The Success of Bird LA Day

Los Angeles residents of all ages helped make the first decentralized celebration of birds a success.

As we pulled up to the red light at the corner of 7th Street and Alvarado in downtown Los Angeles, Audubon California’s director of bird conservation Andrea Jones shouted, “There’s a Black-crowned Night Heron!” And sure enough, there it was, gliding out from behind the sign for the Cambio de Cheques/check cashing store against the background of the farmacia. We watched the bird soar above the crowded crosswalk and the thumping of the car stereos until it disappeared behind the Langer’s Delicatessen.

That was our first indication that the first Bird LA Day, held on Saturday, May 2, was going to be something remarkable.

The idea for Bird LA Day hatched during a series of small gatherings in the home of Audubon California Board Member Susan Gottlieb. We wanted to bring together people interested in promoting the unheralded natural beauty of Los Angeles. The idea arose from the notion that while Los Angeles County is known for many things—the movie business, freeways, surfing, etc.—it probably doesn’t get its due for being one of the best places for birds in the country. Historically, more than 520 different bird species have been spotted in Los Angeles County, diversity made possible by Los Angeles’ diverse habitat—beaches, deserts, mountains, forests, woodlands, marshes, you name it.

Birds unite people in every corner of this great megalopolis. By the time Bird LA Day rolled around, nearly two dozen organizations were involved and more than 30 events were planned for the greater Los Angeles area. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people got involved.

Our first stop that Saturday was a birding walk led by the Los Angeles Audubon Society at MacArthur Park,. While we were occupied there, other LA birders were raising their binoculars at locations as diverse and widespread as the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County, in Whittier’s Sycamore Canyon, at Ballona Wetlands, at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, and at the Madrona Marsh in Torrance.

In MacArthur Park, we were joined by more than 30 third-graders from Esperanza Elementary School. The school’s principal, Brad Rumble, is a Los Angeles Audubon Society board member, and was leading the walk. The students’ depth of knowledge and enthusiasm was truly inspiring. One young boy, holding a Sibley Guide, ran up to Audubon President David Yarnold and announced, “I’m a birder!”

As the day continued, participants enjoyed a tour of the Moore Lab of Ornithology at Occidental College. Others attended a bird sketching put on by the Pasadena Audubon Society at the Audubon Center at Debs Park, which later hosted a series of bird walks. A solid crowd attended the birding walk put on by the Friends of Griffith Park.

Some folks even created their own unofficial Bird LA Day events. We know of groups that birded the prestigious Hotel Bel-Air and walked Franklin Canyon with friends.

Later in the day, our group visited Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park in South Los Angeles, where we joined a group of teenagers from nearby Simon Tech High School to bird the urban park. The group had spent part of the morning doing habitat restoration at White Point Park in San Pedro.

Bird LA Day events rolled right into dusk. National Park Service rangers hosted viewing events at three rooftop bars in downtown Los Angeles, and many other birders gathered along the Los Angeles River for a birding picnic. A huge group of birders wrapped up their bird walk in Malibu with a trip to a nearby Mexican restaurant.

Throughout the day, participants posted their sightings on the Bird L.A. Facebook page, as well as on Twitter via the #BirdLADay. This allowed Angelenos who couldn’t attend—or birders who couldn’t attend simultaneous events—to still join in the fun. We’ve compiled some of the highlights here.

While California hosts the largest number of Audubon members in any state, Los Angeles has more Audubon members than any county in California. The area supports nine strong Audubon chapters. But Audubon is just the beginning. There is a broad diversity of organizations promoting the protection and enjoyment of the natural environment in Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles County recently led all counties in the number of checklists submitted to the Great Backyard Bird Count, a national event that encourages people to report the birds they have seen during the period of Feb. 14-17. Bird enthusiasts here submitted 816 checklists identifying 258 different species—no other county in the country was even close.

Bird LA Day proved that people of every background in Southern California are hungry for this kind of fun experience in nature. We’ll do it again next year, only bigger. And we may even take the idea to other cities, as well.