Bird Lady Blog

August 17, 2017

Garden Birds


Dark-Eyed Junco

I received a couple of e-mails lately about small, secretive, brown-reddish birds building nests in planters around Munds Park and Flagstaff. One of the writers sent me this great photo of her bird near the planter it built a nest in, on the deck of a home in Forest Highlands, and another reader in Munds Park sent me a photo of the eggs in her nest – in an artificial plant on her property.  Both asked if I knew what bird it was, and luckily these are pretty easy to identify.  Their garden bird is a Dark-Eyed Junco, a sparrow-like bird that favors our yards in search of nesting spots as well as food, typically insects and seeds.  Most of the time I see this bird on the ground foraging and only very rarely do I see it at one of my deck feeders.  But one spring it was the first bird that showed up at my feeders after they were just hung.

The American Robin is another bird that frequents our gardens. A friend named Robin told me she specifically plants strawberries each year to attract Robins – and it works!  The American Robin, probably best known for pulling long earthworms and grubs out of lawns in the Midwest and back East, also eats fruit, so berry plants are another good way to attract them.  The American Robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  Although the American Robin is a true thrush, it was named a Robin by English settlers who were homesick for their native Robin.  The General Assembly of Connecticut adopted the American Robin as its state bird in 1943.  It joins the Sperm Whale as the state animal and the Praying Mantis as the state insect.  In Wisconsin, school children selected the American Robin as their state bird by voting during 1926 and 1927.  In Michigan, the Audubon Society selected the “Robin Redbreast” as the official state bird 1931.  Later, in 2003, school children lobbied the legislature to change the Michigan state bird to Kirtland’s Warbler, but they were not successful, and that’s another story in itself.

Another garden bird is the House Wren, a small, plain brown bird with a big voice. It loves to nest in human-made small places, including nest boxes, but it can be found nesting in a fence hole, an old shoe, a basket, shoe box, or empty can.  While doing my research I even read about a pair of House Wrens that built a nest on the rear of an automobile axel in 1937 in a car that was used daily.  When the car was driven, the Wrens went along.  In the end the eggs hatched and the birds fledged successfully.  One golfing friend told me there was quite a scene for a while in her front yard as a pair of House Wrens bickered back and forth about which nest box the female wren would settle on.  Male House Wrens start multiple nests and then the female chooses the one she prefers.  Sounds like a good arrangement to me.

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.

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

Who Will be the First?


“Who will be the first?” That was my question when I drove up on April 30th to meet our Munds Park plumber and to accomplish two other things: bring up a couple cases of wine and some 30 pounds of bird seed. After all, I have to get my priorities straight. But my question was really meant for the birds: after I filled up our bird feeders, which bird species will be the first this season to come to one of our feeders? The answer surprised me.

As I was driving up I-17, I was thinking it would be the Lesser Goldfinches to come to the nyger seed feeder. Or perhaps the Pine Siskins. Then again, maybe it would be the Mountain Chickadees that frequent the black oil sunflower seeds, or possibly the Nuthatches – I thought if any Nuthatches showed up right away, it would be the Pygmy Nuthatches instead of the White Breasted Nuthatches.

The first thing I did was clean the bird feeders: some mild detergent, a stiff brush, and a good rinsing. Then I dragged the wine and bird seed out of the car and set to work putting in place the metal deck poles on which I hang the feeders. While I was still assembling the deck poles, a Dark-Eyed Junco landed on the railing, not too far from me, and called out with its “chip, chip, chip” for about a minute. I was surprised because normally Juncos are quite secretive and I don’t see them at the feeder too often. They like to stay on the ground searching for dropped seeds, not at 30 feet up. The Junco flew away. I proceeded to fill the feeders and then went inside to tend to indoor chores. While I watched through the window, the Junco came back right and landed on the tray feeder at the corner of the deck. That is where I had put the “premium song bird mixture” which consisted mostly of black sunflower seeds, millet, some peanuts, and small pieces of dried berries. So there was the answer to my question: the Dark-Eyed Junco was the first on our deck this season.

Since then, we have had the usual feathered-friend suspects mentioned above at our feeders, plus Black-Headed Grosbeaks. In fact, a female Grosbeak took a major bath in our deck birdbath and most exuberantly splashed its feathers 16 times in a row for a very thorough bath. At one time we had five Grosbeaks on the tray feeder.

It’s been a good start to the season, and I for one am happy to make the return to Munds Park. A good glass of wine, a few sociable birds, the usual May/June blowing winds, and dear friends and neighbors – we are very lucky indeed.

September 11, 2013

The Good and the Bad in Birdland


Steller's Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

I know:  this title sounds like a drama – maybe one of those wonderful productions put on by the Pinewood Players theatre group.  But no, this article is really all about what has been happening within the circle of life for our birds in Munds Park.  This month has been a big one for hatchlings and the next generation of birds that will carry on the species.

On the pond at the 18th tee box at Pinewood Country Club’s golf course we’ve seen baby American Coots swimming around their parents, still being fed but starting to learn how to fend for themselves.  Newly hatched American Coots are really cute – they have black down feathers over their bodies, bright orange head feathers, and red beaks.  I’ve read that their eyes are blue, but I’ve never been close enough to see myself.  They will become mostly gray as juveniles, and as adults they will be primarily black with a white beak.  Also by that same pond one morning a mom and little girl from across the condos were watching a female Mallard Duck herd around her eight ducklings.  I’ve received reports from friends who’ve told me they have Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows using their nest boxes, with lots of activity of chicks being fed by hard-working parents and then eventually being gently coaxed out of the nest.  At our own deck feeders we’ve had as many as four Black-Headed Grosbeaks at a time – two of them immature, still flapping their wings and begging for food while being shown how to eat black sunflower seeds by the male parent.

So all that is “the good”.  As for “the bad”, I guess it’s all in your perspective.  As we know, nature can be cruel, with many birds in the role of predators.  Certain predators do hunt other birds (such as the Cooper’s Hawk, which primarily preys on songbirds, or the Bald Eagle, which will go after the weakest Sandhill Crane in a flock.)

I received a photo via e-mail from Munds Park residents Bill and Corrine.  They asked if I could identify the bird eggs that were in a planter on their deck.  Bill was very diligent – he not only took photos of the planter and the four eggs in the nest, but he also snuck up on the parent as it sat on the eggs, and he took a third photo.  Based on the bird’s head and the color of the eggs, we thought it was a Junco.  He said he would keep watch and later confirmed that the bird’s back was rusty orange – reinforcing our thoughts that the bird nest was that of a pair of Dark-Eyed Juncos.

But then, drama!  Bill’s and Corrine’s grandson reported that a large, blue bird hopped into the planter.  When they investigated further, they found that the Steller’s Jay had raided the nest and one of the eggs was missing.  Jays have a reputation for stealing and eating the eggs of other birds.  So Bill tucked some plastic covering around the planter, leaving a space for the parent bird to enter, and then he threw some peanuts to the side so the Steller’s Jay would be distracted.   The Junco came back and continued to sit on her eggs.  A few days later, two of the three remaining viable eggs hatched, and as I write this article, the Juncos are going in and out feeding the babies.  We don’t know if it is one bird or two that is taking on the parenting duties because the sexes are similar.  But hopefully by the time this paper is out for publication, the two birds will successfully fledge and find their way to your bird baths.  I have Juncos regularly at my on-the-ground bird bath, but not at my deck feeder.  Juncos tend to forage close to the ground.

All in all, this time of the year is very busy for birds – they are working hard to survive as well as to raise their offspring.  Only the strongest and luckiest will make it through.

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