Bird Lady Blog

August 17, 2017

Going, Going, Gone


Black-Headed Grosbeak

‘Tis the time in northern Arizona when many people start asking: “So when are you closing up and heading back to (fill in the blank)?”  After all, pine needles are dropping like crazy, occasionally the lovely smell of a wood-burning fireplace permeates the air, fall decorations adorn our doors and tabletops, and we hear about plans for Halloween costumes and parties. It’s that transition time from summer to fall, and the days are usually gorgeous, with the monsoon rains long gone and the spring’s strong and gusty winds hardly thought of anymore.

But where are the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Anna’s Hummingbirds? They have already headed south to Mexico and South America.  The Western Bluebirds, though, are still showing up all over the Pinewood Country Club golf course, pulling out grubs and worms that are just underneath the trail of the electric carts and golfers’ steps.  The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds are gone as well, but the Swallows – Barn, Tree, Violet-Green, Rough-Winged – are still around as long as there are plenty of the insects to catch on the fly.

Why do some birds move on and others don’t? Well with people, we’d say “follow the money”, but with birds, it’s all about “follow the food source”.  The insects that are sources of food to American Robins, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Western Bluebirds, and Red-Winged Blackbirds do not exist in our cold northern Arizona winters, so these birds migrate to follow food sources and survive.  Other bird species, such as our American Crows, Steller’s Jays, Western Chickadees, and Pygmy and White-Breasted Nuthatches, stay in Munds Park because their food sources extend into the winter.

I recently had a reader approach me and ask if it was normal to see a Steller’s Jay taking peanuts and burying them into the ground. “What was going on, weren’t the birds hungry?”  Actually, this is normal behavior for a lot of birds.  They were taking the food and caching it for a rainy day, or in bird-speak, for later consumption on a cold and wintry day.  Many bird species take nuts and seeds and store them in crevices in trees or in the ground for future use.  Acorn Woodpeckers are notorious for this behavior; sometimes there are thousands of acorns in a “grainary” tree, and the woodpeckers even move seeds and nuts from larger holes to smaller holes as the seeds or nuts shrink.  It’s all about survival and being prepared for the worst.

The birds that stay year round in Munds Park are the ones that have dependable food sources. Those that migrate need more of an insect diet.  Right now is an exciting time for birders in Arizona – everyone is on the watch for the migrants coming through their neighborhoods.  For example, the Bird List Serve run by the University of Arizona mentions a migrating Blackpoll Warbler in Chandler, White-Crowned Sparrows showing up, (I always hear them in Scottsdale about the first week of October), and a Blue-Throated Hummingbird in Green Valley.

Probably only one more article to go this season; we are headed to Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah soon. I haven’t yet researched what special birds we might see on that trip, but I will for sure let you know what I find when I write the last article of 2016.  I’m hoping for a Clark’s Nutcracker.  In the meantime, please let me know what you see or hear in Munds Park (birds only, please!) while I’m gone!

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January 1, 2016

Reader Questions


Black-Headed Grosbeak

Black-Headed Grosbeak

It has been a busy two weeks with reader correspondence.  The most common question has been “where have all the birds gone?”  The answer, I think, is that they are migrating!  At least many of them are.  The Black-Headed Grosbeaks seem to leave in mid-August.  I haven’t seen an American Robin in a while.  But what about the Lesser Goldfinch?  They are still here in Munds Park but not that active at our feeders.  The theory:  they are spending more time on the wild flower seeds from all the vegetation that has bloomed and now is going to seed.  And the Western Bluebirds are abundant – one of the last to arrive in Munds Park and last to leave for fall migration.

On the other hand, the Canada Geese are sticking around and have been seen at the ponds of the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  Also at the ponds was a new hatch of American Coots – must be the second brood of the season.  At first the babies are black with red head feathers and a red beak – very cute!  Then they turn into a boring gray before the distinctive black body and white beak.

Second question:  What happened to the Osprey nest?  This question came from my women golfer friends, who exhibited much concern since the Osprey nest, often with one or two birds on it, has been part of the landscape on the back nine of the golf course this summer and last summer.  There were several theories:  1) the tree the nest was built on fell down of natural causes; 2) some terrible person cut down the tree because the Ospreys are loud, vocal birds and disturbed the human’s sleep; 3) the nest tumbled down on its own during the last very big storm, which seemed to be a micro-burst of rough weather.  My friends and I concluded that the most likely answer is #3, primarily because we see one of the Osprey perched on a tall tree that we think was the exact one that held the nest.  So the Ospreys are going back to a familiar place only to find that the house up and crashed, and they will have to build another next year.  We all hope it will be in the same place so we can keep an eye on it in between our golf club swings.

Third question:  Why don’t we have Magpies in Munds Park?  The Black-Billed Magpie is a very large, noisy, black and white member of the jay family.  I have seen them in Colorado when we visited Durango.  The only part of Arizona they inhabit is the northeast corner of Apache Country – almost into Colorado.  I did manage to find a scientific paper on Magpies in Arizona and concluded that probably temperature and humidity are the reasons they are not here.  Probably a good thing, because the American Crows are noisy enough and I’m not sure we need another bird species to compete with them!

Lastly, a reader did say that she switched to nyger seeds and safflower seeds and the Brown-Headed Cowbirds went away and the Lesser Goldfinches returned.  So that was a happy resolution to that dilemma.

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 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.

September 27, 2012

I Miss the Grosbeaks


Sometime in mid-to-late August the Black-Headed Grosbeaks disappeared.  They used to frequent my seed feeders daily.  First in the spring were the male and female – black, orange, white – stocky birds that made a bright impression on you right away.  Then came the family.  The two juveniles showed up at the tray feeder, following one of the parents, and in the beginning they would shake and fluff their feathers, beaks open, expecting to be fed.  This behavior is what ensured they would survive in the nest, but now that they fledged and were in the real world, they had to learn a new behavior – how to fend for themselves.

The parent ignored their begging and instead took some seed from the feeder and showed them how to peck and feed themselves.  I am sure this was just but one instance of teaching behavior – most of the time these birds were going to have to find real food in the real forest.  They could not just depend on “people food” if they were to thrive.

Then suddenly they were gone. No more Black-Headed Grosbeaks at my feeder.  They had begun their long journey to Mexico for winter migration.  There they will consume many berries, insects, spiders, snails, and seeds. They are one of the few birds that can eat the poisonous Monarch Butterfly.  In central Mexico, where Monarch Butterflies and Black-Headed Grosbeaks both spend the winter, the Grosbeaks are one of the butterflies’ few predators. Toxins in the Monarch Butterflies make them poisonous to most birds, but Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few other birds can eat them. The birds feed on Monarchs in roughly eight-day cycles, most likely to give themselves time to eliminate the toxins.  In my own non-scientific assessment, I find it interesting that both the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and Monarch Butterflies have the same coloration:  black, orange, and white.

It was a great summer for birding – Red-Faced Warbler, Cassin’s Finch, Red-Crossbill, Ruddy Duck, and the first Munds Park Bird Walk that we held in July.  The Northern Arizona Audubon Society held its annual Board of Directors’ planning meeting at the Pinewood Country Club for the second year in a row.  More people are learning that they should not put red food coloring in the sugar water in their hummingbird feeders, and more people are conscious of how to bird-proof their windows to prevent birds from flying into them.  We will have a reminder next spring on what you can do to make your home a more bird-friendly place.

In the meantime, the Black-Headed Grosbeaks will be wintering in Mexico, and I’m betting that our Pinewood News editor will run into them while she winters on and off there as well.  Have a great rest of the year, everyone, and see you in 2013.

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