Why, That’s a Whydah!

whydah bird
Whydah on a bird feeder pole. Photo courtesy of Randy and Kiki Taylor.

Question: We have been trying to reach someone to respond to our concern for a whydah bird on our property. It first appeared early in the morning when we were awakened with repeated knocking on the picture window. Once blinds were open, we watched in amazement as this beautiful bird repeated the same routine over and over. It stationed itself atop the bird feeder pole, and every two to three minutes, it would take off with a strong force, accelerating quickly to cover the 15-20 feet directly into the window. It would then return to its spot atop the pole. We have several video clips of the exact same routine – all ending with the hit on the window.

Occasionally, this bird would drop down to the ground directly below the bird feeder and eat from the food that had fallen from the perch. We purchase the food specifically for the smaller songbirds.

In researching exactly what type of bird this is, we determined it was a whydah bird. The information we found stated that any sightings should be reported as soon as possible to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

We are concerned about the number of times this bird has forcefully impacted the window. There is also a very large black crow that has been “bullying” it somewhat on the bird feeder. If this bird is not a concern for you, we hope you will still provide us some direction as to what to do. (Randy and Kiki T.)

Answer: We showed your photo to CDFW Avian Specialist Krysta Rogers, and she agreed that it looks like a pin-tailed whydah. These birds, which are native to Africa, have been observed in Southern California (Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties) in increasing numbers over the past few decades. They are most likely former caged pet birds that were released or escaped into the wild, and it’s possible that they are breeding. The whydah is a nest parasite, which means it does not raise its own young, but lays its eggs in the nest of other birds (much like the brown-headed cowbird). This is why a growing population could be of particular concern for native birds.

CDFW has not conducted any studies on whydahs in California, but it is known that in its native range, the whydah parasitizes the nests of only a specific group of finches (estrildid finches) that do not occur naturally in North America. If the whydah is reproducing in the wild in Southern California, it may be parasitizing the nests of non-native Scaly-breasted Munias (formerly known as Nutmeg Mannikin). Although the native range of the munia does not include Africa, it is the only species of estrildid finch that is known to breed fairly widely in Southern California.

CDFW does track sightings of invasive species, including the whydah. You can report your sighting (and drop a pin on our map!) on our website, or email us at invasives@wildlife.ca.gov.

Regarding the behavior, one of the most likely reasons this bird is hitting the window repeatedly is that it can see its reflection so it thinks it’s a possible competitor for food or mates (birds don’t understand the concept of windows; they just see the reflection of another bird). Rogers says that she’s periodically had reports of American robins doing the same thing, usually in the spring before trees have leafed out and the reflection is more obvious.

The simplest way to discourage this behavior is to stop using a bird feeder. Intentionally attracting the wild birds may heighten the social interaction among them, resulting in aggressive behaviors and contributing to disease transmission. Even if you stop feeding for a few weeks, the whydah may leave your yard. You could also try moving the bird feeder away from the window, temporarily cover the window (from the outside) or disrupt the reflection with decals so the whydah cannot easily see itself. Hopefully that will curb the behavior.

Children fishing with two rods?

Question: Would a child younger than 16 who is not required to have a fishing license be able to legally fish with a second rod, or would they need some kind of additional second rod stamp? (Anonymous)

Answer: No additional stamp would be needed. As per the California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations (page 15 in this year’s booklet): “Anglers in possession of a valid two-rod stamp and anglers under 16 years of age may use up to two rods in inland waters which regulations provide for the taking of fish by angling, except those waters in which only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used.”

A second pole validation does not apply to fishing in ocean waters. In the ocean, any number of poles may be used with a few exceptions:

Regardless of age, when fishing for, or in possession of, rockfish, lingcod, greenlings or cabezon, only one line with no more than two hooks may be used (see section 28.65(c) in the current Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet). Also, when fishing for or in possession of salmon north of Point Conception, only one line may be used (section 28.65(e)).  When taking sturgeon in ocean waters only one line may be used, as well (section 27.90(d)). In the San Francisco Bay, only one line with not more than three hooks may be used (section 28.65(a)).