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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Swallows and Conflicts with Nature


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!

 

May 26, 2015

What I Learned in Africa About Munds Park Birding


African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle

This past January we took a three-week trip to southern Africa to golf and go on safaris.  I of course also planned to do some semi-serious birding.  Semi-serious in that I made no changes to our itinerary to see specific birds, but I did take with me a field guide of the most common 500 birds of southern Africa and my lightweight Leopold binoculars.  I learned several things on this trip.

  1. There are many families of birds in southern Africa (in our case Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa) that are similar to birds here in Munds Park and were easy for me to identify. For example, we have the Pied Grebe species here, seen regularly in Lake Odell or the Pinewood Country Club’s ponds.   The Little Grebe species of southern Africa is similar but even smaller.  We were golfing, and there it was in a pond near the 1st tee box.  It is so small that at first I thought it was a baby or juvenile.  Another example is the African Fish-Eagle.  It has a white head and dark body and you would think “Bald Eagle” when you first spot it.  We see an occasional Bald Eagle in Munds Park soaring in the sky or perched high in a tree limb. We also get Canada Geese in Munds Park, and in Africa they get the Egyptian Goose.  Both species are often considered pests at parks and golf courses because they are so common and so messy.  One of the smaller, similar birds I identified was a Barn Swallow – almost exactly like the ones we have in Munds Park.  And we have our Band-Tailed Pigeon, which is unique to the western United States.  In Botswana I saw the Speckled Pigeon and the African Green Pigeon species.
  2. Another thing I learned is that there are many families of birds in Munds Park that have no connection to any in southern Africa, at least in my non-scientific opinion. I didn’t see nuthatches (we have White-Breasted, Pygmy, and Red-Breasted), or hummingbirds (we have Anna’s and Rufous) or anything similar to our Munds Park’s Black-Headed Grosbeak or Western Bluebird.
  3. There were a lot of bird families I had to become familiar with, and I was helped greatly because we had very knowledgeable safari guides with us. Bee-eaters, Barbets, Bulbuls, Hornbills, and Weavers were just some of the new bird families I saw, and within those families there were different unique species.  The feather colors and sizes and shapes of their bills or head feathers always made for challenging and fun bird watching by all of us on the trip.
  4. Speaking of all of us on the trip, there were 12 of us, and everyone became a mini-birder during those three weeks. Everyone commented that seeing all the birds in between Lion or Hippo watching, for example, made the trip much more interesting.  All in all I was able to identify 125 new bird species – without trying very hard.
  5. The last thing I learned is to be prepared. I took one pair of binoculars – I should have taken at least a second pair.  I could have used stronger binoculars (such as a 10×50) for longer distances, plus others on the trip could have used my spare when I wasn’t.  Having the field guide in advance was a real advantage.  To translate that to Munds Park, I would suggest you have a field guide of US Western Birds, at minimum, handy in your house and invest in a decent pair of binoculars.  I have used Eagle Optics and Amazon when ordering online, and you can find a satisfactory pair for under $200.

August 6, 2012

Munds Park Bird Walk


Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre; Immature Pied-Billed Greve

Our Munds Park Bird Walk on Sunday, July 15th, was held after a day and night of heavy rain.  However, a morning sun and blue sky greeted the dozen birders who met up in the Pinewood Country Club parking lot at 7 a.m.  We Munds Parkers were joined by two gentlemen from Mesa and one from Flagstaff, all of whom helped make our bird walk a very pleasant and informative session.

Our first stop was at the Pinewood Country Club golf course.  Because of the heavy rain the night before, golf was delayed for an hour, so we could bird to our heart’s content without interfering with any golfers.  We spent about 45 minutes at the pond between holes 1 and 18, and immediately we were rewarded with sightings of several Yellow-Headed Blackbirds.  We believe they have nested here this year because we spotted a couple of juveniles in the group. The Red-Winged Blackbirds, Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Violet-Green Swallows were abundant, as were the American Coots.  We were treated to great looks at three recently-hatched Pied-Billed Grebes following a parent and begging for food.  A surprise was a young Red-Naped Sapsucker that was spotted by Gordon Karre, one of the men from Mesa, who had along his camera and recorded many of our sightings.

Next we moved on to Lake Odell.  We spotted the Osprey nest pretty easily, with no Ospreys in sight, but an unexpected find was a Great Blue Heron nest, again on the opposite side from where we were.  Through the spotting scope we were able to see at least one youngster in the nest, and later that week I received reports from two different Munds Parkers that they had seen the nest as well, occupied with more than one juvenile bird.  At the lake we saw Canada Geese, Mallards, Great Blue Herons, a male Ruddy Duck, Eurasian-Collared Dove, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Our last stop was at two friends’ front yard on Turkey Trail.  We birders sat on deck chairs graciously provided by our hostesses and saw the following birds come to feeders and bird baths:  House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Mountain Chickadee.  We were hoping for the Red Crossbills to show, but alas and alack, we were not that lucky that morning.  We have since heard they still show up almost daily, with a youngster in tow.

Shortly after 9 a.m. we called it a successful birding walk, and some of us went to the Pinewood Country Club as planned and had breakfast.  There we did a recap of our sightings and just visited with our new birding friends.  Zack Zdinak is the president of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society in Flagstaff and was a great help in finding and quickly identifying some of the birds we saw.  Gordon Karre, who came up to Munds Park for the cooler weather and birding, was our surprise photographer.  He has a blog with photos of many of the birds we saw.  Check it out at http://desertwing.blogspot.com/2012/07/munds-park-az.html.  This wonderful photo of a juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe is courtesy of Gordon.

For those of you who want to venture out of Munds Park for a day and participate in a bird festival, check out the first Hummingbird Festival in Sedona August 3rd through 5th.  You can find more information at http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/index.php.  For hummingbird lovers here, remember that you do not need to and should not add red food coloring to your feeder sugar water.  Just one part of white sugar to four parts of water is sufficient.  The red feeder will attract the hummers, without the food color additives.

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!

October 8, 2009

Swallows

Filed under: Munds Park Birding,Swallows — Munds Park Birding @ 4:21 am

Tree SwallowIf you look out your window today during late September or through October, you will see the Aspen leaves turning yellow and thinning and other trees tinged with orange and red.   You will certainly hear and see fewer ATVs.  All these signs mean the fall season is upon us, and many of you will be thinking about packing up and heading south.  And that’s exactly what our swallows are doing as well – beginning their fall migration.  We are fortunate to have several species of swallows in Munds Park, and in this article I will cover three of them.

 First let’s admit – swallows are hard to pin down and get a good look at.  They swirl around us in their constant quest for insects.  They are known to mate in the air.  They have very tiny feet and long wings.  They can make a mess of our patios and decks when they build their mud nests and set up house.  But they sure are pretty to watch, and we get a thrill when we can actually identify a species.

The most abundant swallow found in North America is the Barn Swallow, a spring, summer, and early fall resident of Munds Park.  In fact, this swallow species is found worldwide, including in Europe and Asia.  To see it in Munds Park, just stand around Lake Odell or on the golf course green #1, #10, or #17, and eventually one or two will whisk around you at about knee level.  The Barn Swallow is a beautiful bird, with a light orange breast, dark orange throat, and metallic blue back.  It has a distinctive deeply forked tail, which makes it one of the easiest swallows to identify, and it’s been clocked at flying 46 miles per hour.  By December of each year our Barn Swallows have passed through Central American and will be in South America.  By April they should be found again in Munds Park, but I don’t know exactly when for sure.  It would be nice to hear from any of you who are year-round residents when you notice the first Barn Swallow next spring.

The Violet-Green Swallow is another one of our birds that is only found in the Western U.S.  It migrates through Central American but not into South America.  It is white underneath and shiny green/bronze on the top.  And of course it is flying past you faster than a speeding bullet as you try to identify it.  This swallow often forages in flight higher than other swallows.  You should be able to spot the white sides on its rump during flight and a short tail (compared to the other swallows).  The nest of a Violet-Green Swallow is a cup of grass, twigs, roots, and straw and lined with feathers from other birds.  These swallows build their nests in rock or tree crevices, and they have been known to use nest boxes.

 A real nest box user, however, is the Tree Swallow.  Just ask Roy and Pat H. on Raintree.  For three years they had a Chickadee nest box in their front yard with no takers, but this year they were surprised with a nesting pair of Tree Swallows.  We sat on their deck, sipping our wine, or rum and coke, and eating crackers and cheese, and watched as the parents flew back and forth feeding the babies, their little heads popping out of the nest box hole each time mom or dad approached.  The Tree Swallow is shiny blue-green on top and white below.  It is the most likely Swallow to use a nest box if you are near water.   They favor Bluebird boxes, which have an entry hole that is one-and-a-half inches in diameter, but the Roy/Pat pair decided the Chickadee nest box, with an entry hole of only one-and-one-eighth inches in diameter, was suitable enough.  Nest boxes are a good solution for declining Tree Swallow habitat as a result of cutting down of old trees and draining of swamps. 

When you are sitting on your deck at sunset and your guests from the East and Midwest marvel that they are not being harassed by mosquitoes and other insets, you can give partial credit to the Munds Park swallows.  They scoop up insects with their wide mouths, often catching several at a time.  One swallow can eat over 1,000 mosquitoes or other insects a day.  I hope they get the “no-see-ums” as well.

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