Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

Bullock’s Oriole


Bullock’s Oriole

Back in May, 2014, I wrote about a Bullock’s Oriole sighting by a reader who lives on Reindeer. This year, two readers approached me with their photos when I was at the all-member meeting at Pinewood Country Club.  They had captured on their cell phones very nice photos of a beautiful male Bullock’s Oriole from earlier in the month.  One of their photos had the Oriole on a hummingbird feeder.  I went to the iBird Plus on my phone and we compared their photos to the ones in the ap and made positive identification.  The two ladies are to be commended for keeping bird-friendly yards – nectar feeders, water treatment/bubblers, and seed feeders – and for documenting their sightings with their cameras.

Bullock’s Orioles prefer cottonwoods and streams and are the western version of the Baltimore Oriole. I don’t think this one is a resident – it was most likely passing through during migration.  But what a stunning bird with its yellow-orange and black and white!  Our male Black-Headed Grosbeaks have similar coloring but have a different beak because they are primarily seed eaters.  The Oriole feeds on insects, nectar, and fruit and the beak is much more pointed and slender than a Grosbeak’s.

What birds did I see in Munds Park in mid-May during a short weekend? Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Western Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, Canada Geese, Great-Tailed Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, Mallards, one Dark-Eyed Junco, one Chipping Sparrow, a Pygmy Nuthatch, Common Ravens, Turkey Vultures, House Finch (heard only), possible Great-Horned Owl (heard only), Osprey, Red-Tailed Hawk, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, American Robin, possible Common Black Hawk, one Yellow-Headed Blackbird, and Purple Martins.  I saw the Purple Martins on Stallion Drive during a walk just before dusk.  They were loud, as Purple Martins are, and perched high in trees on the Munds Canyon side of Stallion.  I know I’ve heard them in seasons before, but because of the classes I took during the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, I concentrated on their profile:  forked tail, wings that reach almost past their tail feathers, and their size.

The Chipping Sparrow is one I haven’t written about – don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It is a medium-sized sparrow with a rufous cap and black eye stripe.  Its song – a trill on a fixed note – is similar to that of a Dark-Eyed Junco.  As I was getting a refill on my water after the front nine, I first heard the Chipping Sparrow and then saw it, perched on the wooden fencing near the putting green at Pinewood Country Club.  It prefers woodland edges, gardens, parks, and grassy clearings.  It is a bird you will possibly find while sitting around the Pine Cone Café or around semi-open areas, especially if near homes and gardens.

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

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.

July 26, 2014

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.

May 2, 2014

Hairy and Downy and Acorn


Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

One Friday night this summer I was sitting at a table in the Pinewood Country Club bar waiting for karaoke to begin and a member came up to me and said “Why don’t you write about the three woodpeckers we have here?  We see the Acorn, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers all the time on our property”.  So I thanked him for his interest and his suggestion, and that’s why we are going to discuss woodpeckers in Munds Park.  These three species have black/white/red coloring, but they are distinctly different in other ways.

The Acorn Woodpecker is most prevalent here.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your property, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly. Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  Their breeding behavior is quite unique – multiple males and females combine their efforts to raise young in a single nest.  The species has a clownish, comical face, with a bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern.  These birds would be a real “find” for visitors from the Midwest or East because they only inhabit parts of the Southwest and California.

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 now and then I spot one 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 among trees and their limbs, it uses food sources in its natural habitat that larger woodpeckers do not.

In Munds Park I first saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers this spring off our back deck.  The two birds – probably male and female – quickly came and went.  Someone new to birding, and even old pros, find that it is hard to distinguish between a Hairy and a Downy.  They are very similar in appearance, but the Downy is much smaller – about seven inches long compared to the Hairy, which is about 10 inches long.  The Downy has a small, dainty bill, while the Hairy has a longer, chisel-like beak.  Both are found through the United States, while the Acorn Woodpecker is found in a very limited area.

Actually there is one other woodpecker we should be able to spot in Northern Arizona – the Lewis Woodpecker.  The only time I’ve seen it in up north has been on the NAU campus walking from the parking lot to a meeting on a cold winter day.  It has a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly – if you see one of those here in Munds Park, please let me know.

Finally, I have an “oops” to report.  Last month I stated that Bill and Corrine had a nest of Yellow-Eyed Juncos.  I got called out on that by an Audubon friend of mine from Flagstaff.  Our Juncos here up north are Dark-Eyed, not Yellow-Eyed.  I know, to the non-birder person, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – but it is!  It would be like calling a Jeep a Subaru.  I slipped up by not thoroughly looking through my field guide and not thinking through the Junco sub-species.  So please accept my apologies and enjoy the Dark-Eyed Junco next time you spot one in your binoculars.

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.

July 7, 2012

House Birds Part II

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House Wren Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

The last edition’s Article #33 was Part I of our “house” birds – those that are most likely to show up around your home.   But those birds I wrote about two weeks ago were not a complete list of house and cabin birds – we still have Acorn Woodpeckers and Anna’s and Broad-Winged Hummingbirds that are frequent visitors, and of course the Western Bluebird and the swallows.  In Munds Park we have three species of swallows:  Barn, Violet-Green, and Tree.   The folks who can see our swallows the easiest are probably those who live in the condos just off of Hole 10 on Pinewood Country Club.

The rest of this article is about three Munds Park birds that have the word “House” in their common, non-scientific name:  House Finch, House Sparrow, and House Wren.

The male House Finch is mostly brown but has a red head and breast, and the females are a streaked gray/brown with no other distinctive markings.  House finches have a wonderful, cheerful song, long and twittering.  It is a bird primarily found in the West, in all types of habitats from our city parks to backyards to deserts and forest edges.  If you put up a bird seed feeder in any of our towns throughout the state, you will most likely be visited by a House Finch.    I have never had a House Finch at our feeders in Munds Park, although I know others who have, and I have heard and seen them in the residential areas closer to the golf course.

The chunky House Sparrow is a non-native bird that was introduced into the U.S. in the mid-1800’s by people who wanted to establish wildlife familiar to people of European descent.  House Sparrows are now found throughout the U.S. and are one of the few species in the country that are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  The male has a gray head, white cheek, black bib, and rufous neck.  The bird is despised by many – it takes up nesting spots from cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds and is a pest in large cities.  You can see a small number of House Sparrows around the patio area of Pinewood Country Club.  The House Sparrow is a perfect example of how non-native species bring havoc to a new environment – in this case, affecting native songbirds, farmland, and cities in all 50 states.  Two hundred years ago there were no House Sparrows in the U.S. at all – today their numbers are estimated in the hundreds of millions.

The House Wren is a common back-yard bird, and though I haven’t seen one in Munds Park personally, I have had a report of one.  It is a small, plain brown bird with a fairly long, curved beak, and its tail is usually cocked above the line of its body or drooped down.  It is a bubbly and energetic bird, hopping around from bush to thicket, and when it sings, it delivers a trilling song, over and over.  This bird will happily nest in a next box.  Native Americans call this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, which means “making a big noise for its size”.  If you think you have a House Wren on your property, I would really like to hear from you.

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