Archive for the ‘Prescott Audubon Society’s Bird of the Month’ Category

  • 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

  • Bird of the Month: Northern Flicker

    By Maxine Tinney An incessant tapping sound along with a wika-wika-wika calling awakens my husband and I one early Spring morning. Going outside, we find the source of the drumming. A male Red-shafted Northern Flicker is gripping the side of one of our bird houses using his two toes pointing forward and two toes backward for support and his tail as a prop. He proceeds drilling on the surface of the wood roof with his robust, slightly down-curved bill to claim his territory, including intermittent calling of his wika-wika-wika love song to attract a mate. He is a large, light-brown woodpecker measuring about 12.5 inches with a handsome black-scalloped plumage, barred upperparts and spotted underparts, has a black bib, gray face, tan crown, red mustache malars, and would be a catch for any tan-malared female. As he flies away, he shows off his orange-red under-wing primaries and tail, white rump spot, rising and falling smoothly with interspersed periods of flapping and gliding. The Red-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) is common to woodlands and forests of Yavapai County and the western United States. If you travel to the east and far north of the United States, you will find the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus) with yellow under-wing primaries and tail, black mustache malars, and red crest on the nuchal nape. With luck and a keen eye, whilst visiting

  • Bird of the Month: Yellow-billed Cuckoo

    By Russ Chappell High on the list of any Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s culinary menu are caterpillars. They are one of a few species capable of eating hairy caterpillars, and often consume thousands each season. A close relative of the Greater Roadrunner and Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-Billed Cuckoos have a croaking call they often voice in response to loud sounds, such as thunder, leading to the nick name “rain crow.” Fairly large, long, and slim with a long, primarily yellow, thick, downward curved bill and flat head, they are a distinctive bird with brownish backs, white underparts and yellow orbital eyering. They also display wide white bands mixed with narrower black ones on their tails. The parents share nest building, incubation and brooding of their young. Eggs are laid one at a time over several days, with the period between eggs being as long as 5 days, making the period from incubation to total fledging around 17 days. Chicks are born featherless, with the young fully feathered and ready to leave the nest within a week. Yellow-billed Cuckoos forage methodically in treetops for large, hairy caterpillars and live primarily in the canopies of deciduous trees in woodland areas. In the West, they are elusive and difficult to spot, normally found in Cottonwood-dominated areas near rivers flowing through arid habitats. They are visitors to the Prescott and Verde River regions in the summer and

  • Bird of the Month: Pied-billed Grebe

    By Russ Chappell Consider the Pie-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). Common across North America, these small brown birds have unusually thick bills which turn silver and black in summer. They’re expert divers, able to reach depths of over 20 feet and can remain submerged for up to 30 seconds, especially if startled or in danger. They frequent sluggish rivers, freshwater marshes, lakes, and estuaries, using their chunky bills to feed on large crustaceans and a variety of fish, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. They rarely fly and often hide amid vegetation. Their loud, far-reaching call “whooping kuk-kuk-cow-cow-cow-cowp-cowp“ is hard to forget once you have heard it. Two to ten, 1.5” to 2”, bluish white to greenish white eggs are laid in a bowl shaped floating nest, usually situated among tall emergent vegetation and sometimes among lower-growing plants. The young leave the nest shortly after birth, climbing onto the adults back where they brood for their first week of life. The adults still dive with the young aboard, holding them under their wings. Pied-billed Grebes can trap water in their feathers, giving them great control over their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay just at or below the surface, exposing as much or as little of the body as they wish. The water-trapping ability may also aid in the pursuit of prey by reducing drag in turbulent water. Like other grebes,

  • Bird of the Month: Black-headed Grosbeak

    By Sharon Arnold You think you’re hearing a robin that has had voice training. Following the sound, you discover a stocky, large-billed, black-headed bird with a buffy orange breast and collar and bold white markings on its wings. This male Black-headed Grosbeak sings a richer, throatier song than the American Robin. Females also sing although less frequently and at a lower volume. The call of a Black-headed Grosbeak is a low telltale “eek.” Like males, females have yellow “armpits” in flight. They have buffy eyebrows and light streaking on buffy breasts. Immature birds look like females. Males may take more than a year to reach adult plumage, and consequently, these males are not as attractive to females and are less successful breeders. Black-headed Grosbeaks are neotropical migrants. Early arrivals start returning to their preferred breeding habitat by April. Late arrivals have been spotted in mid-June. Look for these birds in pinyon-oak woodlands and conifer-dominated forests. Deciduous tree-dominated canyons and mountain drainages are also regular nesting habit. Black-headed Grosbeaks frequent feeders during breeding season and are fond of black oil sunflower seeds and fruit. Early nest building and breeding has been observed in April. However, the peak breeding season for Black-headed Grosbeaks is mid-June through mid-July. Nests are flimsy, cup-shaped structures made of twigs, rootlets, flower heads, and forb stems constructed primarily by the female in tree forks and shrubs.

  • Bird of the Month: Thinking inside the box – A special Bird of the Month collaboration – Wood duck

    By Peter Pierson Take a walk through Watson Woods Riparian Preserve past a small pond just off the trail and watch and listen. You may hear the distinct song of a yellowthroat or a yellow warbler at home in the cover of willow and cottonwood along the wetlands of this restored riparian preserve. A pair of ducks emerge from the partially submerged trees and glide into the sunlight. The brilliant foliage along the head and back of one, the male, distinguishes it as a wood duck. Once threatened because of habitat loss and over-hunting, the wood duck has made a comeback, even in its marginal range in preserved and restored riparian wetlands here in the arid Southwest. With recovering beaver populations in the West, there are more quiet ponds from their dam construction activity offering habitat for wood ducks. In the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, the wood duck, yellowthroat, yellow warbler, and other habitat-dependent species are establishing themselves in and along wetlands. Those wetlands were restored through the efforts of Prescott Creeks and scores of volunteers who’ve helped reestablish functioning streambeds and floodplains and planted thousands of trees in the preserve. Prescott Creeks and Prescott Audubon Society have partnered to set up nest boxes in Watson Woods and suitable habitat along Willow Lake to aid in nesting success of wood ducks. Wood ducks are cavity nesters, preferring holes in mature

  • Bird of the Month: Greater White-fronted Goose

    By Stephen Burk Greater White-fronted Geese breed during summer in the far northern reaches of North America. Fall migration (mostly October through December) finds them traveling in large numbers to winter grounds, especially in the Central Valley of California, as well as eastern Texas and the coastal Gulf of Mexico region. This medium-sized, brown goose occasionally can be seen in small numbers during winter on our Prescott lakes. Adult Greater White-fronted Geese have pink bills, a distinctive white band encircling the base of the bill, and dark lines/speckles on the belly. They are smaller than most Canada geese, being about the size of a Snow goose. While seeing Greater White-fronted geese in the Prescott area can be challenging even for avid birders, one can definitely improve their chances by joining the Prescott Audubon Society and taking advantage of their PAS Rare Bird hotline. Another highly useful birding resource to be aware of is the website eBird.Org. eBird collects observations daily from birders around the globe in a massive citizen-science effort, yielding a unique avian database on species populations and planet-wide biodiversity. Perhaps a word of caution should be injected here. Before rushing to your computer to report your identification of Greater White-fronted Geese at a Prescott location, be aware that there are domestic geese that look quite similar to GWFG. These Graylag (barnyard) geese have been residents at Watson Lake

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