Bird Lady Blog

May 19, 2014

Getting the Season Started

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Another spring is upon us, and the birds have been busy.  Their main goals right now are to find a mate and successfully reproduce to carry on the species.  Let’s start with the cavity-nesting birds – meaning those that will nest in a bird house or nest box, a hole in a tree, or even a cavity in a stump, fence post, or flower pot.  

The common cavity-nesters in Munds Park are Mountain Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Tree Swallows.  There are House Wrens around as well – very small and busy brown birds that may also use your nest box.  From a human’s viewpoint, these birds have the most obvious nest sites because if we put up a bird house, you know darn well that we are watching to see if it will be used.  And when that does happen, it is exciting and entertaining to watch the parent birds fly back and forth first bringing in nesting material and later feeding their young.  If we are around to see the birds fledge out of the nest box, then we are proudly sharing the experience with our grandkids or spouse or neighbors.  We get satisfaction knowing that the nest box we built or bought, secured to the tree, cleaned out season after season, and diligently watched actually produced a new generation of birds.

Other birds’ nests are much less obvious.  We know that Ospreys have nested high in the trees on the east side of Lake O’Dell.  That nest can be spotted with a good pair of binoculars or scope.  Turkey Vultures, which soar regularly in groups over the golf course, I-17, and the western Pinewood Boulevard area, most likely have their nests very far from the heart of Munds Park.  They prefer to nest away from civilization, and the sites are typically cooler than the surrounding area.  Turkey Vultures nest on rock crevices, ledges, fallen trees, and abandoned hawk or heron nests.  

Another large bird, the American Crow, hides its nests in a large crotch of a tree and prefers evergreen trees like our Ponderosa Pines.  Both the male and female contribute to nest building, and the nest is made of medium size twigs and lined with pine needles, weeds, and a variety of other soft material.  Part of the success of raising a brood is having a nesting site that is safe from predators and weather disturbances, so expect to look hard and be very observant to identify a nesting site other than a nest box.

 Let me end with the sighting of the month:  Dan and Laurie reported a Yellow-Headed Blackbird at their bird feeder on April 26th – when Munds Park had a spring storm that dumped a few inches of snow on the ground.  Usually we only see these birds mid-summer and around the ponds at the Pinewood Country Club golf course, so this one was probably passing through and got way-laid with the bad weather.  But as I always say, you never know what bird you might find at a moment you least expect it.



Birds of Contrast

ImageDuring a mid-September hike up to Crystal Point I spotted a Hermit Thrush.  This is a secretive bird of the woodlands  in Arizona as well all other states except Hawaii.   You will not find a Hermit Thrush at your feeders – you are going to have to go partly into the forest and watch for them or maybe you will find them in on your property if it is rather secluded.  In my case, I was about one-third the way up the trail to Crystal Point from the entrance off of Pinewood Boulevard in mid-September when I spotted a Hermit Thrush on my right.  (By the way, a big thanks to Munds Park Trail Stewards for all they work they do in keeping our hiking trails cleared and in such good condition!) 

The Hermit Thrush is a medium-sized thrush with black-spots on its white under parts, red to brown upper parts, and a white eye ring.  This bird is known for its beautiful song.  If you have a birding application or access to the internet, search on the bird’s name and find a site that has the Hermit Thrush’s song and then listen to it.  Its song has been described as “sweet, clear, and musical”.  The Hermit Thrush is a state bird of Vermont, and its song is featured in a Nintendo Wii game as well as an altered version in the Hunger Games film.  

On the opposite spectrum is the Great-Tailed Grackle, which is a large, noisy, gregarious bird found near open spaces with water and lawns.  They are now found extensively in the Phoenix metro area, primarily because humans have changed the desert to expansive lawns, golf courses, and parks with plenty of irrigation systems and ponds.  I was surprised to find them at the ponds of Pinewood Country Club because generally they are not found this far north.  They have been expanding their range, however, based on the accessibility of water and food associated with human development, and they are now seen in Flagstaff.  

The non-birder will identify these birds as “blackbirds”, and indeed the males are exactly that:  glossy, iridescent black with a blue-violet sheen.  The females are brown underneath with dull, black under parts.   Both sexes have distinctive yellow eyes and a long, large tail which at times looks like it is built vertically rather than flat and horizontal.  Great-tailed Grackles are noisy, and I can remember when we lived in the Arcadia area of Phoenix, for several winters we had 200 or more of these birds gathering in the oleanders next to our house to roost for the night.  They were so noisy!  If you return to the Valley for the fall/winter, look for these birds in your neighborhood or golf course.  

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