Search Results for "bird of the month"

  • 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

  • Bird of the Month: Ruddy Duck

    By Sharon Arnold Ruddy Ducks are widely dispersed in North America. These small, stiff-tailed ducks appear in large numbers on our lakes in the fall. Most have headed for more northern breeding territories by the end of March. Look for them in tight flocks diving for their food. In breeding plumage, the small, stocky males have bright blue, broad bills. Their bodies are reddish-brown with a black head and white cheek. They often swim with their tails held straight up. Females are brown year-round and their heads have a dark crown and a lighter cheek with a line through it. In winter, the male looks similar to the female. However, its cheek remains white. Their preferred food consists of aquatic plants and insect larvae and aquatic snails from lakebed ooze. The Ruddy Duck’s unique courtship display involves “bubbling.” Males thump their blue bills against their chests which produces small pond ripples and bubbles. The process often ends in an odd croak. Ruddy Ducks do not initiate courtship or acquire mates until they arrive on their nesting grounds. Ruddy Duck nests are well concealed in tall, emergent vegetation and are often floating platforms attached to cattails or bulrush. Sometimes, they cover nests by pulling vegetation from above and anchoring it to the nest. Most Ruddy Ducks only produce one brood, but in southern Arizona a longer nesting season can result in

  • Bird of the Month: January 2018

    By Russ Chappell If American Dippers are to be trusted — and, hey, they’re quite discerning — then Fain Park has a pond with quality water. Indeed, they’re quite picky and avoid even mildly polluted waters. A casual, transient, winter visitor, Dippers normally prefer fast-running, clear streams, where they feed on aquatic insect larvae like caddisflies, mayflies, beetles, bugs, and mosquitoes, as well as adult insects, worms, snails, fish eggs and small fish. They are, by and large, rarely seen on ponds or lakes. Also known as a water ouzel, American Dippers are stout and dusky grey with some brown on their heads, bright white eyelids and thick bills. They’re 5.5 to 8 inches in length, weigh 1.5 to 2.4 ounces, and have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane” which helps them see underwater. They also have scales that block their nostrils when submerged. Permanent residents throughout their territories, which range from Alaska to Panama, some Dippers stay through winter when streams remain unfrozen. Others relocate to lower elevations and southward for the winter. They can tolerate cold water because of their low metabolic rate, their blood’s extra oxygen-carrying capacity, a thick layer of feathers, and the generous quantity of secreted oil, which keeps them warm while feeding underwater. When not foraging, you can catch them bobbing up and down on a rock or the shore. North America’s sole

  • Bird of the Month: Surf Scoter

    By Russ Chappell A juvenile Surf Scoter was recently spotted at Watson Lake along the shore northeast of the boat dock near Arizona 89. This surface-diving duck is classified as an accidental, winter visitor in Carl Tomoff’s “Birds of Prescott, Arizona Checklist.” “Surfers” migrate from Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds to the coasts of North America during the winter feeding on mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fish, and vegetation like aquatic weeds, wild celery, musk grass, and seeds. They usually feed in water less than 10 meters deep, near breaking waves, with flocks diving in a synchronicity fashion. Dive duration varies depending on prey density, season, and water depth. Adult male Surf Scoters weigh about 2.3 lbs and average 19 inches in length, with females 2 lbs and 17 inches. Males are a velvet black with white on their foreheads and napes, with thick bills that appear orange at a distance but have white, red, and yellow spots, with a black spot near the base. Females are brownish, becoming lighter towards their bellies. There are paler patches below their eyes and occasional white markings on their nape. The bills of females are black with shades of green or blue. Juveniles appear similar to females but are paler with whitish breasts and bellies. Displaying little vocalization, males make a gurgling call and a sharp puk-puk while courting. Females make a crow-like

  • Bird of the Month: White-faced Ibis

    By Doug Iverson The White-faced Ibis, a species seen mostly in migration in the Prescott area, is an unmistakable bird when sighted. It is a gregarious species you might first see in a flock of 15 or more birds as they circle over Willow or Watson lakes looking for suitable shoreline shallows. They may circle as if uncertain or wary before landing close to shore where they can be hidden from view by shoreline vegetation. Depending on location, an Ibis will feed on insects, earthworms, snails, newts, frogs, fish, crayfish, and other invertebrates it can spear with its long, decurved bill, often digging prey out of the mud in a marsh, on a shallow shoreline, in an irrigated field, or even in damp soil. They will change both feeding and breeding locations depending on the availability of suitable habitat in a given year. White-faced Ibis have a rich metallic luster, bronze-green feathers, long pinkish legs, pinkish lores, and white feathers on the face at the base of the bill. The White-faced Ibis can be distinguished from the Glossy Ibis only in breeding season when it has the border of white feathers on the facial skin behind the bill — they were formerly called White-faced Glossy Ibis — but this is not a local identification problem because we have no Glossy Ibis. The Ibis was a sacred bird of Ancient Egyptians,

  • Bird of the Month: Double-crested Cormorant

    By Russ Chappell Double-crested Cormorants are large, expert fishermen with a diet of fish supplemented with insects, crustaceans, and amphibians. They pursue underwater prey with powerful kicks of their webbed feet, and if they catch a crustacean, they strike it on the water until the legs break off, then flip it in the air, and catch it head first for easier swallowing. They have goose like bodies, long, loon-type necks, and thin, strongly curved bills, approximately the length of their heads. Adults are brown-black with yellow-orange facial skin, and the immature birds are browner with paler necks and breasts. They have aquamarine-colored eyes and bright blue inside their mouths. During breeding season, adults display double-crests of white or black scruffy feathers on their heads, thus the Double-crested Cormorant name. When not fishing, they rest on branches, rocks or the shore with their wings spread to dry, since their feathers contain less preen oil than other water fowl. This is a minor inconvenience that contributes to their underwater speed and maneuverability. Double-crested Cormorants usually reside near large bodies of water, however many form breeding colonies near small ponds and travel up to 40 miles to a quality feeding site. Listed as “uncommon transient and casual summer and winter visitors” in Professor Carl Tomoff’s “Birds of Prescott, Arizona,” they raise two broods a year with up to seven chicks per brood. A male attracts

  • Bird of the Month: Grace’s Warbler

    By Russ Chappell The opportunity to spot one of Prescott’s least known yet common birds is rapidly coming to an end, as they will soon migrate to Mexico. Grace’s Warblers are one of the least studied American birds because they reside in forested areas, high in mature pine trees, where they forage for insects and spiders, raise their young, and rarely pose in open vegetation. They are, however, sometimes visible flying from the treetops while hovering and catching insects in mid-air. Grace’s Warblers are named for the sister of renowned ornithologist Elliott Couse, who first discovered the species here in Arizona in 1864. Couse is highly respected for his monumental literary works, especially “Key to North American Birds” (1872). Small song birds in the wood warbler family, Grace’s Warblers are approximately 4.7 inches in length with wingspans of 7.9 inches and weight 0.2 to 0.3 ounces. They’re striking birds featuring yellow chins, throats, and breasts; gray backs; white bellies; black streaks on the sides of their chests and flanks, short yellow eyebrows; yellow crescents under their eyes; two white wing bars; and white spots on their tails. The young are similar but paler and less streaked. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species is classified as “Least Concern.” Their nesting habits are largely unknown because their nests are so well hidden. The nests, themselves, are small

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