Bird Lady Blog

May 28, 2010

Turkey Vultures, Common Ravens, and American Crows

Filed under: Munds Park Birding,Vultures Ravens Crows — Munds Park Birding @ 4:24 am

Welcome back to Munds Park to each and every summer resident and weekender – and that includes our large, black summer-visitor bird, the Turkey Vulture.  The Turkey Vulture is one of three large, black birds we see in Munds Park.  The other two species are the Common Raven and the American Crow, both who live here year-round with many of you.  But it is the Turkey Vulture who comes and goes with the weather, just like yours truly.  (Note:  Picture : © Samuel Blanc / www.sblanc.com)

Turkey Vultures are found throughout the United States except for Alaska and Hawaii.  In old Western movies you would see them circling overhead as the cowboys ride through the panoramic landscape and call them “ol’ Buzzards”.  In Munds Park we often see them soaring in a high loop near the intersection of Pinewood Boulevard and the I-17 exit.  Some people consider them ugly birds because their heads are completely free of feathers and instead show only red, bare skin and a white beak.  Turkey Vultures are beautiful in the air, however, barely beating their wings in flight as the glide through the skies seeking out their next meal – a dead animal.  These birds have a keen sense of smell and while soaring can locate carrion below our canopy of Ponderosa Pines.  From above they have a six-foot wing span and a black body.  When they are in flight you can see that the front of their wings is completely black and their tail and the back wing feathers are gray.  In spite of their appearance, Turkey Vultures have many human fans.  At least five annual birding festivals in the U.S. specifically celebrate the return of the Turkey Vulture from their winter migration.

The Common Raven is found generally West of the Mississippi and in part of the Central East.  If you moved to Arizona from the Great Plains or Southern States, the Common Raven would be a new bird for you.  Two feet tall when standing, this bird is coal black with a purple sheen and a stout bill.  In flight it has a wedge-shaped tail, which is a good identifier.  Compared to the American Crow, the Common Raven is quiet and solitary.  It gives out a guttural croak-like sound when it does vocalize.  The Common Raven mostly forages on the ground and will eat carrion, maggots, small mammals, reptiles, frogs, young birds, acorns, and fruit.  You can attract them with peanuts.  Common Ravens are viewed as very intelligent birds.  They have been observed in playful activity, making “toys” of sticks, and they have learned to fly down the middle of a road for long stretches looking for road kill for their next meal.

The American Crow is often heard before seen.  How many of you have tried to take a lazy-day afternoon nap only to be disturbed by a flock of crows cawing to each other from the nearby tree tops?  These birds are smaller than the Common Raven and are much more social.  Some consider them pests, as they thrive around people and can be found not only in our beautiful forests, but in landfills, garbage dumps, parks, athletic fields, and parking lots.  They are not found in the Phoenix metro area, as Common Ravens are.  American Crows are all black, including their legs and bill.  Their throat feathers are smooth when calling, unlike the Common Raven, which has ruffled throat feathers when calling.  Crows were hit very hard by the West Nile Virus, but have been on the rebound.  I personally like crows – they are the kind of birds that make themselves known, seem to openly enjoy their family group, and communicate loudly with each other right in front of us.  With gusto, they make sure you “hear” that you are in Munds Park

What do these three species have in common besides being large and black?  Well, they are monogamous, and the males and females of each species are similar to each other in size and look.  And all three eat carrion, although for the Turkey Vulture carrion is the only thing it eats.  It is usually first to the kill site because of its strong sense of smell, and Common Ravens and American Crows will follow based on sight and sound.

If you missed Article #8, find it at http://www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com, and read up on how you, too, can help prevent birds from flying into your house windows and breaking their necks and your heart.  It is hard enough being a bird without people-made forest reflections luring birds to a window crash and fall.  Let’s all take preventive measures to make windows safer for the birds of Munds Park.  You can reach me at margaretdyekman@cox.net or visit http://www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.

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2010 Birding Resolutions

Filed under: Birding Resolutions,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 4:17 am

Happy New Year to all!  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since we worried about Y2K and the potential computer crashes predicted with the turn of the century.  Now we’ve entered a new decade, and most of us are not only using computers more, but we use iBird for our iPhones to augment our book field guide, we read birding blogs on the internet, we shop on-line for new binoculars or a scope, and we e-mail our friends about our recent bird sightings.  So a lot has changed, for the better I would say.  But some things still stay the same, like making and striving to accomplish New Year resolutions.

 So here are my birding resolutions for 2010, and one of them involves all Munds Park residents.  I hope you will hop on the band-wagon, I mean bird-wagon, and make resolution #5 yours as well. 

 Visit the Grand Canyon during the Hawk Watch season.

  1. Bird the Kachina Wetlands with new birding friends from Munds Park.
  2. Hold at least one gathering of birders in Munds Park this summer so fellow-birders get to know each other and begin networking.
  3. Do a better job of protecting the Cordillean Flycatchers on our new deck, assuming they nest again, from the predator that was most likely a Raccoon and who knocked down the nest last summer.
  4. See the Red-Faced Warbler.
  5. Begin a campaign in Munds Park to minimize, if not completely stop, the bird-kills from birds flying into our homes’ windows.

 I think #5 is the most important resolution I’ve made in a long time as far as birding goes.  I would bet a burger at the Lone Pine that most of you reading this article have found a dead bird on your deck or on the ground, and you know it came from the bird flying straight into one of your windows.  In fact, you probably saw the imprint of the bird on your window pane or heard the dreaded “thump” when it hit. 

 Three years ago when I visited the Flagstaff Arboretum I saw a product in their gift shop that was called “Window Alert”.  The product is a package of four decals that have a special coating to reflect ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but birds see it as a brilliant glow – much like a stoplight.  The naturalist conducting our tour mentioned that these decals were used at the Arboretum to prevent window bird kills – and that they were the best solution the Arboretum had come across yet for this problem. 

 So I bought a package and very easily placed the stickers on our deck windows.  The result?  No bird crashes that I’m aware of into our deck windows.  No dead birds with broken necks on the redwood floor below.  And to the human eye, the decals appear as frosted or etched glass – certainly unobtrusive during the day and almost invisible at night.  But to birds, who can see ultraviolet light that we cannot, the decals act as a warning that shouts “Don’t fly through here”.  The bad news, however, is that we have two side windows right below the roof line that I haven’t placed decals on because we don’t have a ladder tall enough.  Last summer I found one dead Rufous Hummingbird on the steps below those windows.  To think that this bird migrates from Munds Park to Mexico and back only to crash and die because of one of our windows reflects the great outdoors is sad and frustrating. 

 So my resolution #6 has several parts.  First, educate residents of Munds Park about the window-kill problem, how it can be prevented, and get everyone who has windows that are bird-crash magnets to take action.  There are other ideas beside the decals if you don’t want to spend the $7 or so to purchase four decals per window.  Just check out www.birdwatchersdigest.com and search for the article “The Top Ten Things You Can Do To Prevent Window Strikes”.  The First Alert decals, however, have proven in at least one scientific research study by a Mulhenberg College professor to be very effective in minimizing window strikes.  The second part of Resolution #6 is to find someone with a very tall ladder who will help place decals on the two windows I can’t reach on my own.  And the third part of this resolution is to keep the educational campaign up all year long to ensure all residents of Munds Park are aware of alternatives to bird-window strikes. 

 You can order Window Alert decals at www.windowalert.com.  You can reach me at margaretdyekman@cox.net.  You can also read previous Birds of Munds Park articles that have been published in the Pinewood News at www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.  And all these links and sites in this article prove at least to me that Y2K is well past us and we’ve moved along with the World Wide Web to a more connected birding world.

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