Bird Lady Blog

September 19, 2014

Harder to Find Birds

western tanager 2There are many common birds here – including the two species of Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, American Robins, Steller’s Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, Band-Tailed Pigeons, Lesser Goldfinch, and Pine Siskins. But some species are harder to spot, and four of those are the subject of this article.

The Brown Creeper was one of the first birds I saw when we were house hunting in Munds Park. That is rather surprising, because since then I’ve only seen a Brown Creeper once or twice each year.  It is like a Nuthatch in that it clings to and climbs on trees searching for insects, larvae, nuts, and seeds, but there are some major differences.  First, the Brown Creeper has drab, streaky brown upperparts and is rather slender.  It’s a very quiet bird and solitary – contrast that to the noisy little Pygmy Nuthatches that arrive in a group at our feeders.  The biggest difference in my opinion is that it creeps up a tree – almost always up.

A second hard-to-see bird is the Red Crossbill. The first time I saw this one was at Kathy and Cindi’s house on Turkey Trail a couple of summers ago.  This last month when I was driving on the cart path on hole 18 at Pinewood Country Club on a Friday, I saw a reddish bird in the path in front of me.  It flew up into a pine tree, and I got my binoculars on it and confirmed – a Red Crossbill.  Red Crossbills are a medium-sized finch with a red-orange body, bright red rump, and dark brown wings.  But what is really distinct are their bills, which are crossed at the tip, enabling them to pry seeds from the cones of junipers and spruces.

The third species was reported to me by Lu on Lake Odell, who sent in a photo, and Martha on Reindeer, who saw it at her birdbath. It is the Western Tanager, a bird with a brilliant red head, bright yellow body, and black back, wings and tail.  When this bird appears, you utter a “wow” because it is so striking.  It is found only in the Western parts of the continent and migrates all the way to Central America.  This species was first recorded on the Lewis and Clark expedition from 1803 to 1806.

The last species as part of this article is the White-Faced Ibis. It is a medium-sized wading bird that occasionally shows up at the ponds on the Pinewood Country Club golf course or in the marshy area near the Pinewood Sanitary District.  Carol A. told me she saw one while golfing in July, and I had the pleasure of seeing one in about the same spot a few years ago.  The white face is only a thin band of white feathers around its bare, red face.  The rest of its body is a dark brown with a sheen or gloss that shows up in the right light as bronze or green. It hunts for invertebrates like insects, worms, snails, and also frogs and small fish.  The White-Faced Ibis nests in colonies, so usually you will find more than one at a time.

One thing in common about all these species is that they are monogamous. How do we know that?  Well, for me, I just read the research papers and believe the ornithologists who figure that all out.  But I did learn that there are at least two types of “monogamous” when it comes to birds:  mating for life (e.g., Canada Geese who may not even migrate if their mate has died), and serial monogamy (when a bird mates with another for one season but finds a new mate the next season).  I hope you learned something new with this article, and as for me, I always find a tidbit or two that keeps me on my toes when it comes to the birds in Munds Park.



May 2, 2014

Mish Mash

Red-Faced Warbler courtesy of Gordon Karre

Red-Faced Warbler courtesy of Gordon Karre

Usually I like to have a theme for these articles, but sometimes it’s good to try something different, so instead I’ll ramble a bit.

After the woodpecker article, I was contacted by Mel and Marsha who live on Caribou Road.  They reported that this winter, beginning February 16th to be exact, they had a “bully bird” at their feeder for two months.  They described it as a pretty bird, but it was so dominating that it kept other birds from coming to their feeders.  It had a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly, and yes, they identified it as a Lewis’ Woodpecker.  I really appreciated hearing from them because no one else to-date has reported seeing this woodpecker here in Munds Park.  For those of you who are year-round residents, this will be good bird to keep watch for during the winter.

A while back I wrote about Martha and the bird-friendly environment she has created in her front and back yards on Reindeer.  After seeing her water set-up, I went to Wild Birds Unlimited in Scottsdale and bought the same equipment.  It consists of a hose hook-up to our outside water spigot, quarter-inch tubing, a valve that controls the drip or spray of water into my birdbath, and brackets to position the drip or spray over the bath.  It really works well, and this last Sunday right before heading out the door for golf, I spotted the Red-Faced Warbler flitting in the trees near the bird bath drip.  That was my first spotting of the Red-Faced Warbler all year.  The previous time it was in the same area but I was running a hose sprinkler – so this bird is definitely attracted by running or dripping water.

The Red-Faced Warbler is a small, mostly-gray bird with a brilliant red head and neck that is only found in the high mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.  If you have seen this bird and have birder friends back East, you should definitely brag to them about the sighting because this bird is really quite rare.

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds have reappeared at the pond at Pinewood Country Club.  Also in the same pond we recently spotted a Great Blue Heron.  It is the largest and most widespread heron in the U.S., and you can find one pretty easily at Lake Odell, your local golf course, and urban ponds or fishing lakes in the rest of Arizona.  These herons migrate all the way into Mexico and Central America.

What I have not seen here in a number of years is a Brown Creeper.  They are small, brown, inconspicuous birds that “creep” up the largest trees they can find searching for insects.  On our second house-hunting trip here in Pinewood, I spotted a Brown Creeper in a tree on the property of the first house we ended up buying.  Can you imagine what Rosie our realtor was thinking?  “Yes, my client bought that house on Thunderbird because there was a bird she liked on the property”.  Well, if any of you see one around here, please let me know and I’ll make sure the rest of Munds Park gets the update.

August 20, 2011

Black and White and Red and Football

First some local news. There are Tree Swallows again in the nest box on Pat and Roy’s property on Raintree.  Seems like this is the second brood this season and the parent birds are mounting an all-out effort to keep the little ones fed.  You can see them flying back and forth all day and into the early evening carrying insects to their young.  By the time this article is published the babies will hopefully have successfully fledged.  I also received notice of a sighting of a Red-Faced Warbler by Kathy and Cindy near their property on Turkey Trail.  That is one bird still on my must-see list, so I am jealous.

And second, now that the NFL season is approaching, I did some research into what percent of the U.S. population over 18 follows NFL football compared to what percent of the U.S. population are birdwatchers.   Which do you think is greater?  The answer will be at the end of this post.

In the rest of this issue we will describe the birds of Munds Park that are primarily black, white, and red.  The first that comes to mind is the Acorn Woodpecker.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your street, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly. Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on these family-type groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  This comical looking bird, with its bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern, is rumored to be the inspiration for Woody the Woodpecker, in part because it was the common woodpecker near the northern California cabin of Walter Lantz, Woody’s creator. However, the Acorn Woodpecker does not have a crest, as does Woody, so I think the Pileated
Woodpecker is the better candidate for our cartoon friend Woody.

The ListServe I subscribe to reported some sightings this spring and early summer of Acorn Woodpeckers in Tempe.  Though common for Munds Park, that is big news for birders in Maricopa County.

The second black and white bird with some red on its head is the Downy Woodpecker.  This little bird, about seven inches in length, is common throughout the United States and a welcome sight with its bright red cap on a wintry white day.  We don’t see them too often in Munds Park – but I spotted one this summer and another one last summer on our property.  The Downy Woodpecker has a black back with a broad white patch down the center, a white checker-board pattern on its wings, a white belly, and a small red spot on its crown. Because it is so small and can forage in small spaces, it uses food sources in its natural habitat that larger woodpeckers do not.

And finally there is the Painted Restart – a real rarity, but it does on occasion show up in Munds Park. It is glossy black with distinctive white  wing bars you cannot miss, and it has a red belly. When it forages among the trees, it spreads showy white outer tail feathers to flush insects, making it easy to follow once located. Like the Red-faced Warbler mentioned earlier, the Painted Redstart makes its nest on the ground.  This bird is only found regularly in Arizona and New Mexico at elevations of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, so Munds Park fits the bill.  I saw one from our deck last year and it was the highlight of my birding season.

As for the statistics on birders versus NFL football fans, the football fans are more numerous.  Over 20 percent of the U.S. population over age 18 have actively birded (versus just sitting at home and watching birds in their neighborhood).  More than 60 percent of the U.S. population follows NFL football.  However, I will bet most of them are sitting inside watching on a TV.  Hmmm, there may be a connection here, though.  We have
the NFL Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Ravens, and Seahawks.  Maybe football and birds do go hand-in-hand at times!

October 8, 2009

Brown Creeper, Red-Faced Warbler, and Cordilleran Flycatcher

Filed under: Brown Creeper Red-Faced Warbler Cordilleran Flycatcher,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 4:05 am

Brown CreeperIn the last article I asked you the question, “what is the least expensive way to attract birds to your property”?  Thoughts that come to mind include bird-friendly landscaping, natural habitat, brush piles, nest boxes, bird feeders with seed, suet or nectar, and finally, water.  In my opinion, water is the winner.  A simple bird bath or water dish will do more to attract birds to your home than any of the other ideas mentioned – and the price is right!  At our home, we have had a large variety of birds, from the large Crows to tiny Lesser Goldfinch, take advantage of our water dishes. 

 We have one simple pan that fits into a holder that attaches to the top railing of our deck.  In the pan I place a flat rock, which holds down the pan on windy days if it’s become dry.  The rock also serves as an indicator for the birds of the depth of the water.  Occasionally birds will bathe in the pan, but ours is mostly used for drinking.  If you would like to invest in something fancier, as Munds Park resident Martha W. has, install a bird bath with a drip system – birds are really attracted to running or moving water.

 The material you use and type of water container is not as important as keeping the container clean and filled with fresh water.  An occasional light scrubbing with a mixture of nine parts water to one part vinegar will ensure your water oasis is safe for drinking.

 I’ve written about eight of the most common birds you will see in Munds Park, but how about some of the surprises?  Three that come to mind are the Brown Creeper, Red-Faced Warbler, and the Cordilleran Flycatcher.

The Brown Creeper has a special place in my heart.  Ten summers ago when we were cabin-hunting here, I finally found a house that I thought would be perfect.  My husband was out-of-town, so I had the fun job one weekend to look at houses without him.  As our realtor (Rosie, that means you) and I stood on the deck, there on a tree in our soon-to-be property was a Brown Creeper, climbing up the trunk, about eight yards away.  I took it as a sign that Munds Park was going to be a fun place to not only enjoy golf but also birding.  The next time I saw a Brown Creeper was during a hike in the forest on the way to Mormon Lake.  The Brown Creeper is not a common bird, and it is hard to see.  It is a brown, camouflaged small bird that does just what its name says – creeps up trees in search of insects and plucks them out of the bark with its curved bill. 

I have been told that Red-Faced Warblers inhabit Munds Park, and I will buy someone breakfast if she or he can show me one.  This bird would be a “lifer” for me.  The Red-Faced Warbler is only found in Arizona and New Mexico in the USA, and its habitat is the high forest.  Well, that high forest description fits Munds Park, and friends have told me they’ve had this bird at their bird bath, but I’ve not been that lucky.  Look for a small bird, red face, mostly gray body, with a black crescent on its head amid the red.  An interesting fact about the Red-Faced Warbler is that it nests on the ground, often in old mouse holes, under a fallen log or plant.

 The Cordilleran Flycatcher is a bird we’ve had the privilege of seeing up close because a pair has nested under our deck for four of the five years we’ve been in this house.  This flycatcher used to be called the Western Flycatcher, but a few years back ornithologists determined that here were really two species, the other one being the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher.  Trust me, you and I can hardly tell the difference between the two, but all my field guides state that it’s the Cordilleran Flycatcher here in Munds Park.  This bird is only about five inches long with a triangular type head with small crest.  Its dominant color is olive, and it has a white eye ring.  If you are lucky enough to have a pair build their oval cup-like nest on a beam on your deck, plan on not sitting on the deck for a while as they sit on the eggs and raise their young.  Every time we’d go out on the deck the poor bird would fly away and then chirp from a nearby branch, making us feel bad that we were intruding on her nesting responsibilities.  She obviously felt sharing the deck with humans was not acceptable.  So we’d head back in and let it go back to its nest in peace. 

 By the time you read this article, birds are preparing for or undertaking fall migration.  Robins and Western Bluebirds are flocking together and dispersing from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Soon the Hawk Watch over the Grand Canyon will take place – a sight to behold as Canadian and northern states hawks head down the fly-way across the Canyon.  More to come on that topic next time.  You can contact me at

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