Bird Lady Blog

September 27, 2012

I Miss the Grosbeaks


Sometime in mid-to-late August the Black-Headed Grosbeaks disappeared.  They used to frequent my seed feeders daily.  First in the spring were the male and female – black, orange, white – stocky birds that made a bright impression on you right away.  Then came the family.  The two juveniles showed up at the tray feeder, following one of the parents, and in the beginning they would shake and fluff their feathers, beaks open, expecting to be fed.  This behavior is what ensured they would survive in the nest, but now that they fledged and were in the real world, they had to learn a new behavior – how to fend for themselves.

The parent ignored their begging and instead took some seed from the feeder and showed them how to peck and feed themselves.  I am sure this was just but one instance of teaching behavior – most of the time these birds were going to have to find real food in the real forest.  They could not just depend on “people food” if they were to thrive.

Then suddenly they were gone. No more Black-Headed Grosbeaks at my feeder.  They had begun their long journey to Mexico for winter migration.  There they will consume many berries, insects, spiders, snails, and seeds. They are one of the few birds that can eat the poisonous Monarch Butterfly.  In central Mexico, where Monarch Butterflies and Black-Headed Grosbeaks both spend the winter, the Grosbeaks are one of the butterflies’ few predators. Toxins in the Monarch Butterflies make them poisonous to most birds, but Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few other birds can eat them. The birds feed on Monarchs in roughly eight-day cycles, most likely to give themselves time to eliminate the toxins.  In my own non-scientific assessment, I find it interesting that both the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Monarch Butterflies have the same coloration:  black, orange, and white.

It was a great summer for birding – Red-Faced Warbler, Cassin’s Finch, Red-Crossbill, Ruddy Duck, and the first Munds Park Bird Walk that we held in July.  The Northern Arizona Audubon Society held its annual Board of Directors’ planning meeting at the Pinewood Country Club for the second year in a row.  More people are learning that they should not put red food coloring in the sugar water in their hummingbird feeders, and more people are conscious of how to bird-proof their windows to prevent birds from flying into them.  We will have a reminder next spring on what you can do to make your home a more bird-friendly place.

In the meantime, the Black-Headed Grosbeaks will be wintering in Mexico, and I’m betting that our Pinewood News editor will run into them while she winters on and off there as well.  Have a great rest of the year, everyone, and see you in 2013.

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