Bird Lady Blog

August 17, 2017

Garden Birds

Dark-Eyed Junco

I received a couple of e-mails lately about small, secretive, brown-reddish birds building nests in planters around Munds Park and Flagstaff. One of the writers sent me this great photo of her bird near the planter it built a nest in, on the deck of a home in Forest Highlands, and another reader in Munds Park sent me a photo of the eggs in her nest – in an artificial plant on her property.  Both asked if I knew what bird it was, and luckily these are pretty easy to identify.  Their garden bird is a Dark-Eyed Junco, a sparrow-like bird that favors our yards in search of nesting spots as well as food, typically insects and seeds.  Most of the time I see this bird on the ground foraging and only very rarely do I see it at one of my deck feeders.  But one spring it was the first bird that showed up at my feeders after they were just hung.

The American Robin is another bird that frequents our gardens. A friend named Robin told me she specifically plants strawberries each year to attract Robins – and it works!  The American Robin, probably best known for pulling long earthworms and grubs out of lawns in the Midwest and back East, also eats fruit, so berry plants are another good way to attract them.  The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  Although the American Robin is a true thrush, it was named a Robin by English settlers who were homesick for their native Robin.  The General Assembly of Connecticut adopted the American Robin as its state bird in 1943.  It joins the Sperm Whale as the state animal and the Praying Mantis as the state insect.  In Wisconsin, school children selected the American Robin as their state bird by voting during 1926 and 1927.  In Michigan, the Audubon Society selected the “Robin Redbreast” as the official state bird 1931.  Later, in 2003, school children lobbied the legislature to change the Michigan state bird to Kirtland’s Warbler, but they were not successful, and that’s another story in itself.

Another garden bird is the House Wren, a small, plain brown bird with a big voice. It loves to nest in human-made small places, including nest boxes, but it can be found nesting in a fence hole, an old shoe, a basket, shoe box, or empty can.  While doing my research I even read about a pair of House Wrens that built a nest on the rear of an automobile axel in 1937 in a car that was used daily.  When the car was driven, the Wrens went along.  In the end the eggs hatched and the birds fledged successfully.  One golfing friend told me there was quite a scene for a while in her front yard as a pair of House Wrens bickered back and forth about which nest box the female wren would settle on.  Male House Wrens start multiple nests and then the female chooses the one she prefers.  Sounds like a good arrangement to me.


July 7, 2010

Black-crowned Night-Heron and Dark-eyed Junco

Filed under: Black-crowned Night-Heron and Dark-eyed Junco,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 4:20 am

Summer has again arrived, and most of our birds are in the midst of raising their fledglings, watching out for predators, and delighting us with their visits to our feeders, bird baths, and if we are lucky, our nest boxes.  Speaking of fledglings, we have at least one juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron growing up in Munds Park, seen frequently at the pond to the left of the 1st green at Pinewood Country Club.  I hadn’t seen a Black-crowned Night-Heron before this summer in Munds Park, but given that this species is typically feeding at dusk or night, I’m not too surprised as I am usually dining versus birding towards the end of the day.  The Black-crowned Night Heron is the most widespread heron in the world, breeding on five continents, including in Africa, Japan, and Europe.  The first time I saw Black-crowned Night-Herons was at closing time coming out of the Phoenix Zoo around the entrance pond.  I have also seen many of them nesting in trees outside of apartment homes and condos near Solano Beach in southern California.  I have a feeling the human residents were reminded constantly of the birds’ presence by the loud, noisy sound they make plus the little “presents” they drop onto the sidewalks below.

The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a short, stocky heron, and when mature it has a black crown and back, with the remainder of the body white or gray, and red eyes.  When I looked through my binoculars at the juvenile bird in our Munds Park pond a few days ago, the red eyes, in addition to its body type, were the first clues.  These birds are omnivorous, feeding on fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, small rodents, small reptiles, small birds, and occasionally plant material.   The juvenile we saw looked like it was learning to hunt by foraging in the shallower water, and it was pulling out vegetation as well.  Young birds hunt more during the day to stay away from competing adults.  Let’s hope this one has had some success and will become a regular resident of our community.

One of the birds that came back this summer and visited our bird bath is the Dark-eyed Junco.  These are sparrow-like birds but with a neat, flashy look.  You can see the whites on both sides of their tail when they fly, which is thought to be a signal to others in the flock when it is time to quickly take flight.  An adult will generally have a gray head, neck, and breast, and a large rust area on its back.  However, there are many variations of Dark-eyed Juncos in the U.S. – some with pink sides and some with a black hood. 

When not at your feeder, Dark-eyed Juncos are found mostly foraging on the ground.  These Juncos are a very abundant forest bird in North America, and during the winter they are a very common bird at feeders.  In fact, in the 1996/1997 Project Feeder Watch season, this was the most common bird reported.  They are sometimes are referred to as “snow birds” because their frequent and welcome visits to feeders during the winter in much of North America.  However, in Arizona overall the top feeder bird reported has been the House Finch.

Listen for their song – a ringing, metallic trill on the same pitch.  When Dark-eyed Juncos flock together they keep in contact as they spread by constantly calling a “tsick” to each other.  You can attract Dark-eyed Juncos with a bird bath and with cracked corn, peanuts, and nut meats in a tray feeder close to the ground.  I am going to try a tray feeder hanging from my deck and see if I can attract them there as well.   I’ll let you know what success I have.

Munds Park residents who are interested in birds will hold an informal get-together on Saturday, July 10th, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in one of the meeting rooms at Pinewood Country Club.  Come as you are, share some of your favorite sightings if you wish, and get to know some of your bird-loving neighbors.  Thanks in advance to Pinewood Country Club for accommodating our group.

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