Bird Lady Blog

September 11, 2013

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.

June 16, 2013

Spring Has Sprung


Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

May has been a month of transition for all of us:  spring cleaning, raking fallen pine needles, putting away our winter clothes and bringing out the summer wardrobe, and moving up to Munds Park if we were away for the fall and winter.  Our Munds Park birds are making similar transitions:  changing their drab winter feathers to bright colors so they can attract a satisfactory mate, building nests, and finding the best sources for food.  Two Munds Park birds that come to mind with striking colors are the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and the Lesser Goldfinches.  The males of these species are especially beautiful with their contrasting colors of orange or yellow against black and white.

So what should you be doing in preparation for migration and nesting?  First, if you have a nest box, open it up and clean it out.  Discard the old nesting material, shoo out the spiders that may have taken temporary residence, and wash or scrape out any residue.  Make sure your next box is still firmly secured to its post or tree.

Second, if you attracting birds by putting out feeders, make sure they also are cleaned.  You can wash them in a solution of water and a small amount of bleach – don’t forget to rinse them thoroughly.  The same goes for your bird baths.  Keep the water fresh.  If you hang a hummingbird feeder, remember the following:  the nectar should be made out of white granular sugar and water  – one part sugar to four parts water.  Do not use red food coloring.  The color of your feeder will be enough to attract the birds, and they will be back as long as you keep a fresh mixture.  If the mixture starts turning cloudy, discard it immediately and replace.

Lastly, start thinking about how you can protect your birds from window-kills – that is, preventing birds from flying into those wonderful windows we appreciate because of the forest and mountain views, but which can be deadly to our flying friends.  I will have more information about what you can do to prevent window crashes in a future article but would also like to hear what practical solutions are working for you.

For those of you who are relatively new to our Munds Park birds, here is a short list of the common birds you will see in our area:  Lesser Goldfinch, Mountain Chickadee, Acorn Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Western Bluebird, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Band-Tailed Pigeon, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, and Common Raven.  And some of the harder-to-find ones will be Summer Western Tanager, Painted Redstart, Red Crossbill, and House Wren.

May 19, 2012

Doves and Pigeons


I can always tell when the hot weather is about to hit Phoenix.  The White-Winged Doves migrate back and are constantly cooing from tree to tree, cactus to cactus, roof top to everywhere:  “Who Cooks For You?”, “Who, Who, Who?”.  That is what it sounds like, and after a while the phrase does seem to get stuck in your head.  The White-Winged Dove is found in the southwest, prevalent in the desert, and its call was highlighted in Stevie Nicks’ song, “On the Edge of Seventeen”.  If you are not an avid Stevie Nicks fan (she is an Arizona native) and don’t know the song I’m talking about, go to YouTube and search for “White Winged Dove Stevie Nicks” and you can listen to the song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn8-4tjPxD8

We do not have White-Winged Doves in Munds Park because we don’t have cacti or experience 110 degree temperatures.  While this species of dove thrives in three-digit temperatures, the rest of us enjoy Munds Park’s much cooler temperature as well as two other species from the dove/pigeon families:  Mourning Dove and the Band-Tailed Pigeon.

Mourning Doves can be found everywhere in the continental U.S. except in the deep woods.  You will hear or see them in Munds Park, but they are not nearly as prevalent as they are in the large urban areas in Arizona.  They are the most hunted bird in the U.S., in part because they are so widespread, but also because they are challenging as a game bird.  They have a very fast flight, making sudden up and downs while racing and dodging through the air.  You can see them on the ground or telephone wires. You can hear their mournful call, but you can also hear their flight, a sharp whistling or whinnying sound when they take off.  We will often have more than 50 mourning doves picking at grass seed on the golf course and driving range in Phoenix, and when they take off en masse, the sound is unmistakable.

The Band Tailed Pigeon, larger than the Mourning Dove, looks a lot like the common Rock Pigeon/Dove you think of a New Yorker tossing stale bread and popcorn to birds in Central Park or birds lined up on the top of billboards along I-17.  Unlike the Rock Pigeon, the Band-Tailed Pigeon is native to the U.S. and is found only in the West.  It has a white collar on its neck and a white band at the base of its tail.  It will definitely come to your feeder, and a few of them at a time will wipe out your bird seed in a morning.  I had to change one of our seed feeders by taking off the round bottom tray because the Band-Tailed Pigeons would monopolize it, tip it sideways with their weight, and prevent any other birds from landing.  I have since installed a second feeder, a square tray, and the Band-Tailed Pigeons now use that one, sharing with an occasional squirrel.

October 8, 2009

Band-Tailed Pigeon, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Rufous Hummingbird

Filed under: Band Tailed Pigeon Grosbeak Rufous Hummingbird,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 4:13 am

Black headed grosbeakI think most people become interested in birds because they first notice the ones around their homes and pay attention to their colors, habits, and vocalization.  Or in the case of woodpeckers, sometimes it’s their unwelcome rap-rap-rapping on the siding of your house that gets your attention.  In this article I am going to cover three more birds that you are likely to see from your deck or on a walk through the neighborhood, and especially likely if you have feeders or a bird bath.

 We have large pigeons here in Munds Park, and when you first see them you may think, “Oh no!  Where did these pigeons come from?” suspecting they are the variety you see on the streets of New York City and Chicago or lined up on your telephone wires in central Phoenix.  Those “city birds” are Rock Pigeons and are not native to the United States.  Our Munds Park bird is a native Band-Tailed Pigeon, and in the U.S. it is only found in the West.  It is a predominantly gray bird, about 14 inches long, and my first impression was that its head is just a bit too small for its large body.  A green iridescent band covers the back of its neck along with a thin white collar or horizontal stripe at the top of the green.  Its feet are yellow.  Little Pygmy Nuthatches will bop back and forth to the feeder in front of your eyes, but the big Band-Tailed Pigeon in contrast is a shy and quiet giant that will abandon its post at the feeder when it senses people nearby.  These birds feed on seeds and will go through the least expensive bird food in a flash, but their natural food is acorns.  One early morning I was almost fooled by its call – I thought I heard a Great Horned Owl, and instead what I heard was a Band-Tailed Pigeon.  The two birds sound very similar.

 If you see a medium-size bird with orange and black and a little bit of white, you are seeing a Black-Headed Grosbeak.  The male is the most distinctive, with a black cap, deep orange breast, and white wing bars.  The female is a watered-down version of the male, with more black and white striping on its head and a duller breast.  These birds are seed eaters and only found in the Western United States, but they have hybridized with their close relatives, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, which are found in the Eastern United States.  The two species used to be separated by the vast, treeless prairies in the central part of the country, but as cities and towns emerged, along with their trees, both species met in the middle.  Birds of both species have heavy beaks and can open almost any type of seed, and they also east insects.  I have not been fortunate enough yet to see a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak in my travels, but watching the Black-Headed Grosbeak we find in Munds Park is always a treat. 

 It probably is best to write about the Rufous Hummingbirds now before they take off for the winter.  This little hummer is feisty and buzzy – an individual will drive off competing birds at your sugar water feeder.  You can hear it often before you see it, with its distinctive metallic whine from its incredible wing motion.  Males are almost all orange or rusty except for their white breast and green wings.  If you see one sitting on your feeder with the bright sun on it, I think you would agree it is gorgeous.  Females are bright green above and white below with washed rufous color on the sides and rump.  These birds winter in Mexico and Texas and have been found even on the southern part of the East Coast.  By August, Rufous Hummingbirds leave Alaska and British Columbia and migrate down the Pacific Coastline.  In Munds Park they leave later for their migration, typically in late September.  Their habitat is coniferous forests and shrubby-pine sub-alpine forests, and they depend on the wild flowers, typically red ones, to provide a source for nectar and insects. 

Another word or two about hummingbirds.  If you have a feeder, use one part white sugar to four parts water and don’t put red food coloring in the mixture.  Artificial coloring is not necessary – birds will find your bright red feeder.  If you have more interest in hummingbirds, visit the web site of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, at www.sabo.org.  Located near the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, SABO holds hummingbird banding volunteer workshops.  You might even get to meet Sheri Williams, a co-founder of SABO and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds in North America.  You can contact me at margaretdyekman@cox.net.

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