About me

Hi! I’m Katie LaBarbera. I received my PhD in spring 2016 from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, and I am currently hanging out at Berkeley working on the genetics of South American Ctenomys rodents. My PhD is in Integrative Biology, but only because they don’t give doctorates in Chasing Juncos All Over The Mountains. Before I came to Berkeley, I did research on House Wrens at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University.

I am interested in animal behavior, evolutionary biology, and anything involving birds.

Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not for the MVZ or UC Berkeley or any subset of the general scientific community. If you don’t like something I say, I’m the only one to blame!

me with MAGG

Young me with a robin chick. My career path may not have exactly shocked anyone.

Young me with a robin chick. My career path may not have exactly shocked anyone.

41 thoughts on “About me

  1. Good evening ! I found this little fellow this morning (my cat did, but I rescued him/her) and because you’re specialized in birds (and obviously you love them! :D), I will ask your help in identifying this little one – http://carmenfortis.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/picture00234.jpg and a close view of the head – http://carmenfortis.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/micul-musafir-cine-sunt/
    I can tell that the bird has clean water and some fruits and seeds ( I have a little canary so I borrowed some of his food :D).
    Thank you very much and I wish you a wonderful day !
    Carmen

    • Hi Carmen,
      Wow, that’s a new one for me! The wings look like a swallow or purple martin, but the bill looks too long to be those species. Are you located in North America?
      Whatever it is, it’s a young fledgling: has all its feathers but still has some yellow around the gape. Its parents were probably still feeding it. I’d recommend feeding it for at least a few days (or taking it to a rehab center) before releasing it. Young birds rarely eat seeds – you’ll want to look for bugs, or try chopping a hard-boiled egg into small bug-sized strips. If it won’t eat food placed in front of it, try holding the food in your fingers and “swooping” your hand down to the baby, as if you’re a parent flying in. If the baby then opens its bill, put the food in.

      • Thank you for the help ! I am located in Europe, in Romania and unfortunately rehab centers don’t exist and the veterinary clinics are opened in weekends just on saturdays but untill 12 p.m. I have to say again the word unfortunately, by the night the little one seemed to be weak, of course I gave the bird food.
        When I woke up, the first thing was to check up on the little buddy but it died, maybe the reason could’ve been internal wounds created by the cat’s bites, I felt sorry because I knew it could have had a chance at life with the right help from a veterinarian.
        Thank you again for your help !
        Wishing you a sunny morning and beautiful day !

  2. Hi Carmen,

    It seems you get asked for advice on dealing with injured birds a lot… I hope this is not unwelcome.

    My cat recently brought in a little junco… he (not sure on the sex but lets say he) seems to be “ok” after the initial shock. I have had him in a dark box with some chopped sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts (with a small water dish) for the last two days and tried to release him today. He was unable to fly and I had to re-capture him. He does seem to be moving around with no problem and seems very alert just unable to fly. I have back in a clean dark box with the aforementioned accouterments. I am not sure what to do next?

    I will try to contact some local wild life rescue institutions but last year I had an incident with a raccoon and nobody seemed interested in helping. If he is going to have to stay with me longer is there a way I should go about this? Should I leave him in the box or should I get a bird cage? I don’t know if he will be OK in the cage… I can leave him in an isolated part of the house where he won’t get stressed to often? Is there a better food I can get him? Maybe a bird seed mix from the local pet store?

    Any help you give me would be greatly appreciated… I love my cat but hate that this happens sometimes and would really like to see this little guy make it back into the wild.

    Thank you for taking the time.

    • Hi Christopher,
      If your local rehab places aren’t helpful – and they would definitely be the best thing for your junco – then I would keep him in a bird cage with a water dish and a seed mix (one of those wild bird mixes for birdfeeders). Give him a chance to recover; he may have injuries you can’t see. (One possibility is that one of his air sacs was punctured, which would take a while to heal.) In a decent-sized cage with a perch or two, he’ll be able to hop around until he can fly again. Keep him in a quiet part of the house – one where you can close a door to keep the cat out – near a window if possible, with a normal daily light-dark cycle. Don’t keep him in a dark box all the time, that sounds like no fun for him!
      I hope he gets better! Let me know how it goes. Thanks for taking care of him!

  3. Being of a scientific mind, you might not go in for this goofy award system, but I listed your site in my blog post today for the Beautiful Blogger award. Your blog is awesome and I’m so glad that I found it and would like others to see it, too. Thanks!

  4. Hi, how can i contact you, i need to communicate with you about something urgent that is happening here in iran’s wild life. You would be amazed!

  5. my name is Justin and I have a question regarding city sparrows.

    I noticed that during and after a windy rain storm, a lot of young sparrows are blown onto the ground and unable to fly temporarily due to wetness, sometimes they are really young and cannot fly period.

    do you think it is a good idea to pick up and relocate the above mentioned sparrows to a big park where it seems friendlier with trees.
    these sparrows that I’m talking about are located in heavily cemented areas with a lot of cars and buildings.

  6. Hi Katie,
    “My” baby juncos are about two weeks old with real feathers, I think, and still in their nest. They are fledgling. I came across your blog because I am researching about how to increase their chance of survival when they just leave the nest. I am afraid they might be attacked by squirrels or jays around here.
    The juncos’ nest is in one of my flower pot in my front yard.
    I want to buy food and bring water close to their nest so they don’t have to wander far.
    Thank you for your advice.
    Anne

    • Hi Anne,
      There are a few things you can do. Young fledglings rely on hiding for protection, so the more shelter there is available – think dense bushes – the better, especially if the shelter makes pathways that would let them move places. If your yard already has bushes, you’re fine; if not, see if there’s any way you can move some shelter there temporarily. Maybe move some potted plants outside for a few days? (If it was January, I’d say leave an old Christmas tree out.) Any kind of clutter is better than a bare lawn.
      Your food and water idea is a nice thought but not necessary. Young fledglings don’t need to drink, and they’ll eat bugs at first, which will be hard for you to provide. (The fledglings themselves won’t be searching for food; their parents will find it and bring it to them.) Also there’s a danger in putting out food and water in that it may attract the jays you’re worried about, as well as various other birds which may themselves attract bird predators.
      If you have a cat, the absolute best thing you can do for your juncos is to keep the cat indoors for a week.

  7. I just stumbled across your blog while researching (“researching,” i.e. surfing the net–not real research like yours, unfortunately!). This is fantastic! I’m so excited to find other birders online, especially one who writes as well as you do and provides such valuable insight. Thank you! I’d be honored if you checked out my own birding blog at aberrantplumage.wordpress.com.

    Best wishes–keep up the great work! I’ll be reading enthusiastically!

    Mark

  8. Absolutely enchanting blog.I stumbled on you in my so far fruitless search for an ultra violet image of the UK House Sparrow. I understand that the House Sparrow, despite being a tough little brown bird to us, displays impressive markings under UV which are critical in the battle to get noticed in the mating game.

    ToughLittleBirds helps make the web a brighter and happier place. Thanks for sharing some of your work

  9. Congrats Katie! Have you had a party or will you for the event?
    The last 5 days were pretty cold in Mountain View, CA when the nights dipped into the 30s. My plants look miserable but some show early signs of Spring like cymbidiums and jasminum mesnyi filled with flower buds.
    I also saw a few couple of juncos wandering around. They must love my garden because it has many shrubs and bushes they can hide. My husband said they are in their early house hunting. Is that right?
    Thank you

    • Thanks! I had some low-key celebratory events right after I graduated, yes – and also turned my brain off for a few days and watched Disney movies :-)

      I agree with your husband—juncos in the Bay Area are just starting to think about breeding. The males are starting to sing songs, and all of them are scurrying around in the brush considering nesting sites. I hope they do choose your garden!

  10. I need some advice asap! I discovered a dark eyed junco nest in the tall grass in my yard. There were 5 eggs and the parents were present. Well it’s now a week and a half later and when I came outside today a black cat had found the nest. It appears to have killed the mother bird and possibly 2 of the newly hatched babies. There are still 2 half bald babies and one egg in the nest but I haven’t seen the father return & ive chased the cat off 3 times now!! What can I do to help these guys? It’s now dark outside and I can’t stay up all night chasing off this stupid cat !! I live out in the woods so I guess any predator could potentially harm them at this point?
    I’m seriously considering putting some chicken wire as a barrier around the nest with a small opening, should the father return. Am I wasting my time? Could I be causing more harm than good? Think I’m gonna go ahead with the chicken wire for tonight …
    I have to do something!

    • Hi Cherine,
      That’s a bad situation! I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do. Depending on how old the chicks are, they may not be able to survive without their mother’s warmth (male juncos don’t keep the babies warm). When you say they’re half-bald, are they mostly pink skin and fluff, or do they have real feathers?

      Are there wildlife rehabilitators near you?

      • They’re so small it’s hard to tell but I don’t believe they have “fluff”.
        If you zoom in on the pic you can almost see them. I did end up putting some chicken wire around the nest but now my biggest concern is they stay warm throughout the night. I did feed them both some small worms in hopes of helping them survive. I didn’t know what else to do! Fingers crossed they’ll hang in there till morning. I’ll keep you posted.
        IMG_6573.JPG

        • They made it thru the night!! Yay!!
          I was so happy to see their daddy perched on top of the chicken wire this morning. I’ve been watching him go in and out to feed his babies as if it wasn’t even there!
          So sad he has lost his mate. Will he find another after the chicks leave the nest? I have to go to work but I’ll check on these guys again at lunch! Its gonna be a good day! 😊

          • That’s great! The photo isn’t showing up for me, but if they made it through the night then they are big enough to generate their own heat without mom. VERY good sign that dad is feeding them!

            Yes, the male will try to find another mate once his chicks are independent.

          • I’m sad to say that although the daddy returned to feed his babies, it wasn’t enough. They needed their mom to keep them warm and unfortunately they died huddled together in the nest.
            Breaks my heart. I know this stuff happens all the time but when it happens to you personally,
            well. . . it sucks.
            😢

  11. Hi, I just found your site and wondered if you might have some thoughts on some missing robin fledglings from my yard. This spring/summer I’ve the joy of watching three robins nests from egg laying through fledgling. First and third nests were built above screen door, and second one was built in satellite dish. First nest produced four babies and all fledged on the same day. For the first week, I saw them frequently flying around the small trees in the yard. Once, two of them even flew back and stood for a few moments next to their nest. The second week of their fledgling, the babies in the satellite dish hatched. Two hatched one day and two the next. In day 11, the largest baby either fell out or jumped from the nest. For two days, the baby stayed closed to the nest and then crossed the road to a wooded area where the father stayed when he wasn’t feeding. Another baby fledged on day 13 and the next day crossed the road to join the father. On day 14, the last two fledged together and that afternoon crossed the road to join siblings and father. Mom also joined them and came back to our compost for worms and then returned to them. Spotted babies often flying in wooded area and occasionally near nest. Then the first mama returned to the porch and built another nest (we removed the empty one, as it was very nasty with droppings.) and then left for several days. I wondered if she would return. She did and laid an egg each for four days. I checked the nest again one week after she laid the first egg and was surprised to see a fifth egg. The first two babies hatched on the 15th day after the first egg was laid. The next day, two more babies hatched. The fourth baby was very tiny and survived only a day and then disappeared from the nest. Not sure if the parents removed it or pushed it down in the nest. The fifth egg did not hatch. The three babies thrived and grew larger than the babies in the other two nest. Their wings also seemed more developed. Last Saturday, a rainy and stormy day was the 13th day for two of them. I hoped they would wait until Sunday to fledge. The largest one stepped out of the nest twice onto the door sill and then stepped back into the nest. An hour or so later, it was gone. I walked outside and found it. Upon seeing me, it lifted off the ground and flew to the back of the house. It wasn’t flying high but stayed airborne for about 50 feet. I lost sight of it and didn’t see it anymore. A few hours later, another baby left the nest while it was raining. It went to a small tree and stayed there until dusk. I watched the mother feed it there several times. It then left the small tree and came back to another tree closer to the nest. Early the next morning the third and last baby left the nest. We were gone from the house a couple hours and returning home, we saw a baby following a parent near the driveway, with two squirrels in pursuit. As we parked, I lost sight of the baby but saw the squirrels in the ditch and went to see if they had the baby. They didn’t have it. I didn’t see it anywhere. Went inside the house and a few minutes later saw a parent at the nest with a worm. Nest was empty except for the unhatched egg. Couldn’t figure that out. Parents kept close watch on nest and had to know it was empty. Was the parent possibly checking the nest for a missing baby? I have not had any sightings of a baby since that one yesterday. Every time I looked outside yesterday afternoon, I would see both parents on the ground circling the yard and looking around. It was out of context for parents of fledglings, at least from the other two nests I watched. The parents would walk around with worms in their beaks for 5-10 minutes looking around but never delivered them. It was heart-wrenching watching them. These were not the busy parents of fledglings I watched previously. They seemed to be waiting and watching for their babies to come back. Today was the same. This afternoon, I saw the mama robin walking through the small bushes underneath the nest site, as if she was searching for her babies. When the other nests fledged, there were signs of where the babies had been…poop sacks and chirping from the bushes. Except for the one sighting yesterday, there has been nothing seen from this nest…just the endless circling in the yard by the parents. What are your thoughts? Could the babies be lost or lost scent of their parents during the rain/storms? It’s so sad that these three babies that appeared so healthy and well developed have all disappeared. Sorry for the long post…just wanted to provide details.

    • I’m sorry to say I agree with your conclusion that something bad has befallen these last three chicks. Not seeing them isn’t so bad – sometimes fledglings move along, as you observed, or just decide to be very hidden – but seeing both parents wandering around with food that they do not deliver is a very bad sign.

      It is strange that all three disappeared so quickly, and at such an advanced stage of development. The most dangerous time of a young bird’s life is before it can fly; it sounds like all of your robins were flighted. I don’t think the rain was the problem: at that age, the babies can keep warm about as well as adult birds, and as long as the parents keep feeding them, they should be fine. Robins don’t use smell to locate their chicks, they use sound (and, as you’ve seen, search if they don’t hear anything) so that wouldn’t be an issue.

      My guess would be that something agile and smart got them. Do you have jays, crows, or ravens hanging around the area? Or martens?

      I hope I’m wrong and you see them again! Keep an eye on the parents – if they keep not feeding, that’s bad news.

  12. Love your blog!!! Found a fledgling this morning in an area that had no cover or low lying brush- It was on the street (along the curb) in 90+ farenheit weather with only puny newly planted city trees and no visible nests. I picked it up (it was very weak and did not object) and brought it to my house. Put it in a box in basement with two plates of moist cat food pate. Went to work and ran home at lunch to check on him/her. The bird seemed stronger so I went back to work. When I came home at night the bird was making loud calls (for parents I assume) so I decided to release him/her in my enclosed back garden. The bird was much more active in terms of running along the ground next to the brick walls with bushes for cover. Since I live close less than a block from where I found the bird and I have bird feeders, and the baby was making loud calls, am really hoping parents showed up. Can’t find the bird in the back yard any more so maybe he/she could fly. Though from what I have subsequently been reading online, I think I should have left the bird alone. I guess we can only do what we think is right at the time. Very rarely, crows come to our yard so am really hoping my little bird was not taken or devoured….

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