Winter birds at Legacy Park: Shhhh! Sit calmly and you’ll see them

San Fernando Valley Audubon Society board member and avid citizen scientist Pat Bates led a lecture on winter birds at Legacy Park, hosted by Santa Monica College. Contributed Photo

San Fernando Valley Audubon Society board member Pat Bates led the lecture hosted by Santa Monica College

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

Bird enthusiast Pat Bates, a board member of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society and an avid citizen scientist, enthralled attendees with her lecture regarding winter birds at Legacy Park. The Feb. 2 event was hosted by Santa Monica College.

Bates knows her birds and she shared details about each specimen she displayed, explaining the area’s avifauna and pointing out details about each species.  

“If you’re in Legacy Park and you hear what sounds like whistling, it’s probably the American wigeon, who has a high-pitched whistle,” Bates said, discussing how the wigeon is often found in open wetlands and grasslands and how they usually graze. Clever birds, those wigeons. They often hang out when coots are diving and attempt to purloin vegetation the coots bring to the surface, which explains the wigeon’s nicknames of “poacher” and “robber.”

The wigeons are not the only members of the duck family one can observe at Legacy Park.  

Others include the northern shoveler, who, Bates said, “Are pretty in groups and usually have their heads under water.” That’s because shovelers forage in shallow wetlands and coastal marshes. Some ducks endemic to Malibu are gorgeous, such as the green winged teal and, lucky for Malibuites, mallards are here year-round as are Canadian geese. 

Displaying an image of the pied-billed grebe, Bates explained that grebes are quite solitary and shy. Those wishing to see a grebe should listen carefully for its coos and whoops. 

When discussing the large birds that are found in the park, Bates displayed gorgeous pictures of herons and a white-faced ibis whose plumage is an iridescent copper color. 

“Malibuites can sometimes enjoy viewing great blue egrets,” She said, discussing the largest heron in North America. “They are gorgeous with their blue-gray coloring and accents of black.”  

Citizen science and bird survival advocacy

With regard to the perils that can harm birds and cause bird depopulation, Bates noted that we have lost approximately 25 percent of birds in the last few decades.

“Cats have a devastating effect on birds as they often kill them,” Bates said, adding that anthropogenic causes, including the use of pesticides and over-developing land also contribute to bird population decline, as does climate change.

“Native plants and insects are an essential part of any bird habitat,” Bates said.  She encouraged attendees to become involved as citizen scientists and to consider downloading some of the bird-watching apps, including ebird,; Merlin,; and the Audubon bird guide app,  

Noting the interrelationship between birds and native plants, Bates noted that readers can go to Calscape to read about native plants at

“Everyday you go birding, you learn something new,” Bates said. “Go to the park and just stop and sit quietly, and you’ll notice birds — and they’ll notice you too! They’re often very curious and will come to you. If you use one of the apps, you can determine what birds you are observing.”

The next ornithological lecture at SMC will be in April, Bates stated. To find out more about such opportunities, go to

It’s never too early to learn about birds and the city’s natural habitats, so the City of Malibu has launched “The Agents of Discovery,” an augmented reality program for kids at Legacy Park. Using a mobile app, children aged 4 to 12 start at the Malibu Library and go on a mission throughout the park, finding and identifying plants and answering questions. The app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.