Ballona Photography | Preying in the Wetlands

Preying in the Wetlands

April 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I’m always thrilled when I come across birds who eat, prey, & live in the Ballona Wetlands.  The soaring silhouettes of their outstretched wings always stop me in my tracks.  They seem aware of, but not interested in me.  Their steady gaze and deliberately efficient movements reinforce their focus is to prey, but thankfully not on me! As with many birds of prey, pesticides caused steep declines in their populations a few decades ago, from which they have made somewhat of a comeback.  Their main challenges now are habitat destruction, which eliminates their sources of food.

Birds of prey help stabilize bird and mammal populations by feeding on the weakest.  This, in turn, helps stop disease from spreading to the same groups or to other species’ populations, including humans.  Here a a few of the birds I’ve seen “Preying in the Wetlands”.

Kestrels are the smallest of the birds of prey in the Ballona Wetlands.  They prefer a diet of House Sparrows (their favorite), other small birds, rodents, and even insects.  They breed from Alaska to across Canada.  They winter from southern Canada south to the American tropics. 

Female Kestrel, clutching something in her left claw.

Next is size is the White-tailed Kite, who have an appetite for voles, their main prey, other small rodents, and insects.  A fair-weather raptor, they reside year-round in the warmer areas of coastal and the central interiors of southern California, Arizona, Southern Texas, Central America, and northern and mid-southern areas (but not central interior) of South America.  Per Cornell Ornithology, White-tailed Kites are a relatively rare species, with 4% living in the US. 

A White-tailed Kite resting on a branch along the Ballona Creek overlooking the saltpans.

Coopers Hawks are one of the more easily spotted birds of prey around the Ballona Wetlands and in wooded areas of Los Angeles.  They feed mainly on smaller birds. I even saw one catch and take off with a crow in its clutches in the Del Rey Lagoon Park. Needless to say, the other crows surrounded the Coopers Hawk, protesting loudly! They also eat small mammals, lizards, and snakes.

Immature Coopers Hawk.  (Adults have red eyes.)

Osprey’s dine exclusively on fish.  In 2015, there was a 90% drop in the population of the small bait fish (i.e., sardines, anchovies, etc) along the Pacific Coast.  This had a devastating ripple effect on the fish-eating food chain, including the Osprey. Let’s hope the fisheries rebound, and, in turn, the Ospreys can thrive once again. Though found throughout the world, within the Pacific Flyway they winter along the Southern California, US & Central American Gulf Coasts, and throughout much of northern and central South America.  They migrate to the Pacific North West and Northern Canada and Alaska to breed.

 An Osprey perched above Ballona Creek

In 2016, I was stunned to see a Turkey Vulture, who hung out in the Wetlands for a couple weeks. More commonly found in forests and woodlands, these birds “clean up” dead carrion, thus preventing the potential threat of spreading of diseases to other species, including humans. Though unusual to see in the Wetlands, they are year-round residents of Coastal areas of California and Mexico, breeding throughout the US.

  Turkey Vulture soaring over Area-B close to Ballona Creek

Learn More: Google search,  visit, and support some of the  Birds of Prey wildlife rescue organizations in the Los Angeles area.  Join Audubon national and LA chapters.  You’ll enjoy the monthly ezine and print magazines. Come to Audubon’s Open Ballona Wetlands, 9-noon, first Saturday of every month


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