Bird Lady Blog

July 23, 2011

Blue is a Beautiful Color Indeed

Filed under: Great Blue Heron,Munds Park Birding,Steller's Jay,Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 10:04 am

In the last post I wrote about the Western Bluebird, a bird we see often in Munds Park.  The males have gorgeous sky-blue heads and backs, and even the females have blue wings and tails.  I thought I would stick with the blue theme this issue.  I have a black and blue finger from  jamming it while cleaning, and we are doing some painting in our house, with a good portion of some of the rooms in different shades of blue, so blue seems to be the color to focus on.

One bird that is very popular with Munds Park residents, with many people commenting to me about it, is the Steller’s Jay, our own mountain
version of a “blue jay”.  It is large and dark, with a black and crested head, but the back and wings are a sparkling deep blue that shines almost iridescently in the sun.  Most of the time the Steller’s Jay is in the tall canopies of the trees, but it will regularly come to feeders and especially likes peanuts.  Its most noticeable feature is a large crest that gives it a “don’t mess with me” look.  This bird hangs around in camp grounds and picnic areas and will hop on the ground picking up leftover food or unattended picnic items.  Steller’s Jays are described as bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy, and that is a pretty good description of most of the jay family.  My favorite jay in the Midwest and East is its cousin, the Blue Jay, which also has a crest but is colored a lighter blue with a lot of black and white mixed in.  A Steller’s Jay is a great bird for piquing your children’s or grandchildren’s interest in nature as it is colorful, large, and crested and it feeds on people food – peanuts.

I haven’t written until now about the Great Blue Heron.  This bird is one of the largest we have in Munds Park, and you can see it either hunting around the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course ponds and at Lake Odell or flying elegantly in the air with long, sweeping wing beats.  It is the largest and most widespread heron in the U.S., and you will find them at your local golf course and urban ponds or fishing lakes in the rest of Arizona.  They migrate all the way into Mexico and Central America.  The back, wings, and belly are a blue-ish gray, and they have a black plume extending from the eye to the back of the neck.  The feathers are shaggy-looking around its neck.  However, when it stand completely erect at four-and-a-half feet, the bird is very sleek, large, and imposing, especially with its long beak that looks very powerful and dangerous.  And it is indeed dangerous for the fish, frogs, salamanders, mice, shrimp, crabs, crayfish, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other insects it preys on.  If you are out and about and run into a hunting Great Blue Heron, be courteous. It is probably standing perfectly still as it awaits its prey to swim by and then bingo, stabs it with its powerful bill and swallows its catch down its long neck.  And, by the way, its eggs are blue as well.

Great Blue Herons, like many species, are affected by human development.  Human-caused noise, construction, and general lack of secluded habitat affect them.  They breed in colonies, and evidence suggests that colonies will get smaller, with only 40 to 50 breeding families as opposed
to over 100, when their habitat is negatively affected.  I am not aware of breeding colonies of Great Blue Herons in northern Arizona – something for me to research.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Western Bluebirds, Western Screech Owl


When I first started writing about Munds Park birds, I wrote about those that are pretty easy to see even if you don’t think you are a birdwatcher”. That was in June, 2009, when article #1 was published, and some things don’t change – we still have “old faithful” birds that appear easily each year.  So if you missed that article back in 2009, here is a refresher with some new information as well.

Lesser Goldfinches are those “little birds with a lot of yellow” that come to your nyger seed or thistle seed feeders.  You may also catch a glimpse of them flying across the road or from tree to tree on the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  The males have a distinct black cap, greenish-black backs, and yellow breasts.  The females and immatures are duller, with greenish upper parts and less pronounced yellow under parts, and with white wing bars.  A relative is the American Goldfinch, a common bird east of the Mississippi, which has quite a bit more yellow.  Lesser  oldfinches are fun to watch as they hop back and forth sharing the pegs on your seed feeder or hanging on to your thistle sock feeder.   Except for in the heat of the day, they appear almost constantly at our feeder, especially early morning and later afternoon.  They feed only on seeds and very seldom take small insects – only by accident it seems.  For those of us who live the in the Valley of the Sun, putting out a similar seed feeder during the winter will attract Lesser Goldfinches as they migrate South to escape the cold weather up North.

If in Munds  Park you live a bit away from the forest and pines and instead have a home with a small open area or grassy yard nearby, you could be lucky enough to attract the beautiful Western Bluebird.  With their blue backs and rusty breasts, Western Bluebirds can be seen in hot pursuit of insects, but they will also frequent your bird feeder if you offer them mealworms.  Bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use a nest box if built to the right dimensions, which includes an entry hole that is 1 and ½ inches in diameter.  If you are a golfer, the nest boxes you see on Pinewood Country Club golf course are for Bluebirds.  Bluebirds have fans all across the country – there is the Eastern Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird,
neither which I have seen yet.  For more information about Bluebirds, you can visit http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/, the North American Bluebird Society.  The Society is having its annual meeting this September in Jackson, Tennessee, at the same hotel I spend many a night at for business meetings, so I will vouch for its fine accommodations.  And if you are traveling there with a spouse or friend and he/she is not in to birds, try a visit to the many places with Elvis memorabilia.

A little off topic but exciting to report is that this late spring we discovered that Western Screech Owls successfully nested in the next
box I built and put up in our Phoenix yard.  I had given up on ever having a nesting pair in there after one spring the box fell down in a storm and I found two eggs inside, crushed.  We re-hung the box much more securely, but no activity.  We’ve seen and heard the Western Screech Owls in the neighborhood, so I knew they were around.  Imagine our surprise one day near dusk when looking out the window to see something moving around in the cavity hole (3 inches in diameter).  There were two fledglings poking their heads out, and in a about a half hour, a parent bird
appeared on the telephone wire nearby.  Both juveniles then left the box and off they went.  I posted this find on the U of A list service I’ve written about before and got several responses, one from a fellow-birder in the neighborhood.  Two evenings later he was staked out in our back yard (while we were in Munds Park) with his spotting scope and got to see the owls.  For him this species was life bird #518, less than a half mile from  his home.  So you never know what you will find or what new friends you will make when birding. To see a photo of one of the juveniles poking its head out of the nest box see the post on June 1st.

Around Lake Odell

Filed under: Osprey,Pied Billed Grebe — Munds Park Birding @ 9:31 am

Whenever I have some spare time, I drive, walk or ATV down to Lake Odell to see what birds might be around.  Depending on the time of day and how much time I actually have, I can see quite a few of our regulars.  I get good looks at Western Bluebirds, American Crows, American Coots, Mallards, any of our Swallow species, and sometimes a Northern Flicker, Acorn Woodpecker, or Steller’s Jay.  Of note again are the Ospreys that are nesting in their usual spot, high at the top of a tree on the east side of the lake.  With a good pair of binoculars, or better yet a spotting scope, you usually can see one of the Ospreys sitting on the nest.  Sometimes visitors to the lake who see it soaring erroneously identify this bird as an eagle, and yet they are partially right.  The Osprey is nicknamed “Sea Eagle”, and its name comes from the combination of the Greek words “hals”,
which means salt or sea, and “aetos” or eagle. It is the only bird that preys exclusively on live fish.  As a side note, there is also a large active
Osprey nest on the tall dead pine tree in the middle of the fairway of Hole #2 of Pine Canyon Golf Course in Flagstaff.  Our Ospreys have chosen a much more secluded spot to raise their young.

Some other birds I saw recently at Lake Odell are Canada Geese, which are usually sunning themselves at the far southeast side of the lake in the meadow-like area.  I wrote about this species last year in a waterfowl article, and it looks like they are breeding here.  I counted nine adults and
three juveniles. One waterfowl bird I haven’t written about until now is the Pied-Bill Grebe, which I saw a couple of times already in Lake Odell.  There are several species of grebes found in the U.S. – Clark’s, Eared, Horned, Least, Red-Necked, Western, and Pied Billed.  The Pied-Billed Grebe is found in 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii not included), and it is a medium-sized stocky bird with grayish brown upperparts and white upper parts.  The word “pied” in its name has always intrigued me, and I even use the word when playing Scrabble or Words With Friends on my iPhone.  So I finally looked up the definition of “pied” and found that it means two or more contrasting colors, which indeed describes this bird’s bill – white, black white.  The Pied-Billed Grebe is almost always found in the water all by itself, unlike groups of ducks or coots milling together.  You will see it dive under the water as it hunts insects, crustaceans, and fish.  This bird also dives to escape danger, is rarely seen in flight, and when it does migrate, does so at night.  It builds its nest on a floating mass of dead vegetation that is usually anchored to a log or dead trees.  What I would really like to see is a Pied-Bill Grebe swimming on the water with its young chicks on its back.  I’m afraid that to do that I’d have to camp out at Lake Odell a good part of the spring, and then I would be missing too many tee times.

In the last issue I mentioned the Abert’s Squirrel we nick-named Rex who learned how to climb along the three-foot extended metal pole from which our sunflower feeder hangs.  I put up a make-shift baffle (made from two McDonald’s plastic chocolate shake cups) on that pole and Rex has since avoided that feeder.  The cups look tacky, but at least I now know I can now invest in a real baffle and solve the problem.  However, Rex has instead found he can make a small leap onto our flat feeder tray instead and get the same meal there.  I finally decided that’s OK.  That tray is at the side of the deck, mostly used by the Band-tailed Pigeons, and Rex is sort of cute to watch anyways.  On the other hand, he also will chew through any fabric item left on our desk, so beware – cuteness has its limits.

For those of you who missed the answers from the Quiz in the last issue, they are:  1B; 2D; 3B; 4C; 5C; 6D; 7A; 8C.

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