Bird Lady Blog

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
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Swallows and Conflicts with Nature


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!

 

The Bluebirds Have Arrived!


Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Each year, the Black-Headed Grosbeaks arrive, followed by several species of swallows, and finally by the middle of June our Western Bluebirds show up in Munds Park en-masse.  I get anxious by early June thinking something bad has happened to all of them on the way back from Mexico.  Then I spot one, then two, and finally by the end of June they are all over, especially on the Pinewood Country Club golf course.

There are three species of Bluebirds in the United States:  the Eastern Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird.  The Western Bluebird is the species we have in Munds Park.  Bluebirds are loved by many people across the country – perhaps because they are so colorful (blue/rust/white), they often live around humans, and they will nest in our nest boxes.   Bluebirds even have their own non-profit association (founded by humans, of course) with the purpose of protecting them and their habitat.  The North American Bluebird Society was established in 1978 by Dr. Lawrence Zeleny to promote the recovery of bluebirds.  The organization is headquartered in Indiana and has a website that provides educational information about bluebird nest boxes, predator control, and feeding.  Much of bluebird nesting habitat has been destroyed by human development or taken over by House Sparrows and European Starlings (both non-native birds), so people have helped by setting up nest boxes specifically for bluebirds, especially Eastern and Western species.

Bluebirds will often lay two broods a year.  The will nest in old fence posts, cavities in trees, and of course in man-made nest boxes.  They tend to stay around meadows, golf courses, parks, and cemeteries – all places that are somewhat open but have some trees or large bushes then can use to perch on.

Last fall a couple of us cleaned out and re-secured all the bluebird nest boxes on Pinewood Country Club’s golf course, and we put up an additional seven boxes.  We already saw one new nest box (on the left side of hole 3) being used by Tree Swallows in late spring.  Lately we’ve seen bluebird nesting activity in another two of the new nest boxes – one of the boxes to the right of hole 11, and another to the right of hole 15.  In mid-fall, we will take a look at all of the nest boxes, clean them out, and perhaps change locations of some of them.

When I was a little girl I remember my mother telling me that my maternal grandparents took a car trip from Illinois to California – much of it on Route 66 – to see relatives.  The trip was in the early 1950’s and a big deal for both of my grandparents, especially my grandma who didn’t drive and never had been west of Illinois.  But what did she always talk about as a memory from that trip?  Seeing Bluebirds!  Maybe hearing that story is in part why I became a birder early on.  Those grandmas have a way of making an impression on our minds!

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.

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