Bird Lady Blog

September 11, 2013

The Good and the Bad in Birdland

Steller's Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

I know:  this title sounds like a drama – maybe one of those wonderful productions put on by the Pinewood Players theatre group.  But no, this article is really all about what has been happening within the circle of life for our birds in Munds Park.  This month has been a big one for hatchlings and the next generation of birds that will carry on the species.

On the pond at the 18th tee box at Pinewood Country Club’s golf course we’ve seen baby American Coots swimming around their parents, still being fed but starting to learn how to fend for themselves.  Newly hatched American Coots are really cute – they have black down feathers over their bodies, bright orange head feathers, and red beaks.  I’ve read that their eyes are blue, but I’ve never been close enough to see myself.  They will become mostly gray as juveniles, and as adults they will be primarily black with a white beak.  Also by that same pond one morning a mom and little girl from across the condos were watching a female Mallard Duck herd around her eight ducklings.  I’ve received reports from friends who’ve told me they have Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows using their nest boxes, with lots of activity of chicks being fed by hard-working parents and then eventually being gently coaxed out of the nest.  At our own deck feeders we’ve had as many as four Black-Headed Grosbeaks at a time – two of them immature, still flapping their wings and begging for food while being shown how to eat black sunflower seeds by the male parent.

So all that is “the good”.  As for “the bad”, I guess it’s all in your perspective.  As we know, nature can be cruel, with many birds in the role of predators.  Certain predators do hunt other birds (such as the Cooper’s Hawk, which primarily preys on songbirds, or the Bald Eagle, which will go after the weakest Sandhill Crane in a flock.)

I received a photo via e-mail from Munds Park residents Bill and Corrine.  They asked if I could identify the bird eggs that were in a planter on their deck.  Bill was very diligent – he not only took photos of the planter and the four eggs in the nest, but he also snuck up on the parent as it sat on the eggs, and he took a third photo.  Based on the bird’s head and the color of the eggs, we thought it was a Junco.  He said he would keep watch and later confirmed that the bird’s back was rusty orange – reinforcing our thoughts that the bird nest was that of a pair of Dark-Eyed Juncos.

But then, drama!  Bill’s and Corrine’s grandson reported that a large, blue bird hopped into the planter.  When they investigated further, they found that the Steller’s Jay had raided the nest and one of the eggs was missing.  Jays have a reputation for stealing and eating the eggs of other birds.  So Bill tucked some plastic covering around the planter, leaving a space for the parent bird to enter, and then he threw some peanuts to the side so the Steller’s Jay would be distracted.   The Junco came back and continued to sit on her eggs.  A few days later, two of the three remaining viable eggs hatched, and as I write this article, the Juncos are going in and out feeding the babies.  We don’t know if it is one bird or two that is taking on the parenting duties because the sexes are similar.  But hopefully by the time this paper is out for publication, the two birds will successfully fledge and find their way to your bird baths.  I have Juncos regularly at my on-the-ground bird bath, but not at my deck feeder.  Juncos tend to forage close to the ground.

All in all, this time of the year is very busy for birds – they are working hard to survive as well as to raise their offspring.  Only the strongest and luckiest will make it through.


My Favorite Birding Things – Part 2

Filed under: Birding,Birding Technology and Us,Plumbeous Vireo — Munds Park Birding @ 9:47 pm
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Plumbeous Vireo courtesy Gordon Karre

Plumbeous Vireo courtesy Gordon Karre

In Part 1 I wrote about bird baths and feeders.  Part 2 is all about technology, binoculars, books, and magazines.  Let me start with how much information and fun technology brings to the birding experience.

For the past several weeks I’ve heard a bird calling high in the trees around our house.  I finally was able to spot it with my binoculars, but it was a bit of a challenge to get a really good look as I strained my neck peering straight up into the Ponderosa Pine.  It was mostly pale underneath and had a narrow beak – indicative of insect-eaters, not seed-eaters.  It also seemed larger than a warbler, so my first thought was a vireo.  I whipped out my smart phone and pulled up the iBird application.  Scrolled to “vireos” and looked at the pale-breasted vireo options.  Assumed this was a breeding bird since I had been hearing it for a few weeks now.  Considered the Plumbeous Vireo because its habitat and range were right – including breeding in northern Arizona in coniferous and mixed forests.  But to finally put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, I hit the “sound  icon” on my phone ap and heard the vocalization.  Bingo!  Within just a couple of minutes using my binoculars and iBird, I confirmed that the bird I had been hearing was indeed a Plumbeous Vireo – another life bird for me, and right here in our Munds Park front yard.

Technology has helped me a lot when birding.  I use the internet to learn all about bird festivals and their schedules and to search for a bird and learn more about it.  The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology site is excellent –   I’ve pulled up nest box plans from the North Dakota State Game and Fish Department’s website and built Screech Owl, Chickadee, and Bluebird houses.  For my Pinewood News articles I go to Gordon Karre’s Flickr account and download one of his wonderful photos to supplement the text.  Just a cut and paste, and then I send everything off via e-mail to our paper’s editor for uploading.  I have two bird field guides on my iPhone:  iBird and Peterson’s Birds of North America.  The first one was $20, and I got the Peterson’s ap for $1 during a special sale.  I also have traditional book field guides including several of Peterson’s and Sibley’s, which are great, but wow, what handy resources to have when out and about – two comprehensive field guides in my smart phone!

Of course, binoculars are a must when birding.  Telescopes and binoculars were invented in the early 17th century, and today they are refined into many different types at varying costs.  I have six pairs – one I keep in my golf bag.  My favorites are a Swift Audubon 8.5×44 that my husband bought me over 20 years ago.  It’s just a good solid wide-angle choice that works well with a neck/shoulder harness.  I also really like my smallest pair – a Leopold 6×32 that is great around the house here.  It is light-weight, focuses at a distance of six feet, and fits well in a carry-on when I travel.

Finally, let me quickly mention the magazines I subscribe to:  1)  Bird Watchers Digest – family-owned publication, also with an on-line version, small enough to carry in a purse, with a variety of articles about species, birding destinations, Q&As, humor, and special interest articles.  Need a great gift for someone who likes birds?  Get them a subscription for $30 a year.  2)  Birds and Blooms, for a light/fun reading about gardens and birds.  I was introduced to this magazine by my Munds Park neighbor who gave me her back issues to read a few years ago.  The special price now is $20 for two years.  3)  Arizona Wildlife Views, a publication of the Arizona Game and Fish Department for the nature-lovers and hunters in Arizona.  The cost of an annual subscription is $8.50.

Last but not least – I am happy to report that two of my golfing friends spotted the “blue-billed” duck on the pond at Hole 18 on different days – so the Ruddy Duck has come back, at least for a few days.  I will let you know if we see it again.  That’s why binoculars in my golf bag come in handy!

My Favorite Birding Things – Part 1

Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

My newest favorite birding thing is our new cement bird bath, bought this spring at the Munds Park Farmer’s Market.  It is very heavy – made of cement – and sits just about eight inches off the ground on a small pedestal that actually looks like an upside down Bundt pan.  I especially like the blue-colored bottom of the water bowl because it stands out, and I like that it is solid enough that I can hose it down hard to clean it and it doesn’t tip over.  So far I’ve seen Dark-Eyed Juncos and Lesser Goldfinch drinking from it.

My other bird bath is attached to the back deck and it is used a lot by all types of birds, including American Crows.  This one is a plastic tray and it hangs over the deck, so I keep a flat rock in it to hold down the tray if it gets dry and the wind is blowing hard.  Just today as I wrote this article a female Black-Headed Grosbeak took a bath in it.

I have three types of feeders out on the back deck.  One is an inexpensive, plastic stout feeder that has four very small perches.  I put sunflower seeds in it.  The best part about this feeder is that the Band-Tailed Pigeons cannot perch on it.  They dominated my other feeder that has a larger perch, and none of the other birds could have a turn.  So now this feeder is visited regularly by Pygmy Nuthatches, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, and Pine Siskins.

The second feeder is an 18-inch tall tube just for nyger seed, and it attracts Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskins.  Pine Siskins are small finch-like birds, very plain brown, but with heavy striping on the breasts.    The wings have small patches of yellow, but mostly you can describe them as small, brown-streaked birds.  They usually travel in compact flocks, so where there is one Pine Siskin, there will be others.

My third feeder is a tray feeder I built from some leftover lumber and screen, about two feet square and two inches deep.  This feeder is my concession to the squirrels and the Band-Tailed Pigeons.  Mostly I put sunflower seeds in this one, but sometimes peanuts in the shell or cheaper, mixed bird seed.  The squirrel have learned to precariously climb the three-foot rod that holds the feeder, and the Band-Tailed Pigeons will sit on it six at a time and make it crooked with their weight.

Let me not forget to mention the Acorn Woodpeckers.  They also will come to the tray feeder and the other sunflower seed feeder.  And the peanuts in the tray will attract the Steller’s Jays.  They are stunning in the sunlight with their blue and black iridescent coloring.

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