Bird Lady Blog

October 8, 2009

Band-Tailed Pigeon, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Rufous Hummingbird

Filed under: Band Tailed Pigeon Grosbeak Rufous Hummingbird,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 4:13 am

Black headed grosbeakI think most people become interested in birds because they first notice the ones around their homes and pay attention to their colors, habits, and vocalization.  Or in the case of woodpeckers, sometimes it’s their unwelcome rap-rap-rapping on the siding of your house that gets your attention.  In this article I am going to cover three more birds that you are likely to see from your deck or on a walk through the neighborhood, and especially likely if you have feeders or a bird bath.

 We have large pigeons here in Munds Park, and when you first see them you may think, “Oh no!  Where did these pigeons come from?” suspecting they are the variety you see on the streets of New York City and Chicago or lined up on your telephone wires in central Phoenix.  Those “city birds” are Rock Pigeons and are not native to the United States.  Our Munds Park bird is a native Band-Tailed Pigeon, and in the U.S. it is only found in the West.  It is a predominantly gray bird, about 14 inches long, and my first impression was that its head is just a bit too small for its large body.  A green iridescent band covers the back of its neck along with a thin white collar or horizontal stripe at the top of the green.  Its feet are yellow.  Little Pygmy Nuthatches will bop back and forth to the feeder in front of your eyes, but the big Band-Tailed Pigeon in contrast is a shy and quiet giant that will abandon its post at the feeder when it senses people nearby.  These birds feed on seeds and will go through the least expensive bird food in a flash, but their natural food is acorns.  One early morning I was almost fooled by its call – I thought I heard a Great Horned Owl, and instead what I heard was a Band-Tailed Pigeon.  The two birds sound very similar.

 If you see a medium-size bird with orange and black and a little bit of white, you are seeing a Black-Headed Grosbeak.  The male is the most distinctive, with a black cap, deep orange breast, and white wing bars.  The female is a watered-down version of the male, with more black and white striping on its head and a duller breast.  These birds are seed eaters and only found in the Western United States, but they have hybridized with their close relatives, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, which are found in the Eastern United States.  The two species used to be separated by the vast, treeless prairies in the central part of the country, but as cities and towns emerged, along with their trees, both species met in the middle.  Birds of both species have heavy beaks and can open almost any type of seed, and they also east insects.  I have not been fortunate enough yet to see a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak in my travels, but watching the Black-Headed Grosbeak we find in Munds Park is always a treat. 

 It probably is best to write about the Rufous Hummingbirds now before they take off for the winter.  This little hummer is feisty and buzzy – an individual will drive off competing birds at your sugar water feeder.  You can hear it often before you see it, with its distinctive metallic whine from its incredible wing motion.  Males are almost all orange or rusty except for their white breast and green wings.  If you see one sitting on your feeder with the bright sun on it, I think you would agree it is gorgeous.  Females are bright green above and white below with washed rufous color on the sides and rump.  These birds winter in Mexico and Texas and have been found even on the southern part of the East Coast.  By August, Rufous Hummingbirds leave Alaska and British Columbia and migrate down the Pacific Coastline.  In Munds Park they leave later for their migration, typically in late September.  Their habitat is coniferous forests and shrubby-pine sub-alpine forests, and they depend on the wild flowers, typically red ones, to provide a source for nectar and insects. 

Another word or two about hummingbirds.  If you have a feeder, use one part white sugar to four parts water and don’t put red food coloring in the mixture.  Artificial coloring is not necessary – birds will find your bright red feeder.  If you have more interest in hummingbirds, visit the web site of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, at www.sabo.org.  Located near the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, SABO holds hummingbird banding volunteer workshops.  You might even get to meet Sheri Williams, a co-founder of SABO and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds in North America.  You can contact me at margaretdyekman@cox.net.

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