the Ojai Meadows Preserve’s wildlife habitat becomes richer with each passing year.  And this month the recreational opportunities will be accessible to a broader portion of the population with the building of a new bridge which will complete the Ojai Meadows Preserve loop trail.

Join the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy on June 30th from 10 am to 11 am for the dedication of the new bridge.  Bring your binoculars and perhaps we will all, in some moments of silence together, hear the magical song of this important new visitor to the Ojai Meadows Preserve.

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