Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

What I Learned in Ireland About Northern Arizona Birding


Hooded Crow

Eight of us took a trip to Ireland in late May/early June to golf, see the country, and, of course for me, to informally bird watch. In the meantime, while I was abroad, I heard from three Munds Park residents who sent me their photos of two birds we have here:  Western Tanager and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

The Western Tanager is a brightly colored, red headed/yellow bodied/black-winged bird that appears in late spring. Western Tanagers are stocky song birds that inhabit coniferous environments, foraging though the upper parts of pine and juniper branches in a methodical manner.  They don’t frequent seed feeders but can be attracted with fresh or dried fruit.  I’ve read that their song is a hoarse, American Robin-type song, but I don’t think I’ve ever recognized it.  Note to self:  pay more attention to what bird songs you are hearing, especially right before dusk.  I need to make myself differentiate between the song of the Western Tanager and the Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The photo I received from a reader of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird was taken at Lake Odell. I saw these Blackbirds this year also at the pond on the Pinewood Country Club golf course between #1 and #10.  And, exciting news, the Ospreys are again nesting in the same tree as last year to the south of #13 on the golf course.  I haven’t been around enough to know how many birds are in the nest.  But it sure it fun to make the turn at 12 and look up to see the nest and know the birds still favor Munds Park.

As for Ireland, birding there was easier than in Africa, where we were last year.   Ireland has a human population of only four and a half million people, and the bird population parallels that statistic.  Ireland has a rather low number of bird species because of its isolation.  I bought a field guide, The Birds of Ireland by Jim Wilson, and packed my pair of binoculars along with its shoulder harness, and was able to see 35 new bird species without going off our travel itinerary.  Ireland has a Blackbird, which is the size and shape of our American Robin, and it I completely black except for a bright yellow beak.  Their Robin is red/orange from the beak to the breast, and when I spotted it, it flitted like a fly-catcher rather than moved like our Robin.  On the final afternoon we were in Dublin, I took a walk through a city park and saw three life-birds in the span of an hour:  Robin, Tufted Duck, and Grey Wagtail.  The Wagtails really do wag their tails, and I found two species, the Grey and the Pied.

Ireland’s one-and-only Swallow is very similar to our Barn Swallow, and the House Martin, which our group identified while we were in a golf course clubhouse sipping on pints of Guinness, is a lot like our Violet Green Swallow.

The Blue Tit and Great Tit resemble our Mountain Chickadees. I saw my first Ireland’s Hooded Crow in a little village we stopped at for ice cream (Irish people love their ice cream, and large ice cream cone statues in front of stores indicate that you can find some there).  Unlike our American Crow, which is all black, the Hooded Crow is part grey and part black, and therefore rather easy to contrast with another bird in Ireland, the Raven.

What was my favorite bird of Ireland? It had to be the Lapwing.  The Lapwing resembles a Killdeer, but it has a top-knot similar to our Gamble’s Quail, which is found only in our desert, not at higher elevations.  The Lapwing is featured in the logo for the Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin, so I just had to buy myself one of the golf shirts there to wear as a fond memory of our golf and birding.

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

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.

May 2, 2014

Head South, Birds!


American Robin Courtesy of Gordon Karre

American Robin Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Have you noticed that we are not seeing any American Robins anymore?  And the Black-Headed Grosbeaks are gone, too.  They all are migrating south for the winter, and soon they will be followed by our Swallows:  Violet-Green, Barn, Tree, Northern Rough Winged, and Cliff.  It’s too bad the Robins left so soon – with all the storms and rain we had in late August and early September the earthworms were popping up everywhere, including on the greens at Pinewood Country Club.  I’m sure many a golfer moved more than one earthworm out of the way when lining up his or her putt.

We had a very unusual sighting in August in Munds Park this year – a Northern Bobwhite.  This bird is quail-like and found from the East Coast and to only as far west as Texas and Nebraska and north into southern Minnesota.  It is considered a threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Martha, who lives on Reindeer, took a photo of it in her back yard, and to confirm its identity, we sent the photo to Zack, the past president of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society.  He agreed it was a Northern Bobwhite, and we also agreed that it probably was an escaped or released bird from someone in Coconino County who is breeding them for hunting purposes.  Zack’s been told these birds are available for sale and some people raise them and exotic quail for training hunting dogs.

The plight of the Northern Bobwhite is really quite a sad story.  According to an article by Jack O’Connor, “The Bobwhite Blues”, the message is:  “if you care about birds or grasslands, you should care about the Bobwhite.”  Hunters and birders alike should unite to ensure prairie birds such as the Bobwhite, Prairie Chicken, and many other birds associated with grasslands become a conservation concern.  The American Bobwhite is not yet on the endangered species list, but if we do not reverse the trend, it will be.

Finally, about two days after writing the previous article, in which I complained that I had not seen a Brown Creeper in a couple of years, one appeared in our back yard, creeping up a Ponderosa Pine.  So, you never know what you are going to see – just keep your eyes and ears open and be surprised now and then.

May 19, 2012

Spring and the American Robin

Filed under: Migration,Robin Goldfinch Bluebird Chickadee — Munds Park Birding @ 1:11 pm
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Just as we are returning to Munds Park en masse, so are the birds, and “they’re here” with just as much as enthusiasm as we have, whether we are full-time Munds Park residents or summer happy-campers.  What was the first bird I saw after walking onto our deck on Friday, May 4th?  The American Robin, eye-level to me from our second-story deck and easily spotted in a tree that had yet to produce a full set of the season’s new leaves.

The American Robin is a very popular bird in the U.S., found in 49 of our 50 states.  It is a worm and grub-eating bird that you will see on front lawns, golf courses, and grassy areas in parks, and in general is found in woodlands as well as open farm areas and urban areas.  It is one of the first birds to breed in the spring and one of the first birds to sing at the break of dawn.  “The early bird catches the worm” does indeed seem to describe the American Robin, although my research shows that this saying was first recorded back in the 1600’s in a collection of English Proverbs.  The American Robin is a stately, upright bird with a red breast, gray-brown upper parts, and white lower-belly and undertail.  Do you know what three States have named the American Robin their official state bird?  The answer is Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

I spent most of the first weekend in May stocking the kitchen and freezer and golfing, but I did manage to see while on the Pinewood Country Club golf course quite a number of birds.  Here they are in alphabetic order:  American Coot, American Crow, American Raven, American Robin, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Barn Swallow, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Black Phoebe, Canada Goose, Common Grackle, Great Blue Heron, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch, Mallard, Mountain Chickadee, Osprey, Red Shafted Flicker, Red-Winged Blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, and Violet Green Swallow.

I did see House Finches building nests at the top of the roof overhang at Petsmart in Flagstaff, and I heard them singing in Munds Park.  Lu and Don Cross took a great photo of a House Finch at their deck feeder near Lake Odell and submitted it to The Arizona Republic.  Their photo of the male House Finch and a reference to the bird in Munds Park was printed in the newspaper last month.  This year they also put up a nest box in the hopes of attracting either Western Bluebirds or Tree Swallows.  We will keep you posted if they are successful in getting a nesting pair on their property.

By the time you read this I will have come and gone to Wisconsin to the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival over Mother’s Day weekend.  This will have been the first time I had gone to a formal birding festival, and we had signed up for two guided tours and also to attend some workshops.  I will report what new birds I’ve seen and which ones we also see here in Munds Park in the next article.

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