Cayucos sits in the midst of varying ecosystems that support habitat for diverse wildlife:
While Cayucos is often associated with seabirds like the Great Egrets on our welcome signs, the grassy hillsides of Cayucos have much to offer the wildlife watcher. Our resident hillside expert, Dr. Joel Germond, maintains a list of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians spotted on Hollywood Hill. This includes over 67 species of birds, 18 mammals and 12 reptiles and amphibians (excluding the shore birds, herons, water fowl and marine mammals that you can see from the hills). You may even spot large predators like mountain lions. Clearly, those of us who climb up the hills to exercise or get a great view of Estero Bay are missing a lot when we focus on reaching the peak and miss the wildlife!
Birds spotted on Hollywood Hill include year-round residents, seasonal visitors, and nocturnal ones. The bird list below is organized into broad categories (e.g., birds of prey) and subdivided into families (e.g., owls) or similar groupings. For specific details like the size, shape, markings, color, habitat, behaviors and calls of different species there are many helpful free websites such as The Audubon Society’s audubon.org and the Cornell lab of Orinithology’s allaboutbirds.org, as well as many hardcopy guides to North American Western birds.
The birds of prey include eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons and ospreys. They have sharp beaks for tearing meat and talons designed to capture prey.
You are probably familiar with the Game Birds (turkeys and quail) and Corvines listed, especially crows, ravens and scrub jays. The yellow-billed magpie is found only in California. It is a black and white bird with a yellow beak and yellow streak around the eye, and is slightly smaller than a crow.
There are three hummingbirds commonly observed in Cayucos, Anna’s, Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds. Both Anna's and Allen's have green backs, but they can be distinguished by size (Anna’s is larger) and the presence of rust-colored feathers on the sides and tails of Allen’s hummingbird. Male Anna’s have deep rose red feathers on their throats and crowns. Male Allen’s have orange-red feathers on their throats only. The male Rufous hummingbird is about the same size as the Allen's, but has a rufous back. The male birds are more colorful and most easily distinguished.
Northern Flicker by Joel Germond
Passerines are perching birds with three toes pointing forward and one back to help them grasp their perches. They include over half of all bird species, and most of the songbirds. A description of the different passerines on Cayucos hills could fill a book. Instead, we offer a few words of advice for fellow novice birders on their identification and recommend that you join the Cayucos Land Conservancy on one of its walks to learn more firsthand.
Lark Sparrow By Joel Germond
Horned Lark By Joel Germond
Lesser Goldfinch eating thistle by Joel Germond
Differentiating the many smaller birds can require a close examination of size, shape, beak, and color, especially for the sparrows! Binoculars, cameras and a guidebook can be very helpful. Join the CLC for a walk to get tips from an expert.
Recently, a roadrunner was spotted racing along a trail in the hills above 13th Street in Cayucos. Perhaps he was encouraged by a wiley coyote. On the hillsides you may also encounter coyotes, other mammals, toads, lizards, snakes or frogs. Large mammals like mountain lions, bobcats and deer are few in number and best spotted in the morning or near dusk in areas with large bushes or trees that provide cover. Also look for evidence of their scat. Holes or mounds of loose soil may be homes for the smaller resident mammals. Reptiles are often found basking in the sun, and the Pacific Tree Frog is only found in areas with significant water. The California Striped Racer shown below is unusual in that it carries its head elevated because it hunts by sight.
Pacific Tree Frog and California Striped Racer by Joel Germond
On a walk up the hill, you will see a small number of the listed species. The abundance of these different bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species varies greatly due to the available habitat, especially plants for food and shelter. Just looking at the hillsides we can see that the dominant vegetation is grass like wild oats. These grasses are overwhelmingly non-native and were seeded on hills to improve their use as rangeland. These grasses are fair to poor in supplying habitat for wildlife. However, the chaparral areas have shrubs like coyote brush and sagebrush, as well as over 75 species of wildflowers like lupine, money flower and California poppy. These areas support brush rabbits, the California thrasher and western fence lizard. In the washes you will encounter arroyo willow trees with a thick understory of poison oak, stinging nettle and blackberry. There are California live oaks in some areas too. These are great places for spotting song birds and animals taking cover. Most other trees on the hillsides were planted by residents, including non-native species like eucalyptus and native species like Monterrey cypress. You can also see birds and animals taking advantage of ornamental or invasive plants such as this yellow-rumped Warbler perched on an invasive watsonia.
Yellow-rumped Warbler by Joel Germond
Ultimately, the geology determines the available plants to support wildlife. The soil in the hills surrounding Cayucos is formed from weathered rocks (mainly sandstone and shale) with a base of Diablo and Cibo clays. These clays have a very heavy texture that does not retain much water. Thus the hillside soil limits the kinds of shrubs and trees that can be established for wildlife. In contrast, downtown Cayucos rests on a sandy loam soil formed from a more fertile old marine bed that can support a broader range of plant life.
The environs of Cayucos provide the habitat that supports a bounty of natural wonders, of which you may be unaware. If you take the time to look around, you can spot and identify many different species of animals and observe their behaviors. The Cayucos Land Conservancy looks forward to your joining one of our hillside walks and finding out why this land is worth preserving.
Most photos courtesy of Joel Germond. Special thanks to Joel Germond and Bill Henry for the wealth of background information and editorial corrections.