Bird Lady Blog

May 2, 2014

Hairy and Downy and Acorn


Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

One Friday night this summer I was sitting at a table in the Pinewood Country Club bar waiting for karaoke to begin and a member came up to me and said “Why don’t you write about the three woodpeckers we have here?  We see the Acorn, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers all the time on our property”.  So I thanked him for his interest and his suggestion, and that’s why we are going to discuss woodpeckers in Munds Park.  These three species have black/white/red coloring, but they are distinctly different in other ways.

The Acorn Woodpecker is most prevalent here.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your property, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly. Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  Their breeding behavior is quite unique – multiple males and females combine their efforts to raise young in a single nest.  The species has a clownish, comical face, with a bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern.  These birds would be a real “find” for visitors from the Midwest or East because they only inhabit parts of the Southwest and California.

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 now and then I spot one 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 among trees and their limbs, it uses food sources in its natural habitat that larger woodpeckers do not.

In Munds Park I first saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers this spring off our back deck.  The two birds – probably male and female – quickly came and went.  Someone new to birding, and even old pros, find that it is hard to distinguish between a Hairy and a Downy.  They are very similar in appearance, but the Downy is much smaller – about seven inches long compared to the Hairy, which is about 10 inches long.  The Downy has a small, dainty bill, while the Hairy has a longer, chisel-like beak.  Both are found through the United States, while the Acorn Woodpecker is found in a very limited area.

Actually there is one other woodpecker we should be able to spot in Northern Arizona – the Lewis Woodpecker.  The only time I’ve seen it in up north has been on the NAU campus walking from the parking lot to a meeting on a cold winter day.  It has a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly – if you see one of those here in Munds Park, please let me know.

Finally, I have an “oops” to report.  Last month I stated that Bill and Corrine had a nest of Yellow-Eyed Juncos.  I got called out on that by an Audubon friend of mine from Flagstaff.  Our Juncos here up north are Dark-Eyed, not Yellow-Eyed.  I know, to the non-birder person, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – but it is!  It would be like calling a Jeep a Subaru.  I slipped up by not thoroughly looking through my field guide and not thinking through the Junco sub-species.  So please accept my apologies and enjoy the Dark-Eyed Junco next time you spot one in your binoculars.

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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.

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!

August 23, 2010

Pine Siskin, Downy Woodpecker, and Checklists

Filed under: Downy Woodpecker Pine Siskin and Checklists — Munds Park Birding @ 2:32 am

During our first Munds Park birding get-together, one of our attendees mentioned the Pine Siskin and how this species visits her nyger seed feeders.  Her comment made me realize that I had been seeing them at our feeders, but I was not really identifying them.  As the Pine Siskins came to our tube feeders and more or less blended in with the female and juvenile Lesser Goldfinches, I at first just “assumed” from afar that all the birds at our nyger seed feeders were the same species.   So I was forgetting a birding rule-of-thumb:  when there are large numbers of a bird type feeding or flocking together, look for other species intermingled with them. 

After our birders meeting in July and Susanna’s comments, I paid more attention to the visitors at our nyger feeder, and for sure it was being frequented by Pine Siskins.  Pine Siskins can best be described as small, finch-like brown birds with a lot of brown streaking on their white breasts and a little yellow on their wing bars.  At five inches in length, they are slightly larger than Lesser Goldfinches (See Article #1).  Pine Siskins are found throughout the United States and often do not migrate as long as there is a sufficient food supply.  They construct their nests on a horizontal tree limbs, and they are very social, often building their nests very close to other nesting pairs.

If you remember article #2 from summer 2009, I wrote about the Acorn Woodpecker, the most common woodpecker found in our area.  In article #14 this year, I focused on the Red-Shafter Flicker, which is another member of the woodpecker family.  Just three weeks ago I saw a third member of this family – our smallest woodpecker of all – the Downy Woodpecker.  This little bird, about seven inches in length, was right outside our bedroom window climbing up and down a tree, picking on the bark surface.  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.  Downy Woodpeckers are found throughout the United States, from Florida to Alaska, and are a welcome sight with their bright red cap on a wintry, white day.  They will feed at your birdfeeders and during the winter will often be seen in flocks of other birds, such as Mountain Chickadees.  Birds know that there is “safety in numbers.” 

A small flock of Canada Geese has been staying around the ponds at the first and second holes on the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  I have yet to see a Yellow-Headed Blackbird this season (see Article #10) and would appreciate hearing from any of you who have seen one in 2010 in Munds Park anywhere.

I was recently e-mailed a question asking if there were any birding books specific to Munds Park.  I know of none specific to Munds Park, but there are other sources of information that I’m sure you would find useful. 

Birding the Flagstaff Area, an 80 page book by Frank and Linda Brandt, provides birding locations and directions to sites in and around Flagstaff, including Upper Oak Creek Canyon and the Kachina Wetlands.  Munds Park is not listed specifically, but I think one of the great benefits of this book is the checklist.  The list references 254 regularly found species in this area, and an Abundance and Status Key (e.g., common, permanent resident, summer resident, etc.) to help you more easily confirm your sightings.  You can order the book for $14.95 plus shipping through the Northern Arizona Audubon Society at http://nazaudubon.com/orderform.htm or purchase it at the Arboretum at Flagstaff.

If you would like a free, downloadable Field Checklist of The Birds of Coconino County, go to http://AZFO.org, the Arizona Field Ornithologists website.  This list does not have any comments or information about where to find the species listed, and it includes vagrant, casual, and accidental species. 

We will have a second get-together of Munds Park Birders on Saturday, August 28th, at the Pinewood Country Club.  Meet in the lobby at 3:00 p.m., and if weather permits, we may carpool to Lake Odell and see what we can find there.  Wear sturdy shoes and comfortable clothes and bring your binoculars.

One final note:  remember to protect the birds from window kills.  Place Window Alert stickers on your windows, hang a strip or two of halogen tape in front of them, and/or place your feeders further away from your windows.  Save a bird today.

You can reach me at margaretdyekman@cox.net, and you can read all the articles and leave your comments at www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.  It is always great to hear from other birders, and I welcome your questions and comments!

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