Bird Lady Blog

January 1, 2016

Bird Quiz


It’s been a while since we’ve done a birding quiz.  Let’s see how you do!  Answers to these questions are found somewhere else in the Pinewood News.

  1. What birds have a large nest on the top of a dead pine tree near Lake Odell? Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American Kestral, Common Raven.  Hint:  They catch and eat fish.
  2. Which Goldfinch species is common in Munds Park? American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Coconino Goldfinch?
  3. When a group of Turkey Vultures are soaring in the sky, what do ornithologists call them? Cast, Committee, Meal, Vortex, or Wake.
  4. Which finch has not been sighted in Munds Park (at least to my knowledge?) Black Rosy-Finch, House Finch, Cassin’s Finch.
  5. When is the least favorable time to be bird watching? Morning, High Noon, Late Afternoon.
  6. Are Acorn Woodpeckers best described as being: Communal or Solitary?
  7. What blackbird is not common to Munds Park? Lone-Pine Blackbird, Red-Winged Blackbird, Yellow-Headed Blackbird?
  8. What bird is often thought to be a duck, but is not? Mallard, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal
  9. About how many times a minute does a hummingbird’s heart beat? 400, 600, 1200.
  10. What is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attract birds to your property? Cracked corn, green ham and eggs, dripping water into a bird bath, rock music played over back-yard speakers.
  11. What are the primary colors of a male Western Tanager?  Gray and Black; Red and Black;  Red, Yellow, and Black; Brown and Blue
  12. Which grosbeak is found regularly in Munds Park? Black-Headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, or Steller’s Grosbeak?
  13. What would be a favorite food of a Pygmy Nuthatch? Unshelled peanuts; nyger seed; black-oil sunflower seeds.
  14. Where do Western Bluebirds nest? In a triangular configuration of branches in a Ponderosa Pine; On the ground near a source of water; In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box; Under the eaves above your deck.
  15. Which swallow species has a long forked tail? Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Blue-Green Swallow; Tree Swallow.

Answers:

  1. Osprey
  2. Lesser Goldfinch
  3. All of the choices
  4. Black Rosy-Finch
  5. High Noon
  6. Communal
  7. Lone-Pine Blackbird (I made that name up)
  8. American Coot
  9. 1200
  10. Dripping water into a bird bath
  11. Red, Yellow, and Black
  12. Black-Headed Grosbeak
  13. Black-oil sunflower seeds
  14. In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box
  15. Barn Swallow
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May 26, 2015

Nesting and Babies


Steller's Jay feeding on Junco chick courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay feeding on Junco chick courtesy of Gordon Karre

I’ve already received reports from Munds Park residents that birds are in high-reproductive mode.  Dan sent me photos of a pair of Steller’s Jays that nested on the light above his garage door.  As I write this article (shortly after snow in May and really cold temperatures), the mother bird is in the nest keeping the chicks warm while the male keeps bringing food to them.  I also heard from Les who had a Dark-Eyed Junco, actually the Gray-Headed Junco sub-species that we have here in Munds Park, trying to build a nest in his wife’s Mandevilla plants in pots on the deck.  The human activity around the first pot seemed a bit more than the bird could handle, so she moved to a planter farther away on the deck.  We’ll have to see if she actually lays eggs and they hatch.

This time of year is very stressful for birds.  Selecting a mate and a suitable nest site, finding the nesting material and hauling it over to the site, laying the eggs, sitting on them and still getting enough food to sustain a healthy female – it all takes a toll on the parents.  On top of that, there are predators who would love to snack on the eggs plus the chicks themselves.  These predators include other birds plus raccoons, skunks, and snakes.  I recently experienced this last threat in Scottsdale.  A Gamble’s Quail built a nest and laid 14 eggs in a pot with an asparagus fern at our front door.  We stopped using the front door and I posted a sign for anyone approaching the house – “Caution, Quails Nest!  Please do Not Disturb”.  One Sunday morning I peeked out the shutters and feathers were everywhere, as were egg shells and some left-over yolks.  It must have been a coyote that came right up to our front door in the middle of the night and made a dinner of our resident quail and her eggs.

So what can you do?  First and foremost, do not let your cats out of the house.  Keep them indoors – at all times.  It is estimated that there are 77 million cats in the USA, and only 35% of them are kept indoors.  Those that go outside kill adult birds, baby birds, and other wildlife.  Not because they are hungry – because owners spend billions of dollars on cat food – but because they can and they do.  It’s their nature.  So do us all a favor – keep your cats indoors.  And tell   your neighbors to keep their cats indoors.  (I suppose “explain nicely” is a better way to put it.)

Secondly, if you do have nest boxes (for Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creepers, and White-Breasted Nuthatches) – make sure they conform to good nest box design and practices.  You can go online and start with birding hobby companies and order boxes with the right dimensions.  Or you can get designs that are easy to build, like the ones I use to make nest boxes with pine and a few battery-operated hand tools.  You should clean out nest boxes after every season.  Make sure they are secured and won’t crash down with our Munds Park winds in May and June.  Last fall we put up seven new Western Bluebird nest boxes on trees around the Pinewood Country Club – can’t wait to see if they will be occupied this year.  We also cleaned out the others – so all in all there are some good opportunities to provide safe nesting sites for our Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.

September 11, 2013

My Favorite Birding Things – Part 1


Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

My newest favorite birding thing is our new cement bird bath, bought this spring at the Munds Park Farmer’s Market.  It is very heavy – made of cement – and sits just about eight inches off the ground on a small pedestal that actually looks like an upside down Bundt pan.  I especially like the blue-colored bottom of the water bowl because it stands out, and I like that it is solid enough that I can hose it down hard to clean it and it doesn’t tip over.  So far I’ve seen Dark-Eyed Juncos and Lesser Goldfinch drinking from it.

My other bird bath is attached to the back deck and it is used a lot by all types of birds, including American Crows.  This one is a plastic tray and it hangs over the deck, so I keep a flat rock in it to hold down the tray if it gets dry and the wind is blowing hard.  Just today as I wrote this article a female Black-Headed Grosbeak took a bath in it.

I have three types of feeders out on the back deck.  One is an inexpensive, plastic stout feeder that has four very small perches.  I put sunflower seeds in it.  The best part about this feeder is that the Band-Tailed Pigeons cannot perch on it.  They dominated my other feeder that has a larger perch, and none of the other birds could have a turn.  So now this feeder is visited regularly by Pygmy Nuthatches, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, and Pine Siskins.

The second feeder is an 18-inch tall tube just for nyger seed, and it attracts Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskins.  Pine Siskins are small finch-like birds, very plain brown, but with heavy striping on the breasts.    The wings have small patches of yellow, but mostly you can describe them as small, brown-streaked birds.  They usually travel in compact flocks, so where there is one Pine Siskin, there will be others.

My third feeder is a tray feeder I built from some leftover lumber and screen, about two feet square and two inches deep.  This feeder is my concession to the squirrels and the Band-Tailed Pigeons.  Mostly I put sunflower seeds in this one, but sometimes peanuts in the shell or cheaper, mixed bird seed.  The squirrel have learned to precariously climb the three-foot rod that holds the feeder, and the Band-Tailed Pigeons will sit on it six at a time and make it crooked with their weight.

Let me not forget to mention the Acorn Woodpeckers.  They also will come to the tray feeder and the other sunflower seed feeder.  And the peanuts in the tray will attract the Steller’s Jays.  They are stunning in the sunlight with their blue and black iridescent coloring.

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.

June 30, 2012

House Birds Part I

Filed under: Grosbeak,Nuthatches,Red-Faced Warbler — Munds Park Birding @ 2:19 pm
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Photo courtesy of David Cree

What birds are showing up at your house?  If you have feeders, the answer to that question will depend on what kind of bird food you are offering.  If you have a bird bath, you may attract a wider variety of birds.  If you have a shallow fountain with trickling or moving water, you will have an even better chance of attracting a variety of species.

So let’s start with the type of bird seed you might use and narrow down the obvious choices.  Even if you are only a beginning birder and your bird watching is focused on your own property, you should be able to identify the common birds with a minimal amount of effort.

With a nyger seed feeder (plastic or sock tube) you will attract Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins.  The male Lesser Goldfinch has a bright yellow breast, olive back, and a black head.  Females and immature are duller, lack the black cap, and have olive backs and breasts.  Often at the same time the Goldfinches are feeding you will see Pine Siskins.  These birds are just a little bigger than the Goldfinches, and they are mostly brown with definite brown striping on a light colored breast.  The wings have a small patch of yellow and two white wing bars.

If you have a feeder with sunflowers seeds, millet, and milo, you will attract a nice variety of birds.  Look for the Black-Headed Grosbeak, Mountain Chickadee, and two types of Nuthatches:  Pygmy and White-Breasted.  The Black-Headed Grosbeak is stunning with a mix of black, orange, and white.  The Mountain Chickadee is mostly black and white with a black cap; it is a small, busy bird, also easily identified by its call, which sounds just like its name: “chick a dee dee dee”.  Nuthatches are small birds with almost no necks.  They creep up and down trees, head first, jamming nuts into tree crevices and then “hatching” them apart with their large bills to get to the seeds.  With this type of seed, you will also get Band-Tailed Pigeons, and if seeds fall to the ground, you will be visited by Mourning Doves.

When you add a feeder with peanuts, you should see Acorn Woodpeckers and Steller’s Jays.  The Steller’s Jay has a black and crested head, iridescent dark blue body, and loud call.  You may also attract the American Crow.  While sitting on our deck and writing this article, an American Crow came to our bird bath and dunked unshelled peanuts in the water, and then either opened and ate them here or flew off to eat them in the woods.  I don’t know from where the Crow got the peanuts, but our bird bath was the next stop for the Crow’s meal preparation.

Fresh water is a thrifty way to attract birds, especially dripping or spraying water.  I am thrilled to report that while taking a break from writing this article and turning on our front yard sprinklers in the late afternoon, I spotted a Red-Faced Warbler flitting from tree to tree.  I have been trying to see this bird for six years. There it was: a small, mostly-gray bird with a brilliant red head and neck, showing up at the start of a phone call with my mother in Illinois as I was sitting on the front deck and monitoring the sprinklers.  It stayed around for over 15 minutes, giving me great looks with and without binoculars, while my patient mother heard about this “lifer” during the phone call.  This bird is very rare in the United States – only found in the high mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.  As I’ve stated in past articles, you never know when you may run across that special bird, so always keep your eyes and ears open.

March 3, 2012

Which Half Are You In?

Filed under: Football,Nuthatches — Munds Park Birding @ 9:29 pm

In the last issue I made a comparison of bird watching to football watching.  According to two separate studies, 60% of the U.S. population follows professional football, and 20% of the U.S. population is actively birding (referring to birders who get out of their neighborhood and seek birds).  I don’t know enough about the surveys’ methodologies to know if this comparison is “apples to apples”, so I decided to conduct my own unofficial survey in Munds Park of our “birding” population and generate my own statistics.

I took a walk north on Stallion Drive from our house, up east and then south on Mustang, and back west on Thunderbird to our house.  I looked at each house and yard and made a tic mark on one of two columns.  The first column was for any house that had any bird attracting apparatus – a bird bath, bird feeder, or bird house.  The other column was for tic marks for houses with none of the above.  Keep in mind I could only look in front and side parts of the property, not back decks or yards.  After all, I did not want to look so nosy that the Neighborhood Watch folks would be notified!

I counted 95 houses in all, and 43 had something for attracting birds, and 52 did not.  Taking my survey one step further, I made a conservative assumption that 10% of the 52 homes had some type of bird attracting apparatus in their back yards or decks, but not in the front, so I adjusted the count by 5 less to the 52 number and 5 more to the 43 number.  End result?  48 houses with bird-attracting “stuff”, and 47 not, for a 50/50 split.  Which leads me to conclude that there are almost as many people who watch birds as do follow NFL football.  I probably will never be hired by Gallup polls.  But even though my survey was unscientific, I think it did imply that there is a large population of bird lovers in Munds Park.  And I bet that a good majority of the other 50% are probably noticing birds at their neighbors’ feeders or flying through the trees.  But that is just a guess – I promise to not go knocking on doors to find out.

For those of you who feed birds anything other than peanuts or nyger seed, you probably have nuthatches visit your feeder.  We have two types of nuthatches in Munds Park – Pygmy and White-Breasted.  Nuthatches have large heads, short tails, powerful bills and feet, and advertise their territory using loud, simple songs. Most nuthatches exhibit grey or bluish upperparts and a black eye stripe, and members of the genus are found in other parts of the world such as India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, Iran, and China.

Pygmy Nuthatches are seen in flocks of several or more. They are busy little birds, scrambling on twigs and pine cones or climbing head-first down tree trunks in search of the next meal. At four inches long, they are considerably smaller than their relative, the White-Breasted Nuthatch, which is about five and a half inches long. Pygmy Nuthatches have a slate gray back and a buffy white belly. Their vocalization is described as a “piping”, usually a two syllable call repeated over and over. When they come to your feeder for sunflower seeds, they will arrive one after another, flying back and forth, often storing the seeds into crevices in the bark of trees. These little birds are very gregarious. Nesting pairs may have helpers, and during the winter they will huddle together in a cavity roost, sometimes as many as 100 of them together.

The White Breasted Nuthatch, like its name, has a completely white breast. It has a blue-black back, dark hood and almost no neck. You will usually see this bird alone or with its mate, or you will first hear its nasal yammering. The White-Breasted Nuthatch climbs up, down, and sideways on trees searching for insects or placing nuts into tree trunk crevices that it will use a food later in the year. It does not use its tail as a prop against the tree as woodpeckers do, but it does wedge insects and nuts into cracks in trees for storing. Although these birds typically stay in the same territory year-round, when I’m golfing in central Phoenix during the winter, I will occasionally hear the call of a White-Breasted Nuthatch. Maybe like the Munds Park year-round human residents, it grows tired of the cold winds and snow and needs a break from winter.  This bird nests in tree cavities, so you could possibly attract one to your property with a nest box.

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