Bird Lady Blog

January 1, 2016

Brown-Headed Cowbirds


Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Several readers have told me that birds are building nests on their property, and some have sent photos.  Martha on Reindeer has two nest boxes that are supposed to be for Western Bluebirds but are now occupied by nesting House Wrens.  This particular House Wren in Martha’s photo is bringing in sticks wider than the width of the hole and somehow, either by luck or instinct, manages to get enough twigs fitted through the hole and into the nest box to build her nest.  Cindi and Kathy on Turkey Trail also reported they have nesting House Wrens in one of their next boxes.

Alan and Cheryl on Wildcat sent me a great photo of eye-catching blue American Robin eggs in a nest on their property.  At the time of this writing, the chicks hatched and are growing on a daily basis.  The next photo they sent me was of open baby bird mouths waiting for the proverbial worm, and the third photo showed how they were developing their feathers while still demanding food every time a parent approached the nest.  I think the nest is amazing – all the twigs tightly woven together to make a little cup perfectly fitted for the eggs.

I also heard from Lu and Don who live on Lake Odell, and they had a complaint – too many Brown-Headed Cowbirds dominating their bird feeder area.  Brown-Headed Cowbirds are one bird I haven’t written about before; they have not been high on my list.  They have a unique approach to nest building – they don’t build nests at all and instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.  They are considered a parasite because they lay an egg in another bird’s nest, usually a smaller bird like a warbler, sparrow, or vireo, and often they toss out one of the eggs already in the nest.  Brown-Headed Cowbirds hatch faster than the host bird’s eggs, and their chicks are larger, so they compete with the host bird’s babies and often cause them to starve to death.

In years past, Brown-Headed Cowbirds still had a balance in nature; much of the time they were found following herds of buffalo.  But then humans made changes to the landscape by cutting into forests with roads, introducing cattle, and causing deforestation, so the habitat for Brown-Headed Cowbirds changed and made it easier for them to find the nests of host birds, and therefore to multiply.  Cowbirds can lay 30-40 eggs within a breeding season, negatively affecting the nests of that many host birds.  The Brown-Headed Cowbird is considered one of the key reasons for songbird decline in North America.

What can we do to help stop this Brown-Headed Cowbird trend?  On a big picture, the best approach is landscape management – ensuring large tracts of land are available for other native birds and minimizing fragmented landscapes.  On an individual scale, you can use tube feeders with smaller perches and no catch basin at the bottom.  Don’t use tray feeders, and avoid sunflower seeds and cracked corn.  At our home in Munds Park at the edge of Munds Canyon, I have a tray feeder (frequented by Band-Tailed Pigeons) and a sunflower feeder, used by all types of birds, but never frequented by Brown-Headed Cowbirds because our home is in the woods, not in an open area.  At Lake Odell, however, the Brown-Headed Cowbirds stay in flocks with Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds, so they will be harder to control.  Sticking with a nyger seed feeder, suet feeder, and a peanut feeder is probably the best way to still attract birds and discourage Brown-Headed Cowbirds.  I also have read that Brown-Headed Cowbirds do not favor safflower seeds, which might be good to try as an alternative to sunflower seeds.

Purple Martins


Purple Martin

Purple Martin

On a recent Saturday afternoon I went to Lake Odell to see if I could get some inspiration for my next article.  It was a lovely day, with the sun getting lower into the west, so perfect for bird viewing across the water.  I was not disappointed – there was an Osprey hunting, and I witnessed it take two dives.  Its second dive was successful, as it came up with a fish in its talons and then flew across the lake to a tree to eat its dinner.

I next started looking at the swallows and easily identified the Tree Swallows and the Violet-Green Swallows, but then paused and thought, “What is THAT one?”  There was a small number of larger and very dark swallows flying that I didn’t recognize.  They were noisy, and some of them landed in the tree tops to the left of me, so I was able to get a better look through my binoculars.  I took out my iPhone and looked up swallows on my two birding aps.  Finally, I thought “Oh my gosh, those are Purple Martins!”  This was a species I had never identified in Munds Park and really didn’t think I would ever see here.  The last time I saw Purple Martins was in Memphis at the Mississippi River before we went to visit Graceland (yes, to see Elvis Presley’s estate, which was a very fun trip for us.)

Purples Martins are loved by many people across the United States, mostly in the East where they are much more common than out West.  When you see large bird houses with many units – typically 10-20 entrance holes and usually mounted high atop a pole – that is a Purple Martin house.  After doing some research on-line, I learned fascinating facts about these birds.

  • Purple Martins are secondary cavity nesters – meaning they don’t make their own cavities like woodpeckers, for example, and instead use natural cavities in trees or cliffs or ones make by other birds. However, the birds in the Eastern U.S. are almost now exclusively artificial home nesters – they use man-made structures.  Native Americans started this phenomena centuries ago when they hung dried out, empty gourds with a hole drilled in it for the birds.  Today it is thought that if humans did not supply Purple Martins with artificial homes, the species would entirely disappear from the Eastern U.S.
  • In the Western U.S., however, Purple Martins still tend to use natural cavities versus man-made multi-compartment housing. I have noticed Purple Martin housing on at least one property around the Pinewood Country Club but never have seen it being used.  The birds in the West tend to stay near water – for their source of flying-insect food – and they like areas with tall pines and cottonwoods.  In other parts of Arizona with the right conditions they will nest in cavities in cacti.
  • Purple Martins eat only insects, which they catch in flight. There is a common misconception that they devour mosquitoes.  They fly much higher than mosquitoes do and they feed mostly during the daytime hours, when mosquitoes are not active, so mosquitoes are not part of their diet.
  • I could go on and on, but instead for now I will point you to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, a non-profit association devoted entirely to the conservation of this species. The website is purplemartin.org.   I hope to share more information about the Purple Martins in future articles.

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.

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.

The Bluebird Nest Box Project

Filed under: Birding,Western Bluebird — Munds Park Birding @ 10:36 am
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Hanging the Bluebird Nest BoxMany of you reading this article have bird houses on your property.  I’m guessing that a few of you received them as gifts and decorations. Others have purchased or built them yourself in the hopes of attracting one of Munds Park’s cavity-nesting species and to ensure a safe and appropriate habitat for breeding birds.  Regardless of the how and why, it is important to remember that if we put up a nest box, we are responsible for ensuring it is done in the safest way possible to protect the breeding bird.

Here in Munds Park the cavity nesting species are Mountain Chickadee, House Wren, Brown Creeper, Western Bluebird, and Tree Swallow.  The first three require a nest box with an opening diameter of 1 and 1/8 inches.  The last two require an opening of 1 and 1/2 inches.  You can buy nest boxes through many non-profit birding organizations or online retail sites – just search the internet and you will be amazed at the selections and sources.  You will also learn that ornithologists have figured out the most appropriate specifications for depth, width, and type of wood and other material to help ensure the most success for birds that use the boxes.  You can find free nest box plans on the internet.

One of my goals this year was to help with the bluebird nest boxes on the Pinewood Country Club golf course.  So, a couple of weeks ago Kathy K. and I set out with a ladder hitched to the back of a golf cart, a bag of cedar shavings, a tool box with two battery-powered drills, 3 and 4 inch long screws, gloves, a hammer, and various screwdrivers.  We really didn’t know what we might encounter so we wanted to be prepared.  Our goal was to clean out the dozen or so bluebird nest boxes on the course and put up six more.  Here’s what we found.

Cleaning out the existing boxes was pretty easy because each had a side door that pulled up once the door latch was slid open.  All the boxes had evidence of nesting birds.  Some of them seemed to have three different nests piled on top of each other, which we ascertained based on the type and deterioration of the material.  One nest was almost completely made of dog or another type of animal hair.  That probably was not a Western Bluebird nest.  We were careful each time we opened a box – not knowing what could be inside.  Hornets?  A snake?  Our only surprise was a swarm of ants in one of the boxes on Hole #12.  Luckily we had on gloves and were fast on our feet because ants were everywhere once we opened the box.  That box happened to have 4 Western Bluebird eggs at the bottom – laid but never hatched.  That is probably why the ants were there – they had eaten out the insides of the eggs.

We learned from Dan Bright, head of golf course maintenance, that the boxes were put up by Pinewood Country Club about 10-12 years ago.  They probably were donated through one of the non-profit bluebird societies.  The boxes were still in good shape but some were close to falling down.  After tossing the old nesting material, we drilled through the back of the boxes and inserted one or two good-sized screws to further secure them.  The final step was placing about a two-inch layer of cedar shavings in each – sort of like putting out a bluebird welcome mat.

The next process was hanging the six new nest boxes.  That is where the ladder came in most handy.  Bluebird nest boxes should face east and be hung five to eight feet off the ground.  They also should be at least 100 yards apart.  A golf course is a good place for bluebirds – they need meadow-like surroundings and an abundance of food in terms of grubs, worms, spiders, and other insects.

Next summer we will cautiously monitor the next boxes and see how many are occupied.  The boxes are typically set off the beaten path and nesting activity certainly will not disturb the golfers.  Rather, I hope that when I am out on the course and hit an errant shot, instead of getting upset, I can take a deep breath, look at a beautiful bird going about its business of propagating the species and keeping nature balanced, and put golf and life in the proper perspective.

September 19, 2014

The Case of the Fallen Feather

Filed under: Northern Flicker — Munds Park Birding @ 2:14 pm
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Northern Flicker Tail Feather

Northern Flicker Tail Feather

We were visiting family in San Diego a couple of weeks ago and in the middle of the at-home happy hour there, I received a text and photo from Andy: “We found this feather while hiking in Munds Park. What bird is it from?”  At first glance I didn’t know, so I showed the photo on my phone to Andrew, our niece’s husband, who (conveniently for me) works in one of the bird departments of the San Diego Safari Park, previously called the Wild Animal Park.  Andrew was sitting in front of the television with the rest of the men watching pre-season football.  He manages a department that handles rare bird egg incubation and raising chicks and has cool projects like transporting captivity- bred California Condors for release into the wild in Idaho.

Andrew didn’t know whose feather it was either, so he asked me from across the room, “What is your cell phone number”? He then texted me, and I texted back to him the photo sent to me by my hiking friend.  Next Andrew texted the photo to two of his Safari Park work colleagues, Tiana and Jenny.  Almost immediately one of them responded back:  “What habitat”?  He texted back:  “High elevation, pine forest”.  Then Jenny sent us a link to a photo she found using the internet connection on her phone – and it was dead on!  A Northern Flicker tail feather.  In the meantime, both Andrew and I were using our bird apps (I use iBird and also Peterson’s) on our phone to pull up more photos.  In the span of about five minutes and with the awesome help of technology, we were able to text back to Andy the identity of the tail feather.  The rest of the wine-and-beer sipping relatives in the room were thinking we were bird nerds, but we were actually quite proud of figuring out the mystery of the Fallen Feather.

The Northern Flicker we have in Munds Park, Flagstaff, and even the desert around Phoenix is the Red Shafted species. The Yellow-Shafted Flicker is found in the East.  However, the two forms have hybridized extensively and are now considered one species called “Northern Flicker”.  There is also a “Gilded Flicker” that is found in the southwest deserts, but it is much harder to see.  The Northern Flicker is a large woodpecker that has a black crescent on its breast, red side mustaches, and is pretty easy to identify when flying because of its prominent white rump patch.  It tends to forage on the ground, eating ants, beetles, and other insects.   It is more likely to fly on your hummingbird feeder and suck out the sugar water with its long tongue rather than frequent a seed bird feeder.  Why did this one lose a tail feather?  It’s molting season!  Nests were built, eggs hatched, and babies raised.  So now is the time to grow in new feathers to prepare for the next season.

The Fallen Feather episode really makes me appreciate again the many forms of technology we have at our fingertips.  It probably was entertaining watching Andrew and me excitedly solve the mystery of the feather by texting, surfing the internet, scrolling through our bird guides, and sending photos using just our cell phones.  My favorite birding app is iBird Plus and it quickly seems to be replacing my books.  However, I still treasure the very large Audubon’s “Birds of America” volume my parents bought me when I was 11 years old.  Not only does it have extensive information in it, but it also takes me back to happy times pouring over the pages and first discovering the many species of birds we have here in the States and their unique characteristics.

Harder to Find Birds


western tanager 2There are many common birds here – including the two species of Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, American Robins, Steller’s Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, Band-Tailed Pigeons, Lesser Goldfinch, and Pine Siskins. But some species are harder to spot, and four of those are the subject of this article.

The Brown Creeper was one of the first birds I saw when we were house hunting in Munds Park. That is rather surprising, because since then I’ve only seen a Brown Creeper once or twice each year.  It is like a Nuthatch in that it clings to and climbs on trees searching for insects, larvae, nuts, and seeds, but there are some major differences.  First, the Brown Creeper has drab, streaky brown upperparts and is rather slender.  It’s a very quiet bird and solitary – contrast that to the noisy little Pygmy Nuthatches that arrive in a group at our feeders.  The biggest difference in my opinion is that it creeps up a tree – almost always up.

A second hard-to-see bird is the Red Crossbill. The first time I saw this one was at Kathy and Cindi’s house on Turkey Trail a couple of summers ago.  This last month when I was driving on the cart path on hole 18 at Pinewood Country Club on a Friday, I saw a reddish bird in the path in front of me.  It flew up into a pine tree, and I got my binoculars on it and confirmed – a Red Crossbill.  Red Crossbills are a medium-sized finch with a red-orange body, bright red rump, and dark brown wings.  But what is really distinct are their bills, which are crossed at the tip, enabling them to pry seeds from the cones of junipers and spruces.

The third species was reported to me by Lu on Lake Odell, who sent in a photo, and Martha on Reindeer, who saw it at her birdbath. It is the Western Tanager, a bird with a brilliant red head, bright yellow body, and black back, wings and tail.  When this bird appears, you utter a “wow” because it is so striking.  It is found only in the Western parts of the continent and migrates all the way to Central America.  This species was first recorded on the Lewis and Clark expedition from 1803 to 1806.

The last species as part of this article is the White-Faced Ibis. It is a medium-sized wading bird that occasionally shows up at the ponds on the Pinewood Country Club golf course or in the marshy area near the Pinewood Sanitary District.  Carol A. told me she saw one while golfing in July, and I had the pleasure of seeing one in about the same spot a few years ago.  The white face is only a thin band of white feathers around its bare, red face.  The rest of its body is a dark brown with a sheen or gloss that shows up in the right light as bronze or green. It hunts for invertebrates like insects, worms, snails, and also frogs and small fish.  The White-Faced Ibis nests in colonies, so usually you will find more than one at a time.

One thing in common about all these species is that they are monogamous. How do we know that?  Well, for me, I just read the research papers and believe the ornithologists who figure that all out.  But I did learn that there are at least two types of “monogamous” when it comes to birds:  mating for life (e.g., Canada Geese who may not even migrate if their mate has died), and serial monogamy (when a bird mates with another for one season but finds a new mate the next season).  I hope you learned something new with this article, and as for me, I always find a tidbit or two that keeps me on my toes when it comes to the birds in Munds Park.

 

July 26, 2014

“House” Birds

Filed under: Birding,Birdwatchers,House Wren,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 3:06 pm

House Wren Courtesy of Gordon Karre

House Wren Courtesy of Gordon Karre

There are three species of birds here in Munds Park with the word “House” in their name.  Can you guess what they are?  (At this point you should close your eyes and stop reading and think.)

 Let me start with my least favorite.  It is the non-native House Sparrow, previously called “English Sparrow”.  Fortunately we don’t see them much here in the forest because they prefer human habitat.  I have seen them most often around the commercial buildings, especially the gas stations, at the intersection of Pinewood Boulevard and I-17.  These European sparrows were introduced purposely into Central Park, New York City, in the mid-1800’s and then over and over again in other parts of the East because people thought the sparrows would eat insect pests.  Well, no, they eat just about anything, and worse yet, they nest in cavities such as nest boxes, so they take away both food sources and nesting sites of our native song birds.  By the time scientists, farmers, environmentalists, and regular citizens realized how badly these birds were upsetting the natural order, it was too late.  We now have about 150 million of these birds in the continental U.S. and all I can say is that I am glad they are not abundant in Munds Park.  They are not protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act Treaty of 1918 because they are non-native, so you can eliminate them here or anywhere else in the U.S.  For a good article about how to TRY to control these birds, go the www.allaboutbirds.org and read “The Trouble with House Sparrows” article.   

There are two other “House” birds here that I always welcome.  House Wrens are nesting right up the street from me in a reader’s nest box.  The owner told me by e-mail that she just recently heard chirps coming from inside the box as the parents fly back and forth keeping the babies fed.  For such a tiny bird, the House Wren has a loud and insistent warble, and you will often hear it before seeing it.  It is a small, brown, and non-descript bird found around the country in backyards, parks, and open woods.  It loves to build its nest in man-made boxes as well as any other handy spots such as holes in fence posts, boots, old cardboard boxes, abandoned flower pots, and so on.   A couple of facts I’ve learned about House Wrens is that they only weigh as much as two quarters.  But they can wage a fierce battle for a nesting site, harassing much larger competitors, and they are known to drag out eggs or hatchlings from sites they want. 

The last “House” is the House Finch.  Again, I don’t see them too often here in Munds Park, but they are abundant in the Phoenix area.  Where I have seen or heard them is around the back nine of the golf course at Pinewood Country Club.  They tend to like suburbia more than camping in the forest, so you will find them in areas with “yards” versus areas of lots of pine and oak, and they do not use nest boxes.  They are brown-streaked, and the head, throat, and rump of the males are typically pink-red.  They are larger than the Pine Siskins you have at your feeders.  I really enjoy the House Finches’ warbling in the spring, unlike the House Sparrow,  which just has one repeated “cheep” that after awhile becomes annoying, at least in my opinion.

Who’s in the Bath? Sadly, It’s Not Martha


Bird Bath Dripping

 

I wrote a few years ago that one of the least expensive ways to attract birds to your property was with water, and preferably running water.  Well, I had a lot of time the last couple weeks to prove that fact again to myself because I’ve spent many hours in front of a window that looks out at my dripping bird bath.  I had much client work to accomplish in June and therefore was spending more time than normal in the office, which faces the bird bath in our front yard. 

As you can see from the photo, I have a pretty simple set-up.  I have a large plastic garden pot tray as the bath with a rock or two to keep it steady.  I placed the tray on a cement block left over from construction.  Last year I kept the bath nearer to the ground, but a birding friend told me the higher placement makes the birds feel safer from potential predators.  Finally, the key is that I bought a water dripper from Wild Birds Unlimited and keep it slowly dripping during daylight hours.  The result?  Lots of bird visitors.

American Robins come regularly and take hearty baths, splashing water everywhere.  Another bathing bird was an Acorn Woodpecker, and that was the first time I ever saw any kind of woodpecker in a bird bath.  This one was a female.  I paid attention to its head – there was a black band on its forehead between the red crown and white face, indicating it as a female.  Black-Headed Grosbeaks also visit, and Lesser Goldfinches, Mountain Chickadees, and both types of Nuthatches even perch at times on the dripper itself to get a drop of water before it hits the tray. 

The bird that surprised me to taking a full body bath was a Band-Tailed Pigeon.  You probably have seen these around Munds Park, and if you have a feeder that a large bird can perch on, then most likely you have seen Band-Tailed Pigeons.  I recently read a blog by Sophie Webb that called this Pigeon an “under-appreciated species”, and I agree with her.  Do not get our Munds Park’s Band-Tailed Pigeons mixed up with Rock Doves (commonly called “Pigeons” or “Flying Rats” throughout most of the U.S.).  The Band-Tailed Pigeon is the only common forest pigeon in the country, and it is thought to be the closest relative to the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon.  For those of you who are interested in a little sad history, the last known Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died in a Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.  I remember as a little girl reading about this extinct species and thinking how sad it was that humans solely caused its extermination through over-hunting.  For those of you who want to know more, just do an internet search and you will learn about Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon (now stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History) and her extinct species.  A couple of centuries ago there used to be so many Passenger Pigeons that the sky was darkened by the large flocks blocking the sun.  Knowing that we will never see another living Passenger Pigeon again makes me appreciate the native Band-Tailed Pigeon species we have here in our forest.

 

Red, White, and Black


Painted Redstart in Munds Park

Painted Redstart in Munds Park

I received an e-mail from a reader asking “what bird is this?”, and with his question he attached a photo.  What a great photo it is, and quite an unusual bird – a Painted Redstart!  Chuck, who is the e-mailer, and his wife have had their cabin near Munds Canyon since 2001, and just recently this Painted Restart captured their attention.

As you can tell from Chuck’s photo, this bird is a flashy red, white, and black.  It is the only member of its genus that appears regularly in the Americas.  Its relatives are actually known as “whitestarts” and most members of its genus, of which there are 12, are found in Central and South America.   But for a non-scientific person like me, I just know that this bird is a real find.  It was a “lifer” for me in July 2012, when I watched one darting through the forest for an entire weekend from the back deck of our home.  We live on the opposite side of Munds Canyon from Chuck, so perhaps it is the same bird or an offspring.

The Painted Restart flits energetically from tree to tree in search of insects.  When it flits, you can see the flash of its white wing parts and outer tail feathers.  Painted Restarts prefer pine or pine-oak woods, oak canyons, and pinyon- and juniper-covered high slopes.  They build their nests on the ground, usually on a slope in a canyon or creek bank in a concealed place close to a large clump of grass or protruding rock or tree stump.  Given that, Munds Canyon seems like a logical place for breeding Painted Restarts, and I’m grateful to Chuck for sending his observation and his wonderful photo.

While the Painted Restart is not seen that often by most of us, the other black, white, and red bird I have in mind – the Acorn Woodpecker  –  is much more common and a frequent visitor to our feeders.  The Acorn Woodpecker is a resident woodpecker in Munds Park.  For some reason I can only guess at, Acorn Woodpeckers are frequenting my bird feeder much more than in past years.  Perhaps it was the milder winter, with less snow and more birds making it through the winter, or perhaps the new bird seed mixture I have appeals more to them.  The new combination I’m using has black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, wheat, dried cherries, peanuts, safflower seeds, and raisins.  Last year I only placed sunflower seeds in that feeder, and while I still get the usual birds at that feeder, now the Acorn Woodpeckers are also really frequenting it.

Acorn Woodpeckers have a very distinctive face – sometimes called a “clown face”.  I just learned that the female has a black patch between the red crown and its white forehead, so now I am going to pay more attention and try to identify the males and females separately.  Otherwise the sexes of this species are very similar.  These woodpeckers stay in groups, and they store nuts so tightly in individually drilled holes that even squirrels cannot pry the nuts out.

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