Bird Lady Blog

July 29, 2012

Uncommon Birds


Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

In early July I saw two species of birds I had never seen before:  Red Crossbill and Cassin’s Finch.  Both of these birds are found in Munds Park, but they are not as prevalent or as easily seen as others I’ve written about.  And a third uncommon species, the Yellow-Headed Blackbird, has reappeared on the pond between the 1st and 18th hole of Pinewood Country Club’s golf course after having not been seen for a couple of seasons.

Thanks to the observations and wonderful bird-friendly Turkey Trail front yard of two friends, I was able to see the Red Crossbill and Cassin’s Finch.  On July 2nd we just sat on their front porch chairs and watched the activity around their bird feeders and baths.  About 10:30 a.m. male and female Red Crossbills showed up at the feeders.  Red Crossbills are peculiar birds because of their beaks:  the upper and lower bills are very obviously crossed.  These birds are dependent on conifer cones, and their bills are adapted specifically for extracting seeds from the cones.  They are part of the finch family, a bit on the large side, and the males are mostly a dull red, while the females are a greenish-yellow.  Their distinguishing feature is the crossed bill, and they appear often in small flocks when there is an abundance of seed cones.

A second surprise that morning was a Cassin’s Finch.  Recently I wrote about the House Finch, which appears in many locales, including Phoenix, but the Cassin’s Finch is found in the West’s mountains.  The male is rosy pink on the head and chest, but its distinguishing characteristic is a bright red “crown” on its head.  The crown is the brightest part of the bird in this species and also contrasts with the brown back of the neck.  A narrow, whitish eye ring may be visible at close range, and that is another of the ways we were able to identify the Cassin’s Finch we saw on Turkey Trail.

Yellow-Headed Blackbirds are exciting to find – the males have bright golden-yellow heads that contrast with their otherwise black bodies.  The males do have white wing bars that are easy to see in flight.  Yellow-Headed Blackbirds nest in the tall reeds of a pond or wetland, sharing space with Red-Winged Blackbirds, but using the deeper parts of the wetland or body of water.  Females are considerably smaller than males and have unstreaked, brownish-black bodies, no wing-bars, and yellowish-brown heads.  These birds prefer larger, deeper wetlands, so the only place we have seen them in Munds Park is on the Golf Course pond to the left of the green on Hole #1.

A number of people have told me about nesting activity, baby birds fledging from their nests, and parent birds feeding young ones.  We have had reports of nesting House Wrens, again on Turkey Trail, and I saw two House Wrens duck into a cypress tree, again on the Golf Course.  Diane on Zia Place has Violet-Green Swallows nesting in one of her nest boxes, Pat and Roy H., and Carol D., have nesting Tree Swallows in their nest boxes near Lake Odell.  And I saw four juvenile Steller’s Jays that must have just fledged from their nest – all sitting in a row on a log below our deck.  The parent bird came back now and then to feed them, and by dark they had moved to a hidden area.  But those four young birds looked as if they were in awe of the big world around them as they perched side by side, looking around and waiting for their parent to return and show them how to pick up seeds and insects from the forest floor.  I hope they are now surviving and thriving on their own.

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July 7, 2012

House Birds Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 10:56 pm
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House Wren Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

The last edition’s Article #33 was Part I of our “house” birds – those that are most likely to show up around your home.   But those birds I wrote about two weeks ago were not a complete list of house and cabin birds – we still have Acorn Woodpeckers and Anna’s and Broad-Winged Hummingbirds that are frequent visitors, and of course the Western Bluebird and the swallows.  In Munds Park we have three species of swallows:  Barn, Violet-Green, and Tree.   The folks who can see our swallows the easiest are probably those who live in the condos just off of Hole 10 on Pinewood Country Club.

The rest of this article is about three Munds Park birds that have the word “House” in their common, non-scientific name:  House Finch, House Sparrow, and House Wren.

The male House Finch is mostly brown but has a red head and breast, and the females are a streaked gray/brown with no other distinctive markings.  House finches have a wonderful, cheerful song, long and twittering.  It is a bird primarily found in the West, in all types of habitats from our city parks to backyards to deserts and forest edges.  If you put up a bird seed feeder in any of our towns throughout the state, you will most likely be visited by a House Finch.    I have never had a House Finch at our feeders in Munds Park, although I know others who have, and I have heard and seen them in the residential areas closer to the golf course.

The chunky House Sparrow is a non-native bird that was introduced into the U.S. in the mid-1800’s by people who wanted to establish wildlife familiar to people of European descent.  House Sparrows are now found throughout the U.S. and are one of the few species in the country that are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  The male has a gray head, white cheek, black bib, and rufous neck.  The bird is despised by many – it takes up nesting spots from cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds and is a pest in large cities.  You can see a small number of House Sparrows around the patio area of Pinewood Country Club.  The House Sparrow is a perfect example of how non-native species bring havoc to a new environment – in this case, affecting native songbirds, farmland, and cities in all 50 states.  Two hundred years ago there were no House Sparrows in the U.S. at all – today their numbers are estimated in the hundreds of millions.

The House Wren is a common back-yard bird, and though I haven’t seen one in Munds Park personally, I have had a report of one.  It is a small, plain brown bird with a fairly long, curved beak, and its tail is usually cocked above the line of its body or drooped down.  It is a bubbly and energetic bird, hopping around from bush to thicket, and when it sings, it delivers a trilling song, over and over.  This bird will happily nest in a next box.  Native Americans call this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, which means “making a big noise for its size”.  If you think you have a House Wren on your property, I would really like to hear from you.

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