Bird Lady Blog

August 17, 2017

Who ARE These People?


Townsend’s Warbler

Steller. Say.  Anna.  Grace.  Townsend.

Each of the names above is found in the names of one of the birds we find in Munds Park. Steller’s Jay.  Say’s Phoebe.  Anna’s Hummingbird.  Grace’s Warbler.  Townsend’s Warbler.

I personally prefer bird names that relate to what the bird looks like or area in which it resides – for example, White-Breasted Nuthatch or Western Bluebird. But some lucky people got to have a bird named after them, and there is a little history behind each one.

The Steller’s Jay is the only jay found in Munds Park. It is large and glossy blue and black, has a crested head, loves peanuts, is noisy at times, and will nest near our homes – at the top of a garage light fixture, for example.  It will rob other birds’ nests of both their eggs and young.  Its range is confined to the Western United States and it likes coniferous and mixed forests.  It was named after the naturalist who discovered the bird, George Wilhelm Steller, who is considered a pioneer of Alaska natural history.  He died at age 37, most likely of scurvy and fever, on an expedition, and several of the other animal species he identified are already extinct.

Our Say’s Phoebe, a medium-sized flycatcher, is found mostly on the Pinewood Country Club golf course. This bird is named after Thomas Say, an American naturalist who focused primarily on insects.  He explored the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains.  He died at the age of 47 from typhoid fever.

Anna’s Hummingbird was named after an Italian duchess, Anna De Belle Massena. A naturalist named Rene Primevere Lesson named the bird after her in a time when “collecting” new species was all the rage.  Supposedly a specimen of the bird was given to Lesson by John James Audubon, and Lesson, a French naturalist, named it after the duchess.

I identified what I think was a Grace’s Warbler one afternoon in our front yard. I spent a good 10 minutes watching it flit in the highest parts of the Ponderosa Pines and ended up getting “warbler’s neck” after those 10 minutes.  Grace’s Warbler was named by Spencer Fullerton Baird, at the request of Dr. Elliot Coues, in honor of Dr. Coues’ sister Grace Darlington Coues.  Dr. Coues was a naturalist and discovered the bird in the Rocky Mountains in 1864.  His sister was 18 at the time.

A couple of years ago I identified a Townsend’s Warbler heading through Munds Park during migration. Its distinctive head pattern of a yellow face and dark cheek patch made it easier to identify than other warblers.  John Kirk Townsend was trained as a physician and pharmacist who also had a strong interest in nature and bird collecting.  Besides the warbler, he has the following named after him;  Townsend’s Vole, Townsend’s Mole, Townsend’s Chipmunk, Townsend’s Ground Squirrel, Townsend’s Pocket Gopher, Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat, and Townsend’s Solitaire (a bird which I found on a trip down Schnebly Hill on the way to Sedona).  Mr. Townsend died in 1851 of arsenic poisoning – he had developed a potion for taxidermy and the secret ingredient was arsenic, which he himself got too much of.

It’s pretty fascinating I think to learn how these birds were named. Also makes me grateful for modern day medicine – treating scurvy and typhoid fever and having warning labels on poisons like arsenic!


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.


  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

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

The Good and the Bad in Birdland

Steller's Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

I know:  this title sounds like a drama – maybe one of those wonderful productions put on by the Pinewood Players theatre group.  But no, this article is really all about what has been happening within the circle of life for our birds in Munds Park.  This month has been a big one for hatchlings and the next generation of birds that will carry on the species.

On the pond at the 18th tee box at Pinewood Country Club’s golf course we’ve seen baby American Coots swimming around their parents, still being fed but starting to learn how to fend for themselves.  Newly hatched American Coots are really cute – they have black down feathers over their bodies, bright orange head feathers, and red beaks.  I’ve read that their eyes are blue, but I’ve never been close enough to see myself.  They will become mostly gray as juveniles, and as adults they will be primarily black with a white beak.  Also by that same pond one morning a mom and little girl from across the condos were watching a female Mallard Duck herd around her eight ducklings.  I’ve received reports from friends who’ve told me they have Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows using their nest boxes, with lots of activity of chicks being fed by hard-working parents and then eventually being gently coaxed out of the nest.  At our own deck feeders we’ve had as many as four Black-Headed Grosbeaks at a time – two of them immature, still flapping their wings and begging for food while being shown how to eat black sunflower seeds by the male parent.

So all that is “the good”.  As for “the bad”, I guess it’s all in your perspective.  As we know, nature can be cruel, with many birds in the role of predators.  Certain predators do hunt other birds (such as the Cooper’s Hawk, which primarily preys on songbirds, or the Bald Eagle, which will go after the weakest Sandhill Crane in a flock.)

I received a photo via e-mail from Munds Park residents Bill and Corrine.  They asked if I could identify the bird eggs that were in a planter on their deck.  Bill was very diligent – he not only took photos of the planter and the four eggs in the nest, but he also snuck up on the parent as it sat on the eggs, and he took a third photo.  Based on the bird’s head and the color of the eggs, we thought it was a Junco.  He said he would keep watch and later confirmed that the bird’s back was rusty orange – reinforcing our thoughts that the bird nest was that of a pair of Dark-Eyed Juncos.

But then, drama!  Bill’s and Corrine’s grandson reported that a large, blue bird hopped into the planter.  When they investigated further, they found that the Steller’s Jay had raided the nest and one of the eggs was missing.  Jays have a reputation for stealing and eating the eggs of other birds.  So Bill tucked some plastic covering around the planter, leaving a space for the parent bird to enter, and then he threw some peanuts to the side so the Steller’s Jay would be distracted.   The Junco came back and continued to sit on her eggs.  A few days later, two of the three remaining viable eggs hatched, and as I write this article, the Juncos are going in and out feeding the babies.  We don’t know if it is one bird or two that is taking on the parenting duties because the sexes are similar.  But hopefully by the time this paper is out for publication, the two birds will successfully fledge and find their way to your bird baths.  I have Juncos regularly at my on-the-ground bird bath, but not at my deck feeder.  Juncos tend to forage close to the ground.

All in all, this time of the year is very busy for birds – they are working hard to survive as well as to raise their offspring.  Only the strongest and luckiest will make it through.

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.

March 3, 2012

Steller’s Jay, American Crow, and Away We Go

Photo courtesy of Joseph V. Higbee

Some of us are packing it up and heading south.  I will be spending the winter and spring in Scottsdale, and already I’m looking forward to planting flowers in our garden and birding.  So far in our new home I have seen the following at our feeder from my office window:  American Cardinal, Inca Dove, Mourning Dove, Abert’s Towhee, Gamble’s Quail, Curved-Bill Thrasher, Red-Shafted Flicker, House Finch, and House Sparrow.  I also saw flying in our new neighborhood, but not at our feeder, Lesser Nighthawk, Harris Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and Western Wood Peewee.

There will be a few birds over the winter in Munds Park for sure, and I would like to hear from those of you who live here year-round about what birds you see.  I think two of the more common birds you will see are Steller’s Jay and American Crow.  They are related – both from the Corvidae family of birds in the Passerine order.  The American Crow is found throughout most of the United States, while the Steller’s Jay is found only in the Western part of the country and usually in habitat that is 3,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.

The Steller’s Jay will be after peanuts if you put them out.  These birds are very smart and will watch for you, especially if you have a consistent time of day for filling your peanut feeder or placing peanuts on your deck railings.  With its black and crested head,  iridescent body, and loud call, the Steller’s Jay is will continue to remind you all year long that it is a proud and loud resident of Munds Park.

I had a business colleague in Los Angeles who told me once that she thought the American Crow is an urban phenomenon.  What she meant by that, I think, was that this large, all-black, social, mischievous, and noisy bird seemed to find itself at home in LA parks, parking lots, school yards, and lawns as well as the wilderness outskirts of the city.  American Crows live in most parts of the United States, and they are year-round residents.  While they eat insects, earthworms, small animals, seeds, and fruit, they will also pick at garbage, frequent landfills, and eat the stale bread or popcorn you may throw out the door for them.  American Crows nest early – about April – and they do not breed until they are at least two years old.  They are monogamous, and the mated pairs form families that stay together for many years.  American Crows have come to our bird bath in Munds Park and always more than one show up.  I am guessing it’s a few of the “teenagers” going out on their own for an exciting adventure at a new watering hole.

I plan on taking a few birding trips over the winter, including one to Wisconsin in October.  Hopefully I will get to add at least one “lifer” to my birding list.  However, I have come to realize that one never knows where the next new bird will appear, so a pair of binoculars is always at hand wherever I go.  Each day is an opportunity to open our eyes and ears to the wonderful nature around us, which includes our feathered neighbors.

July 23, 2011

Blue is a Beautiful Color Indeed

Filed under: Great Blue Heron,Munds Park Birding,Steller's Jay,Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 10:04 am

In the last post I wrote about the Western Bluebird, a bird we see often in Munds Park.  The males have gorgeous sky-blue heads and backs, and even the females have blue wings and tails.  I thought I would stick with the blue theme this issue.  I have a black and blue finger from  jamming it while cleaning, and we are doing some painting in our house, with a good portion of some of the rooms in different shades of blue, so blue seems to be the color to focus on.

One bird that is very popular with Munds Park residents, with many people commenting to me about it, is the Steller’s Jay, our own mountain
version of a “blue jay”.  It is large and dark, with a black and crested head, but the back and wings are a sparkling deep blue that shines almost iridescently in the sun.  Most of the time the Steller’s Jay is in the tall canopies of the trees, but it will regularly come to feeders and especially likes peanuts.  Its most noticeable feature is a large crest that gives it a “don’t mess with me” look.  This bird hangs around in camp grounds and picnic areas and will hop on the ground picking up leftover food or unattended picnic items.  Steller’s Jays are described as bold, inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy, and that is a pretty good description of most of the jay family.  My favorite jay in the Midwest and East is its cousin, the Blue Jay, which also has a crest but is colored a lighter blue with a lot of black and white mixed in.  A Steller’s Jay is a great bird for piquing your children’s or grandchildren’s interest in nature as it is colorful, large, and crested and it feeds on people food – peanuts.

I haven’t written until now about the Great Blue Heron.  This bird is one of the largest we have in Munds Park, and you can see it either hunting around the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course ponds and at Lake Odell or flying elegantly in the air with long, sweeping wing beats.  It is the largest and most widespread heron in the U.S., and you will find them at your local golf course and urban ponds or fishing lakes in the rest of Arizona.  They migrate all the way into Mexico and Central America.  The back, wings, and belly are a blue-ish gray, and they have a black plume extending from the eye to the back of the neck.  The feathers are shaggy-looking around its neck.  However, when it stand completely erect at four-and-a-half feet, the bird is very sleek, large, and imposing, especially with its long beak that looks very powerful and dangerous.  And it is indeed dangerous for the fish, frogs, salamanders, mice, shrimp, crabs, crayfish, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other insects it preys on.  If you are out and about and run into a hunting Great Blue Heron, be courteous. It is probably standing perfectly still as it awaits its prey to swim by and then bingo, stabs it with its powerful bill and swallows its catch down its long neck.  And, by the way, its eggs are blue as well.

Great Blue Herons, like many species, are affected by human development.  Human-caused noise, construction, and general lack of secluded habitat affect them.  They breed in colonies, and evidence suggests that colonies will get smaller, with only 40 to 50 breeding families as opposed
to over 100, when their habitat is negatively affected.  I am not aware of breeding colonies of Great Blue Herons in northern Arizona – something for me to research.

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