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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