Search Results for "bird of the month"

  • Bird of the Month: Northern Cardinal

    By Sue Drown Ah, December – time for sending and receiving those beautiful Christmas cards. So let’s try a quick free association trivia: What do you think of when you imagine a classic Christmas card? Santa? Perhaps. Tree? Likely. How about the Northern Cardinal? Very likely, indeed! It will be there somewhere, on the tree, atop Santa’s hat, in the snow by his feet. Early colonists named this bird after the red color of Catholic cardinals’ birettas (hats), a reasonable ID for folks who were not ornithologists and had many new birds to sort out. I am happy the name stuck, since the male Northern Cardinal is decidedly red. Stunningly, richly, regally red. Although the female is mostly brown, red adorns her bill, wings, crest, and tail, so she too glows red, though with more reserve. All Cardinals sport a splashy bit of black at the base of their red bills, something their closest relatives, the Pyrrhuloxia, do not. Since these similar species are both found in Arizona, even with overlapping territories, the black surrounding the red bill is a handy field mark. Cardinals do not migrate. They maintain year-round territories in many habitats throughout the U.S., primarily east of the Mississippi. They don’t mind the cold of winter in northern Wisconsin, proving their qualifications for snowy holiday greeting cards. You can find them in Cottonwood, Sedona, Skull Valley, and

  • Bird of the Month: Black-crowned Night Heron

    By Russ Chappell Normally considered nocturnal birds, the beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron may move about during the daytime while feeding, primarily in the evening or after nightfall. During twilight hours, they may be seen flying toward one of their favorite foraging spots, sounding their loud and harsh quawk from which they received one of their popular names, the “Qua-bird.” The preferred hunting grounds of the Black-crowned Night Heron are shallow creeks, edges of ponds, and swamps which may include pools. They usually hunt alone and at some distance from their breeding location, so feeding their young involves lengthy flights back to the nest. Rather than stand rigidly, knee-deep in the water, like Great Blue Herons, night-herons move stealthily, head lowered, neck curved, ready for the quick stroke that brings demise to whatever frog, fish, or other prey they locate. Sociable birds, night herons often reside in large colonies during the nesting season. These heronries are usually in secluded wooded areas and may include hundreds of pairs plus four or five youngsters per family. The parents frequently raise two broods a season, so it’s common to find the adult birds feeding two sets of young simultaneously: fledglings in the nest and older juveniles scrambling around in the branches near the nest. Slightly over two feet in length, adult Black-crowned Night Herons are black and ash-gray with white below, and they display

  • Bird of the Month: Killdeer

    By Doug Iverson The Killdeer (Charadrius Vociferous) is a relatively easy bird to identify — especially when it moves! It’s found in open areas, generally in agricultural fields and near the shoreline at Willow Lake here in Prescott — especially in the winter and spring — but they occur all year. Killdeer belong to the plover family. While chicks only have one black breast band, adults are distinguished by having two black bands and a distinct reddish-orange ring around a large black eye. The underside is completely white except for those two black bands. Killdeer have a loud, high-pitched, piercing kill-dee, kill-deer, dee-dee-dee call, heard both night and day, uttered repeatedly. Killdeer place eggs in a shallow depression on the ground. Eggs are difficult for predators to see due to a broken color pattern that mimics the ground surface. Hatchlings can forage with adults as soon as their downy feathers dry (precocial). If these defenses are insufficient, the Killdeer parent will use a distraction display, such as feigning injury by dragging a wing across the ground, limping, or flattening its tail, drawing a predator away from the nest, as is shown in the photograph above. Male and female parents raise the young and have even been observed flying in the face of would-be poachers. They react quickly and vociferously to any perceived threat. Killdeer often nest where they winter —

  • Bird of the Month: Black-chinned Sparrow

    By Maxine Tinney On a warm summer afternoon, an adult male Black-chinned Sparrow appears at one of the groundwater pans to quench its thirst with a refreshing drink of cool, clear water. Normally this sparrow is inconspicuous with retiring habits; now it bravely emerges from the chaparral of tangled shrubs and thorny bushes. This male Black-chinned Sparrow (Spizella atrogularis) is a breeding adult songbird and has a black chin patch, throat, and lores, highlighted by a grey torso saddled with reddish brown back and brown wings, light gray underparts, long brownish tail, and a thick, bright orangy-pink bill. The male arrives in Prescott during the spring breeding season and sometime sings for a mate from conspicuous perches, but otherwise tends to seek discreet cover in dense shrubs. Both sexes may be located by voice and song with a series of slurred notes, ssip/ssip/ssip, running together and accelerating into a rapid trill. In the nearby underbrush, a female with feathers of more restricted greys and brownish tones answers the male’s song, chooses him as a mate, and builds a shallow, open cup nest near the ground in dense shrub. The nest is made of dry grass, weed stems, and yucca fibers, and lined with fine grass, plant fibers, sometimes feathers or animal hair. The “mate-guarding” male stays close to the female during the laying of two to four pale blue eggs,

  • Bird of the Month: Long-billed Curlew

    By Russ Chappell Long-billed Curlews (aka “candlestick birds”) are a migratory species that spend summers in western North America and winters in southern wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and beaches. These long-legged shorebirds are the size of crows. With wingspans of almost three feet, these birds have long, thin, down-curved bills. The females are slightly longer than the males. They have heavy spheroid bodies, long necks, and small heads. In terms of color, they’re brown with bars and speckles above and have plain cinnamon bellies and wings of brilliant cinnamon, visible during flight. Long-billed Curlews strut with heads moving back and forth while walking or running. When they leap into the air to take flight, they thrust their legs behind them and retract their necks. During landings, they flap their wings upward, hover briefly before touching down, and often run a few feet following the landing. These birds forage on shores and mud flats using their long bills to catch worms and burrowing shrimp and crabs. In grasslands, they feast on grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally eggs and nestlings. Monogamous during the breeding season, Long-billed Curlews often remaining paired in subsequent seasons. Nests are on the ground where the male and female form a shallow depression with their bills and chests, then line it with pebbles, tree bark, grass, and other shrubbery. These birds have one brood per season

  • Bird of the Month: Blue Grosbeak

    By Russ Chappell Blue Grosbeak males are large, brilliant blue buntings with a thick silver bill and chestnut wing bars, and their mates are cinnamon-colored. Widespread but not abundant across the southern U.S., their range is expanding. In fact, in Carl Tomoff’s checklist, “Birds of Prescott, Arizona,” they’re given the “transient – Summer” classification. Prescott is a breeding area of choice. Later in the year, they migrate to shrubby habitats in Mexico and Central America, and as far south as Panama for winter. Blue Grosbeaks feed largely on insects but also enjoy invertebrates, grains, and seeds, and hunt for food in the air and on the ground. Monogamous parents, these birds build cup-shaped nests from natural and man-made debris, low in small trees, brush, vines, and vegetation and often near open areas or roads. The nests are two to three inches across and two inches deep. Parents raise two clutches per season, each consisting of three to five pale blue to white eggs about 1 inch in length. Incubation lasts 12 to 13 days, and nesting lasts 9 to 10 days. Young Blue Grosbeaks are born with gray to brownish down and closed eyes. Prior to feeding insects to their young, the parents remove the prey’ head, wings, and legs. The openness of their habitat and the male’s habit of singing from high, exposed perches breed success, especially in late

  • Bird of the Month: White-breasted Nuthatch

    By Russell Chappell Common in our region, the White-breasted Nuthatch is a perennial favorite among backyard birders because of its unique body, active demeanor, and gravity-defying, effortless walking on trees. They’re the only species that can walk both up and down a tree while depending solely on the strength of their legs and not using their tails. Although their movement looks like walking, they’re actually hanging off the tree bark by their number one toe, called the hallux, and a backward-pointing toe. Black and gray with brilliant white markings, the agile White-breasted Nuthatches satisfy their voracious appetites with a diet of insects, spiders, and large, meaty seeds. They’re easy to locate because of their loud and insistent nasal chattering as they frequent large deciduous trees or bird feeders. White-breasted Nuthatches nest in cavities, often abandoned woodpecker nests. They prefer large natural cavities 15’ to 60′ above ground, but occasionally use a birdhouse. These birds hatch one brood per year of five to nine white eggs with reddish-brown spots. The female remains on the nest during incubation while the male brings her food. Until they leave the nest, both parents feed the young a diet consisting solely of insects and spiders. Many young do not make it to adulthood because of predators like squirrels, chipmunks, and raptors. Occasionally, when a predator is near, the female can be seen acting a bit

  • Bird of the Month: Horned Lark

    By Russ Chappell One fine day you forgo our beautiful lakes and wooded habitats and decide to bird a local open area — and are shocked to see small brown creatures, the size of rats, creeping through a barren field. When you look closer, you notice these “rats” have bright yellow faces, black masks, and tiny “horns” waving in the wind. You’ve spotted one of our native, local, year-round residents: Horned Larks. Their habitats include prairies, deserts, tundra, beaches, dunes, and heavily grazed pastures from sea level to 13,000 feet. They’re frequently seen in cleared areas, such as plowed fields and mowed areas around airstrips, and flying above open country in flocks that number into the hundreds. At 6-8 inches long with wingspans of 12-13 inches, these tiny birds eat seeds and insects and sing a high “tinkling” song. They are the only larks native to North America. They forage in pairs or small groups during breeding season and form large flocks in winter. Nests are built on bare ground in natural depressions or areas excavated by the female, who uses her bill to loosen the dirt and fling it aside, though she occasionally uses her feet, too. The nest is a woven basket of fine grass and plants lined with soft material — down, fur, feathers, lint, and even string — 3-4 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches deep

  • Bird of the Month: Bewick’s Wren

    By Sharon Arnold Maybe you’re in your yard. Maybe you’re taking a forest walk. Do you hear that? A thin, rising buzz followed by a slow trill with an overall descending pitch? Look for a small, grayish brown bird creeping through the brush while poking its long, slender bill into bark crevices of downed trees and leaf litter. You may spot a common, year-round Prescott area resident: a Bewick’s Wren. These secretive birds often have their barred tails raised while methodically foraging for insects and fruit. Their short, rounded wings enable them to fly quickly and erratically. If you look closely, you’ll see a long white eyebrow know as a supercillium. Most wrens nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers, amid roots of upturned trees, or in the center of a brush pile, and some will construct a nest in a birdhouse. The Bewick’s Wren begins building in March and in higher elevations may not nest until April or May. Industrious males build most of the larger twig foundation with finishing touches of grass and feathers supplied by the females. Feisty males will build distracting “dummy” nests and occasionally attack nests of another Bewick’s Wren or other species nesting nearby. Females are the sole egg incubator. Most clutches consist of five or six white eggs, flecked with brown and purple. The male often brings food to his mate during the

  • Bird of the Month: Western, Clark’s grebes

    By DeeDee DeLorenzo Western and Clark’s grebes are found throughout Arizona and are common breeders in the marshes along the Colorado River. Both species are about the size of a loon and have contrasting black and white plumage and relatively long, slightly curved necks. Until 1985, they were thought to be color phases of the same species — namely, the Western Grebe. There are several ways to identify each species. A breeding Western Grebe’s black cap extends below the eye, while the Clark’s Grebe’s cap stops above the eye. Another way to distinguish the two birds is by bill color. The Western’s bill is a drab greenish-yellow; the bill of the Clark’s is orange-yellow to bright yellow. A less obvious way to tell these two grebe species apart is by their overall body plumage. The back and sides of a Western Grebe are dark with little or no white mottling. The Clark’s Grebe will show some white on the sides and the back tends to be lighter. The Western makes a creaking, two-note call and sounds like a gate slowly opening then shutting: “ker-kreek.” The Clark’s Grebe makes a single syllable call: “k’rrree.” The gate opens, but doesn’t close. Behaviorally, the Western and Clark’s grebes have a lot in common. During the winter, they share the same lakes and ponds. Here they can be seen gliding on the water with

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