Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

What I Learned in Ireland About Northern Arizona Birding


Hooded Crow

Eight of us took a trip to Ireland in late May/early June to golf, see the country, and, of course for me, to informally bird watch. In the meantime, while I was abroad, I heard from three Munds Park residents who sent me their photos of two birds we have here:  Western Tanager and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

The Western Tanager is a brightly colored, red headed/yellow bodied/black-winged bird that appears in late spring. Western Tanagers are stocky song birds that inhabit coniferous environments, foraging though the upper parts of pine and juniper branches in a methodical manner.  They don’t frequent seed feeders but can be attracted with fresh or dried fruit.  I’ve read that their song is a hoarse, American Robin-type song, but I don’t think I’ve ever recognized it.  Note to self:  pay more attention to what bird songs you are hearing, especially right before dusk.  I need to make myself differentiate between the song of the Western Tanager and the Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The photo I received from a reader of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird was taken at Lake Odell. I saw these Blackbirds this year also at the pond on the Pinewood Country Club golf course between #1 and #10.  And, exciting news, the Ospreys are again nesting in the same tree as last year to the south of #13 on the golf course.  I haven’t been around enough to know how many birds are in the nest.  But it sure it fun to make the turn at 12 and look up to see the nest and know the birds still favor Munds Park.

As for Ireland, birding there was easier than in Africa, where we were last year.   Ireland has a human population of only four and a half million people, and the bird population parallels that statistic.  Ireland has a rather low number of bird species because of its isolation.  I bought a field guide, The Birds of Ireland by Jim Wilson, and packed my pair of binoculars along with its shoulder harness, and was able to see 35 new bird species without going off our travel itinerary.  Ireland has a Blackbird, which is the size and shape of our American Robin, and it I completely black except for a bright yellow beak.  Their Robin is red/orange from the beak to the breast, and when I spotted it, it flitted like a fly-catcher rather than moved like our Robin.  On the final afternoon we were in Dublin, I took a walk through a city park and saw three life-birds in the span of an hour:  Robin, Tufted Duck, and Grey Wagtail.  The Wagtails really do wag their tails, and I found two species, the Grey and the Pied.

Ireland’s one-and-only Swallow is very similar to our Barn Swallow, and the House Martin, which our group identified while we were in a golf course clubhouse sipping on pints of Guinness, is a lot like our Violet Green Swallow.

The Blue Tit and Great Tit resemble our Mountain Chickadees. I saw my first Ireland’s Hooded Crow in a little village we stopped at for ice cream (Irish people love their ice cream, and large ice cream cone statues in front of stores indicate that you can find some there).  Unlike our American Crow, which is all black, the Hooded Crow is part grey and part black, and therefore rather easy to contrast with another bird in Ireland, the Raven.

What was my favorite bird of Ireland? It had to be the Lapwing.  The Lapwing resembles a Killdeer, but it has a top-knot similar to our Gamble’s Quail, which is found only in our desert, not at higher elevations.  The Lapwing is featured in the logo for the Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin, so I just had to buy myself one of the golf shirts there to wear as a fond memory of our golf and birding.

Bullock’s Oriole


Bullock’s Oriole

Back in May, 2014, I wrote about a Bullock’s Oriole sighting by a reader who lives on Reindeer. This year, two readers approached me with their photos when I was at the all-member meeting at Pinewood Country Club.  They had captured on their cell phones very nice photos of a beautiful male Bullock’s Oriole from earlier in the month.  One of their photos had the Oriole on a hummingbird feeder.  I went to the iBird Plus on my phone and we compared their photos to the ones in the ap and made positive identification.  The two ladies are to be commended for keeping bird-friendly yards – nectar feeders, water treatment/bubblers, and seed feeders – and for documenting their sightings with their cameras.

Bullock’s Orioles prefer cottonwoods and streams and are the western version of the Baltimore Oriole. I don’t think this one is a resident – it was most likely passing through during migration.  But what a stunning bird with its yellow-orange and black and white!  Our male Black-Headed Grosbeaks have similar coloring but have a different beak because they are primarily seed eaters.  The Oriole feeds on insects, nectar, and fruit and the beak is much more pointed and slender than a Grosbeak’s.

What birds did I see in Munds Park in mid-May during a short weekend? Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Western Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, Canada Geese, Great-Tailed Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, Mallards, one Dark-Eyed Junco, one Chipping Sparrow, a Pygmy Nuthatch, Common Ravens, Turkey Vultures, House Finch (heard only), possible Great-Horned Owl (heard only), Osprey, Red-Tailed Hawk, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, American Robin, possible Common Black Hawk, one Yellow-Headed Blackbird, and Purple Martins.  I saw the Purple Martins on Stallion Drive during a walk just before dusk.  They were loud, as Purple Martins are, and perched high in trees on the Munds Canyon side of Stallion.  I know I’ve heard them in seasons before, but because of the classes I took during the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, I concentrated on their profile:  forked tail, wings that reach almost past their tail feathers, and their size.

The Chipping Sparrow is one I haven’t written about – don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It is a medium-sized sparrow with a rufous cap and black eye stripe.  Its song – a trill on a fixed note – is similar to that of a Dark-Eyed Junco.  As I was getting a refill on my water after the front nine, I first heard the Chipping Sparrow and then saw it, perched on the wooden fencing near the putting green at Pinewood Country Club.  It prefers woodland edges, gardens, parks, and grassy clearings.  It is a bird you will possibly find while sitting around the Pine Cone Café or around semi-open areas, especially if near homes and gardens.

Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival


Summer Tanager

Just like most hobbies, birding has an entire infrastructure around it that consists of things like magazines, discussion boards, social and scientific groups, conferences, and festivals. Birding festivals are a big deal in the U.S. – you can find them in most states and they are another source of tourist income for a town/city/county.  Location-specific festivals bring birders together for viewing, educational, and social purposes.  Last month my friend from Illinois and I attended the 16th annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, and it was an experience I would definitely recommend.

Exactly what happens at a birding festival? The biggest draw, as you might imagine, is to identify and watch birds and preferably find a “lifer” or two or more.  “Lifer” or “life bird” are terms used by birders for a bird seen (or sometimes heard) for the very first time in the wild. In my case, I had seven life birds during this festival, which was great considering I already spend so much time in Arizona either south or north of the festival area centered around Cottonwood and Prescott.  We went on four six-hour field trips, each starting at 7 a.m. in the morning, with each having a driver for transporting groups of about 15 people to and from the birding site.  Each group also had a guide, who typically was a very experienced amateur birder who helped us locate and identify the birds.  These field trips took us from the Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which was the central meeting and exhibit location, to Page Springs Fish Hatchery, the Rocking River Ranch outside of Camp Verde, Mingus Mountain, and on a canoe trip on the Verde River.  My canoe guide was a young woman who is a financial planner by day, outdoor enthusiast on weekends.

We also attended several afternoon lectures complete with PowerPoint slides: How to Identify Warblers, How to Identify Flycatchers, Birding by Ear, and Night Birds Workshop.  Early evening and into one of the nights we went trekking with flashlights to find owls and nighthawks and ended up at a nice restaurant for a group dinner and beverages in the heart of Cottonwood.  We did get some friendly stares from people watching 12 of us in hiking boots carrying tripods, spotting scopes, and binoculars as we walked through part of Cottonwood into a sports bar on a Saturday evening.

Who attends these festivals? Honestly, people from all over the country and sometimes from other countries.  For example, we met an avid woman birder from remote Alaska who chose this festival because it also got her a break from the cold weather.  We met a couple from Alabama who had never seen a Roadrunner before and were going to head to Tucson afterwards in search of desert birds.  Some of the guides were retired teachers, and others were in the bird “business” – one guide was starting up bird touring company out of Flagstaff that will focus on the Sedona tourist market.

My two favorite lifers were the Summer Tanager and the Lark Sparrow. The former because it is such a bright red and the latter because it is a distinctively marked sparrow we found while just sitting/resting at the bird feeders stationed around the Dead Horse Ranch festival area.  In Munds Park we have the Western Tanager (red/yellow/black).

The workshops and lectures were very helpful because they made me think about upping my game when I try to identify a bird by its call or song, or paying more attention to the bird’s structure and markings to make identification easier. The folks at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival were all volunteers. The festival ran like clock-work, and you could not find a nicer group of people to associate with.  If you have any interest in attending birding festivals but don’t know how to start, you can go online to www.birdwatcherdigest.com and use the festival search function.  My next stop is Ireland (golf and birding), and then I will be staying put in Munds Park for the summer.  I hope while I’m gone some of you will e-mail me and let me know what you are seeing here in our own back yards.

Birds and Butterflies

Filed under: Bald Eagles,Birding,Migration — Munds Park Birding @ 8:51 pm
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I have been to Munds Park only once since October, but friends informed me that birds are nesting (watch for activity of Mountain Chickadees and Steller’s Jays) and spring is moving forward and teaming with bird commotion. Here in Scottsdale I had an interesting winter – a female Northern Cardinal hung around for a few weeks, partaking of the black oil sunflower seeds, and a Coopers Hawk visited the back yard several times trying to snap up the feeding sparrows or doves for his/her next meal.  One morning we awoke to see the Cooper’s Hawk poised on our birdbath, and nary another bird in sight.  The White-Crowned Sparrows arrived in Scottsdale in early October, signaling the start of fall, and the Lesser Goldfinches were present all winter at my niger seed feeders.  I like to think these same ones are now on their way back to Munds Park.  Other birds of note were one Rufous-Sided Towhee and a Bewick’s Wren.

Some of you may have read in the Arizona Republic about the nesting Bald Eagles in North Scottsdale (on an un-named golf course to protect the birds from too much human activity). It’s really great to see that our Bald Eagle population continues to be on the rise, and certainly that is a species that tugs at the heart strings of all of us.  I am hopeful we will continue to see Bald Eagles occasionally again in Munds Park this year.

My new activity this fall and winter was putting in a butterfly garden. I became interested after reading articles written by Desert Botanical Garden staff stating, to put it very simply, that while we humans rip up native vegetation to build houses and “nice” landscaping, we fail to replace native plants.  Those native plants, especially varieties of milkweed, are critical to maintaining our butterfly population.  Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on.  So, in Scottsdale, we dug up the front lawn, which was our plan anyway, and put in Desert Milkweed, Wooly Butterfly Plant, Penstemon, Red Fairy Duster, and Desert Lavender.  I subsequently learned that Arizona Milkweed was preferred by butterflies for egg-laying in the desert, so I am growing some Arizona Milkweed from seed and will start incorporating that into our garden.

But what if you want to make a butterfly-friendly garden in Munds Park or the Northern Arizona surrounding area? First, we know that Monarch Butterflies and other species do pass through here, so planting a butterfly-friendly garden will eventually pay off.  I had a great conversation with Nigel of the Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed nursery while doing research.  This nursery sells milkweed varieties that grow in the northern elevations, and Nigel is very knowledgeable about what to plant and when.  In addition, your local landscape companies can assist with plants that attract butterflies once they “grow up” and are off the milkweed.

Next stop: A friend from Chicago-land and I are finally going to attend the full four days of the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in late April.  I will report on that in my next article.

January 1, 2016

White-Faced Ibis, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo


White-Faced IbisA pair of White-Faced Ibises showed up at the pond at Hole 1 of Pinewood Country Club over Labor Day weekend.   Standing on sometimes only one leg in the fairway grass at the edge of the water, an ibis is hard to miss.  Its most distinguished feature is its long, down-curved beak.  It is a very dark bird, and in the right light you can see it is actually an iridescent brown-bronze color.  Without a pair of binoculars, it’s otherwise difficult to see the thin band of white feathers around its beak.  But those white feathers give the bird its name: “White-Faced” Ibis.  I have seen this species over the years infrequently in Munds Park, always around the golf course, and also at Kachina Wetlands.  I’ve seen their relatives, the White Ibis, in Florida and the Africa Sacred Ibis in Botswana.  For those of you who travel in the West, the White-Faced Ibis ranges from Oregon east to Minnesota and south to Texas.  Often you will find it wintering in Southern California, generally in preferred habitats of salt water or fresh water marshes.

Two much smaller birds are next on my list to tell you about.  One is relatively easy to spot, the other more difficult.  The easy one is the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, probably the most common warbler found on the entire North American continent.  It is medium-sized for a warbler, has dark-streaked blue-gray upperparts, and a yellow throat and white belly, but what makes it easy to identify is the patch of yellow on its rump when flying away.  That yellow rump is exactly what I saw on Hole 16 the first week of September.  This was the first time I saw a Yellow-Rumped Warbler in Munds Park, but I often see them on the golf course in central Phoenix during fall and winter, and all over the country when I travel.  The research says they breed in coniferous forests, so maybe they are here more than I’ve noticed.  If you leave Munds Park for the winter, look for the Yellow-Rumped Warbler in parks and golf courses – you may first notice the yellow spot on their rump as they fly from you into the trees.

The last bird I heard, but did not see.  However, I spent a lot of time trying to track down its distinctive call, which we golfers heard over and over this summer coming from the more open areas around the cattails and reeds.  I found a site on the Internet that provided bird calls based on the number of syllables – in this case, a “chee-ree” that was loud and always went from down to up in key and repeated usually three times in a row.  After going through about 140 different bird songs, I settled on Hutton’s Vireo.  Then I checked my two birding aps on my phone and a site or two on the Internet, listened to more song samples, and concluded that what we were hearing was indeed a Hutton’s Vireo.  This bird is a first for me, and hopefully next summer I can stalk out the areas (when not golfing) and actually see the bird.  It is mostly olive-green with some white, including a white eye-ring.  But for such a small little bird, it sure puts out a mighty song!

By the way, a Bald Eagle was spotted by some golfers in early and late September soaring over the PCC Golf Course and also perched on a dead tree limb over Lake Odell.  It made a special appearance for a special wedding held at Lake Odell the morning of September 20th.  Continue to watch the skies and tree tops for this species and other migrating raptors.

Finally, if you want to visit a cool birding site on the World Wide Web and even help report sightings, check out http://www.ebird.org.

Reader Questions


Black-Headed Grosbeak

Black-Headed Grosbeak

It has been a busy two weeks with reader correspondence.  The most common question has been “where have all the birds gone?”  The answer, I think, is that they are migrating!  At least many of them are.  The Black-Headed Grosbeaks seem to leave in mid-August.  I haven’t seen an American Robin in a while.  But what about the Lesser Goldfinch?  They are still here in Munds Park but not that active at our feeders.  The theory:  they are spending more time on the wild flower seeds from all the vegetation that has bloomed and now is going to seed.  And the Western Bluebirds are abundant – one of the last to arrive in Munds Park and last to leave for fall migration.

On the other hand, the Canada Geese are sticking around and have been seen at the ponds of the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  Also at the ponds was a new hatch of American Coots – must be the second brood of the season.  At first the babies are black with red head feathers and a red beak – very cute!  Then they turn into a boring gray before the distinctive black body and white beak.

Second question:  What happened to the Osprey nest?  This question came from my women golfer friends, who exhibited much concern since the Osprey nest, often with one or two birds on it, has been part of the landscape on the back nine of the golf course this summer and last summer.  There were several theories:  1) the tree the nest was built on fell down of natural causes; 2) some terrible person cut down the tree because the Ospreys are loud, vocal birds and disturbed the human’s sleep; 3) the nest tumbled down on its own during the last very big storm, which seemed to be a micro-burst of rough weather.  My friends and I concluded that the most likely answer is #3, primarily because we see one of the Osprey perched on a tall tree that we think was the exact one that held the nest.  So the Ospreys are going back to a familiar place only to find that the house up and crashed, and they will have to build another next year.  We all hope it will be in the same place so we can keep an eye on it in between our golf club swings.

Third question:  Why don’t we have Magpies in Munds Park?  The Black-Billed Magpie is a very large, noisy, black and white member of the jay family.  I have seen them in Colorado when we visited Durango.  The only part of Arizona they inhabit is the northeast corner of Apache Country – almost into Colorado.  I did manage to find a scientific paper on Magpies in Arizona and concluded that probably temperature and humidity are the reasons they are not here.  Probably a good thing, because the American Crows are noisy enough and I’m not sure we need another bird species to compete with them!

Lastly, a reader did say that she switched to nyger seeds and safflower seeds and the Brown-Headed Cowbirds went away and the Lesser Goldfinches returned.  So that was a happy resolution to that dilemma.

Bird Quiz


It’s been a while since we’ve done a birding quiz.  Let’s see how you do!  Answers to these questions are found somewhere else in the Pinewood News.

  1. What birds have a large nest on the top of a dead pine tree near Lake Odell? Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American Kestral, Common Raven.  Hint:  They catch and eat fish.
  2. Which Goldfinch species is common in Munds Park? American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Coconino Goldfinch?
  3. When a group of Turkey Vultures are soaring in the sky, what do ornithologists call them? Cast, Committee, Meal, Vortex, or Wake.
  4. Which finch has not been sighted in Munds Park (at least to my knowledge?) Black Rosy-Finch, House Finch, Cassin’s Finch.
  5. When is the least favorable time to be bird watching? Morning, High Noon, Late Afternoon.
  6. Are Acorn Woodpeckers best described as being: Communal or Solitary?
  7. What blackbird is not common to Munds Park? Lone-Pine Blackbird, Red-Winged Blackbird, Yellow-Headed Blackbird?
  8. What bird is often thought to be a duck, but is not? Mallard, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal
  9. About how many times a minute does a hummingbird’s heart beat? 400, 600, 1200.
  10. What is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attract birds to your property? Cracked corn, green ham and eggs, dripping water into a bird bath, rock music played over back-yard speakers.
  11. What are the primary colors of a male Western Tanager?  Gray and Black; Red and Black;  Red, Yellow, and Black; Brown and Blue
  12. Which grosbeak is found regularly in Munds Park? Black-Headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, or Steller’s Grosbeak?
  13. What would be a favorite food of a Pygmy Nuthatch? Unshelled peanuts; nyger seed; black-oil sunflower seeds.
  14. Where do Western Bluebirds nest? In a triangular configuration of branches in a Ponderosa Pine; On the ground near a source of water; In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box; Under the eaves above your deck.
  15. Which swallow species has a long forked tail? Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Blue-Green Swallow; Tree Swallow.

Answers:

  1. Osprey
  2. Lesser Goldfinch
  3. All of the choices
  4. Black Rosy-Finch
  5. High Noon
  6. Communal
  7. Lone-Pine Blackbird (I made that name up)
  8. American Coot
  9. 1200
  10. Dripping water into a bird bath
  11. Red, Yellow, and Black
  12. Black-Headed Grosbeak
  13. Black-oil sunflower seeds
  14. In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box
  15. Barn Swallow

Birds of Prey


Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk

The common names for birds of prey are eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, harriers, vultures, and owls.  In ornithology, “bird of prey” has a narrow meaning: those birds with very good eyesight for finding food, strong feet for holding food, and a strong curved beak for tearing flesh.  Most birds of prey also have strong curved talons for catching or killing.  So as I recently discovered, a sea gull, which forages for fish with its beak, would not fall into the bird of prey category, but an osprey, which catches fish with its talons and then rips it apart with a curved beak, would.

In and around Munds Park we have several birds of prey, and I recently spotted a new one while I was golfing (again) one afternoon.  A single bird of prey was soaring above us at the 8th hole of Pinewood County Club, and it got low and close enough for a real good look through my binoculars.  My first thought was that it looked different from our Turkey Vulture, but not that different.  When it got closer I could see a distinctive white band across its tail and broader wings without the distinctive coloration of a Turkey Vulture.  Plus, it was solitary – whereas most of the Turkey Vultures soaring above the Golf Course are in a group.

I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used the bird ap iBird Plus 7.2 and whittled it down to two species:  Common Black-Hawk or Zone-Tailed Hawk.  Both are black-ish, with the underside wing pattern a bit similar to that of a Turkey Vulture, but where they live is different.  The Common Black-Hawk is found primarily in southern Arizona; the Zone-Tailed Hawk, according to my bird aps and books, has a preferred habitat of deep, wooded canyons and mountainous, rugged areas, hunting in grasslands or sparse forests.  So even though I only got one good look at this bird (in between golf shots), I am going to say that it was a Zone-Tailed Hawk.  I can remember what hole I saw the hawk on, but for the life of me I cannot remember what my next golf shot was like.  I guess I have my priorities straight.

Other birds of prey we can see here are Bald Eagles (occasionally spotted soaring or perched on the limbs of a dead tree), Red-Tailed Hawk (the most common hawk in the U.S.), Northern Harrier (I saw one hunting just one time in my 15 years here), Peregrine Falcon (occasionally) and our resident Ospreys.  The Ospreys used to have a nest on the east side of Lake Odell, but for the last two or three years have now built their nest at the top of a tall dead tree to the south of Hole 13 at Pinewood Country Club.   We have seen as many as four Ospreys at a time – presumably the parents and two offspring.  Other golf courses in the area that also have resident Ospreys with nests are Forest Highlands Country Club and Pine Canyon Country Club.

The bird of preys I haven’t seen in Munds Park are any kind of owls.  No sightings, no hearing their hooting – nothing.  I suppose there may be owls here, but for the life of me I don’t know where.  If anyone thinks they have seen or heard an owl, I would be interested in hearing from you.

Swallows and Conflicts with Nature


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!

 

The Bluebirds Have Arrived!


Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Each year, the Black-Headed Grosbeaks arrive, followed by several species of swallows, and finally by the middle of June our Western Bluebirds show up in Munds Park en-masse.  I get anxious by early June thinking something bad has happened to all of them on the way back from Mexico.  Then I spot one, then two, and finally by the end of June they are all over, especially on the Pinewood Country Club golf course.

There are three species of Bluebirds in the United States:  the Eastern Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird.  The Western Bluebird is the species we have in Munds Park.  Bluebirds are loved by many people across the country – perhaps because they are so colorful (blue/rust/white), they often live around humans, and they will nest in our nest boxes.   Bluebirds even have their own non-profit association (founded by humans, of course) with the purpose of protecting them and their habitat.  The North American Bluebird Society was established in 1978 by Dr. Lawrence Zeleny to promote the recovery of bluebirds.  The organization is headquartered in Indiana and has a website that provides educational information about bluebird nest boxes, predator control, and feeding.  Much of bluebird nesting habitat has been destroyed by human development or taken over by House Sparrows and European Starlings (both non-native birds), so people have helped by setting up nest boxes specifically for bluebirds, especially Eastern and Western species.

Bluebirds will often lay two broods a year.  The will nest in old fence posts, cavities in trees, and of course in man-made nest boxes.  They tend to stay around meadows, golf courses, parks, and cemeteries – all places that are somewhat open but have some trees or large bushes then can use to perch on.

Last fall a couple of us cleaned out and re-secured all the bluebird nest boxes on Pinewood Country Club’s golf course, and we put up an additional seven boxes.  We already saw one new nest box (on the left side of hole 3) being used by Tree Swallows in late spring.  Lately we’ve seen bluebird nesting activity in another two of the new nest boxes – one of the boxes to the right of hole 11, and another to the right of hole 15.  In mid-fall, we will take a look at all of the nest boxes, clean them out, and perhaps change locations of some of them.

When I was a little girl I remember my mother telling me that my maternal grandparents took a car trip from Illinois to California – much of it on Route 66 – to see relatives.  The trip was in the early 1950’s and a big deal for both of my grandparents, especially my grandma who didn’t drive and never had been west of Illinois.  But what did she always talk about as a memory from that trip?  Seeing Bluebirds!  Maybe hearing that story is in part why I became a birder early on.  Those grandmas have a way of making an impression on our minds!

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