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.



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.

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.

September 17, 2010

Mourning Doves and Great-tailed Grackles

Filed under: Mourning Dove and Great-tailed Grackle — Munds Park Birding @ 5:38 am

I for one do not want to rush the summer away, but it is inevitable – soon fall will be here and some of us will be headed to our residences away from Munds Park.  We’ll be “down in the Valley”, in Tucson, Yuma and maybe even further.  So in this article I decided to write about two species of birds that are found here as well as in our winter home towns.  I will also tell you about our trip to the Kachina Wetlands.

The Mourning Dove is very common across all of the United States and southern half of Canada.  There are not many here in Munds Park because they tend not to inhabit high forests, but on occasion I hear their four-syllable, mournful call or see one or two on the ground below our deck feeders, pecking at the dropped seeds.  Mourning Doves are very numerous in other parts of our state, including urban areas.  If you have one of those bird clocks that everyone (well, not “everyone”, maybe only birders) seemed to have received as presents a few years ago, the kind that on the hour “chimes” one of 12 bird calls, the Mourning Dove is probably one of those birds included on your clock.  It is a small, slender, long-tailed dove that is a strong flier, and it is the leading game bird hunted in the country.  One estimate I read stated that 40 to 70 million birds are shot each year in the U.S.  (Keep in mind that a single bird yields only about 2 ounces of meat, so why they are hunted as “game” is beyond me.)  In spite of that, Mourning Doves proliferate because a pair can have up to six broods a year.  The Mourning Dove has a “wing whistle” that is quite noticeable on landing and takeoff.  Back “in the Valley” when I am golfing, this is a very common bird on the golf course – especially when over seeding is taking place.  If you have a tube seed feeder, most likely the Mourning Doves will be below on the ground, eating the seeds that have dropped.

The Great-tailed Grackle is a noisy, large, long-tailed blackbird that thinks golf courses, irrigation ditches, and lawns with sprinkler systems were custom-made for them.  This is another species that is found in metro Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, and any other part of the state that has open to semi-open habitats, including farmland, marshes and wetlands, brushy forest edges, and suburban areas.  In Munds Park I have seen them only around the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course at the ponds and water ditches.  Great-tailed Grackles love being around water, and they have steadily increased in number in Phoenix, for example, because of irrigated lawns, golf courses, and grassy parks.  You will not find them in the real desert areas or mountain areas.  The males have glossy black feathers with an iridescent purple sheen, and in the spring they will strike a distinctive strutting pose to attract females.  The females are smaller and brown with a pale breast. Both the males and females always have yellow eyes.  There are two close relatives of the Great-tailed Grackles in the U.S.  Boat-tailed Grackles are found in Florida and along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.  Common Grackles are smaller than the other two species and are found primarily in the East and Midwest.  All three are rowdy, raucous, and somewhat aggressive towards other birds.  They are all significantly smaller than the Common Crow.  For our Arizona Great-tailed Grackles, look for the long, sleek, black, iridescent body and yellow eye.

 A couple of Sundays ago, two of us ventured to the Kachina Wetlands, which are just west of I-17, for a quick birding trip.  If you go, take the #333 Kachina/Mountainaire exit, then go north on the frontage road (Tovar Trail) on the immediate west side of the freeway all the way until it dead-ends.  The entrance is on the right.  There are eight wastewater treatment ponds, half of them filled with water, and the birding is good.  Highlights of this trip included Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a Sora, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, and Ruddy Ducks. 

 Keep in mind the Hawk Watch is going on right now at the Grand Canyon.  For more information, go to

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