Posts Tagged ‘Bird of the Month’

  • 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

  • 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

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