Bird Lady Blog

July 26, 2014

“House” Birds

Filed under: Birding,Birdwatchers,House Wren,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 3:06 pm

House Wren Courtesy of Gordon Karre

House Wren Courtesy of Gordon Karre

There are three species of birds here in Munds Park with the word “House” in their name.  Can you guess what they are?  (At this point you should close your eyes and stop reading and think.)

 Let me start with my least favorite.  It is the non-native House Sparrow, previously called “English Sparrow”.  Fortunately we don’t see them much here in the forest because they prefer human habitat.  I have seen them most often around the commercial buildings, especially the gas stations, at the intersection of Pinewood Boulevard and I-17.  These European sparrows were introduced purposely into Central Park, New York City, in the mid-1800’s and then over and over again in other parts of the East because people thought the sparrows would eat insect pests.  Well, no, they eat just about anything, and worse yet, they nest in cavities such as nest boxes, so they take away both food sources and nesting sites of our native song birds.  By the time scientists, farmers, environmentalists, and regular citizens realized how badly these birds were upsetting the natural order, it was too late.  We now have about 150 million of these birds in the continental U.S. and all I can say is that I am glad they are not abundant in Munds Park.  They are not protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act Treaty of 1918 because they are non-native, so you can eliminate them here or anywhere else in the U.S.  For a good article about how to TRY to control these birds, go the www.allaboutbirds.org and read “The Trouble with House Sparrows” article.   

There are two other “House” birds here that I always welcome.  House Wrens are nesting right up the street from me in a reader’s nest box.  The owner told me by e-mail that she just recently heard chirps coming from inside the box as the parents fly back and forth keeping the babies fed.  For such a tiny bird, the House Wren has a loud and insistent warble, and you will often hear it before seeing it.  It is a small, brown, and non-descript bird found around the country in backyards, parks, and open woods.  It loves to build its nest in man-made boxes as well as any other handy spots such as holes in fence posts, boots, old cardboard boxes, abandoned flower pots, and so on.   A couple of facts I’ve learned about House Wrens is that they only weigh as much as two quarters.  But they can wage a fierce battle for a nesting site, harassing much larger competitors, and they are known to drag out eggs or hatchlings from sites they want. 

The last “House” is the House Finch.  Again, I don’t see them too often here in Munds Park, but they are abundant in the Phoenix area.  Where I have seen or heard them is around the back nine of the golf course at Pinewood Country Club.  They tend to like suburbia more than camping in the forest, so you will find them in areas with “yards” versus areas of lots of pine and oak, and they do not use nest boxes.  They are brown-streaked, and the head, throat, and rump of the males are typically pink-red.  They are larger than the Pine Siskins you have at your feeders.  I really enjoy the House Finches’ warbling in the spring, unlike the House Sparrow,  which just has one repeated “cheep” that after awhile becomes annoying, at least in my opinion.

Who’s in the Bath? Sadly, It’s Not Martha


Bird Bath Dripping

 

I wrote a few years ago that one of the least expensive ways to attract birds to your property was with water, and preferably running water.  Well, I had a lot of time the last couple weeks to prove that fact again to myself because I’ve spent many hours in front of a window that looks out at my dripping bird bath.  I had much client work to accomplish in June and therefore was spending more time than normal in the office, which faces the bird bath in our front yard. 

As you can see from the photo, I have a pretty simple set-up.  I have a large plastic garden pot tray as the bath with a rock or two to keep it steady.  I placed the tray on a cement block left over from construction.  Last year I kept the bath nearer to the ground, but a birding friend told me the higher placement makes the birds feel safer from potential predators.  Finally, the key is that I bought a water dripper from Wild Birds Unlimited and keep it slowly dripping during daylight hours.  The result?  Lots of bird visitors.

American Robins come regularly and take hearty baths, splashing water everywhere.  Another bathing bird was an Acorn Woodpecker, and that was the first time I ever saw any kind of woodpecker in a bird bath.  This one was a female.  I paid attention to its head – there was a black band on its forehead between the red crown and white face, indicating it as a female.  Black-Headed Grosbeaks also visit, and Lesser Goldfinches, Mountain Chickadees, and both types of Nuthatches even perch at times on the dripper itself to get a drop of water before it hits the tray. 

The bird that surprised me to taking a full body bath was a Band-Tailed Pigeon.  You probably have seen these around Munds Park, and if you have a feeder that a large bird can perch on, then most likely you have seen Band-Tailed Pigeons.  I recently read a blog by Sophie Webb that called this Pigeon an “under-appreciated species”, and I agree with her.  Do not get our Munds Park’s Band-Tailed Pigeons mixed up with Rock Doves (commonly called “Pigeons” or “Flying Rats” throughout most of the U.S.).  The Band-Tailed Pigeon is the only common forest pigeon in the country, and it is thought to be the closest relative to the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon.  For those of you who are interested in a little sad history, the last known Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died in a Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.  I remember as a little girl reading about this extinct species and thinking how sad it was that humans solely caused its extermination through over-hunting.  For those of you who want to know more, just do an internet search and you will learn about Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon (now stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History) and her extinct species.  A couple of centuries ago there used to be so many Passenger Pigeons that the sky was darkened by the large flocks blocking the sun.  Knowing that we will never see another living Passenger Pigeon again makes me appreciate the native Band-Tailed Pigeon species we have here in our forest.

 

Red, White, and Black


Painted Redstart in Munds Park

Painted Redstart in Munds Park

I received an e-mail from a reader asking “what bird is this?”, and with his question he attached a photo.  What a great photo it is, and quite an unusual bird – a Painted Redstart!  Chuck, who is the e-mailer, and his wife have had their cabin near Munds Canyon since 2001, and just recently this Painted Restart captured their attention.

As you can tell from Chuck’s photo, this bird is a flashy red, white, and black.  It is the only member of its genus that appears regularly in the Americas.  Its relatives are actually known as “whitestarts” and most members of its genus, of which there are 12, are found in Central and South America.   But for a non-scientific person like me, I just know that this bird is a real find.  It was a “lifer” for me in July 2012, when I watched one darting through the forest for an entire weekend from the back deck of our home.  We live on the opposite side of Munds Canyon from Chuck, so perhaps it is the same bird or an offspring.

The Painted Restart flits energetically from tree to tree in search of insects.  When it flits, you can see the flash of its white wing parts and outer tail feathers.  Painted Restarts prefer pine or pine-oak woods, oak canyons, and pinyon- and juniper-covered high slopes.  They build their nests on the ground, usually on a slope in a canyon or creek bank in a concealed place close to a large clump of grass or protruding rock or tree stump.  Given that, Munds Canyon seems like a logical place for breeding Painted Restarts, and I’m grateful to Chuck for sending his observation and his wonderful photo.

While the Painted Restart is not seen that often by most of us, the other black, white, and red bird I have in mind – the Acorn Woodpecker  –  is much more common and a frequent visitor to our feeders.  The Acorn Woodpecker is a resident woodpecker in Munds Park.  For some reason I can only guess at, Acorn Woodpeckers are frequenting my bird feeder much more than in past years.  Perhaps it was the milder winter, with less snow and more birds making it through the winter, or perhaps the new bird seed mixture I have appeals more to them.  The new combination I’m using has black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, wheat, dried cherries, peanuts, safflower seeds, and raisins.  Last year I only placed sunflower seeds in that feeder, and while I still get the usual birds at that feeder, now the Acorn Woodpeckers are also really frequenting it.

Acorn Woodpeckers have a very distinctive face – sometimes called a “clown face”.  I just learned that the female has a black patch between the red crown and its white forehead, so now I am going to pay more attention and try to identify the males and females separately.  Otherwise the sexes of this species are very similar.  These woodpeckers stay in groups, and they store nuts so tightly in individually drilled holes that even squirrels cannot pry the nuts out.

Who Will be the First?


“Who will be the first?” That was my question when I drove up on April 30th to meet our Munds Park plumber and to accomplish two other things: bring up a couple cases of wine and some 30 pounds of bird seed. After all, I have to get my priorities straight. But my question was really meant for the birds: after I filled up our bird feeders, which bird species will be the first this season to come to one of our feeders? The answer surprised me.

As I was driving up I-17, I was thinking it would be the Lesser Goldfinches to come to the nyger seed feeder. Or perhaps the Pine Siskins. Then again, maybe it would be the Mountain Chickadees that frequent the black oil sunflower seeds, or possibly the Nuthatches – I thought if any Nuthatches showed up right away, it would be the Pygmy Nuthatches instead of the White Breasted Nuthatches.

The first thing I did was clean the bird feeders: some mild detergent, a stiff brush, and a good rinsing. Then I dragged the wine and bird seed out of the car and set to work putting in place the metal deck poles on which I hang the feeders. While I was still assembling the deck poles, a Dark-Eyed Junco landed on the railing, not too far from me, and called out with its “chip, chip, chip” for about a minute. I was surprised because normally Juncos are quite secretive and I don’t see them at the feeder too often. They like to stay on the ground searching for dropped seeds, not at 30 feet up. The Junco flew away. I proceeded to fill the feeders and then went inside to tend to indoor chores. While I watched through the window, the Junco came back right and landed on the tray feeder at the corner of the deck. That is where I had put the “premium song bird mixture” which consisted mostly of black sunflower seeds, millet, some peanuts, and small pieces of dried berries. So there was the answer to my question: the Dark-Eyed Junco was the first on our deck this season.

Since then, we have had the usual feathered-friend suspects mentioned above at our feeders, plus Black-Headed Grosbeaks. In fact, a female Grosbeak took a major bath in our deck birdbath and most exuberantly splashed its feathers 16 times in a row for a very thorough bath. At one time we had five Grosbeaks on the tray feeder.

It’s been a good start to the season, and I for one am happy to make the return to Munds Park. A good glass of wine, a few sociable birds, the usual May/June blowing winds, and dear friends and neighbors – we are very lucky indeed.

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