August 2020

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell

In 1989 the American Ornithologists Union officially divided the Western Flycatcher into two species, the Pacific Slope and Cordilleran Flycatcher, which can only be distinguished by slight differences in body, feather measurements and sound.

However, if you spot a tiny, olive-above-yellow-below flycatcher with a peaked crown, teardrop-shaped eye-rings, white wing bars, a short bill and tail, odds are it is a Cordilleran, especially during breeding season. The Cordilleran and Gray flycatchers breed in our area, but during fall migration the Pacific Slope and Dusky Flycatchers may migrate through on their way to Mexico, which can add confusion to identification.


 

Cordilleran Flycatchers prefer dry forests at medium and high elevations, where they feed on a variety of insects captured in flight or while foraging in trees and shrubs, including small wasps, bees, flies, caterpillars, moths, beetles and spiders, as well as the occasional berry or seed.


Nests may be in the forks of small trees, but often are positioned in fragmented portions of stream banks, on remains of fallen trees, under bridges, or in the rafters of outbuildings or sheds. The female builds a nesting cup with grass, roots, moss, bark and leaves, lining it with softer items like fibers, hair and feathers.


Usually a clutch consists of four, rarely as many as five, whitish-brown splotched eggs that the female incubates, with both male and female delivering food to the nest. Chicks hatch in about two weeks, and can fly in another two.


With a Continental Concern Score of 11 out of 20 and not listed on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List, this species has been sighted in many locations, including Granite Creek and Stricklin Parks, Watson and Willow Lakes, the Thumb Butte Trail and the Dells.


Adding this species to your 2020 list will require getting out and exploring Prescott’s natural habitats with a sharp eye and good hearing, but it will be well worth the effort when you spot this beautiful species.


Happy birding!

July 2020

Prescott Audobon Society small.jpg

The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon.org.

July 2020

Lazuli Bunting

Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell

A small, stocky songbird with a cone-shaped bill, sloping forehead and slightly forked tail, the Lazuli Bunting earns its scientific name, Passerina amoena, meaning beautiful sparrow, because of the male’s colorful bright blue-and-orange display.

 

Males are easy to spot as they fly from shrub to shrub, singing squeaky, chaotic songs and defending their territories. Females are usually foraging for seeds and insects nearby, and are grayish-brown, with a blue shade on their wings and tail, two buff wing bars, and a light cinnamon to tan on their breasts. Both sexes measure five to six inches long and weigh around 0.5 to 0.6 ounce, with wingspans slightly over eight and one-half inches.

 

Lazuli like to frequent feeders, especially those with white proso millet, sunflower seeds or nyjer thistle seeds. They also feed on caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, butterflies, and other insects from the understory, as well as berries, seeds, oats, chickweed and other grasses.

 

Pairs are primarily monogamous during the breeding season, but may seek additional mates, a phenomenon known as extra-pair copulation. The female constructs her nest near the edge of a shrub or bush, usually within three feet of the ground. She weaves grass, bark, leaves and spider webs into a cup-shaped nest about three and one-half inches in diameter, with an inner cup about two inches across. She lays two broods per season with three or four pale-blue to greenish-blue eggs, slightly less than an inch long and about one-half inch wide. Incubation is eleven to 14 days, with nesting lasting nine to eleven days. Chicks are basically helpless when they hatch, with a light down and their eyes closed.

 

After breeding Lazuli molt and  in the fall migrate to southeastern Arizona and Mexico, where insects are abundant due to the monsoon. A month or two later, once their feathers are fully replaced, they travel farther south for the winter.  Conservation-wise, Lazuli Bunting are not on the State of North America's Birds Watch List, so it is likely this beautiful species will bring cheer to your backyard feeder before heading south for the winter!

June 2020

Tree Swallow

Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell

Agile aviators, tree swallows prey on flying insects near fields and wetlands, their blue-green feathers flashing in the sun.

 

When not flying they perch on utility wires and shrubs, scouting for prey. A vocal species, you can often locate them by their cheerful chirping calls while pursuing insects.

They are streamlined songbirds with pointed wings, short, squared or slightly notched tails and black bills, nearly six inches long with wingspans reaching over 13 inches. Males have blue-green backs and white fronts, dark flight feathers and thin black eyemasks, females are duller, with brown upper parts, and juveniles are completely brown above.

 

They supplement a primary diet of insects with berries from fruit-bearing shrubs, and prior to breeding may visit backyard compost piles looking for eggshell to add calcium to their diet.

 

Named for their custom of nesting in tree cavities, they are also attracted to nest boxes, allowing scientists to make them one of the best studied species in North America.  Note: if you install a nesting box, attach a guard to restrict access to the eggs and young. Nest predators include snakes, raccoons, bears, chipmunks, mink, weasels, mice and cats. During migration and non-breeding periods they live in the open, without nests or nesting boxes.

 

The female may complete her nest in a few days or as long as two weeks. It routinely consists of grass, pine needles, mosses, rootlets, aquatic plants, animal hair and materials like cellophane or cigarette filters, and is lined with feathers from other bird species, usually provided by the male. Parents share nesting duties evenly.

 

A clutch consists of four to seven pale-pink eggs that fade to white in three or four days. Incubation takes up to 20 days, with chicks hatching helpless, eyes closed, their pink skin covered with down, and able to leave the nest in 15-25 days.

 

Not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, and rated eight out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, tree swallows are not considered endangered.

May 2020

Anna's Hummingbird

Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell

This colorful green-and-gray species is an infrequent migrator and may visit your backyard year round.

 

Males display an iridescent patch on the throat called a gorget extending over the head, while females have a small red patch. Both genders have short legs, slender bills and broad tails.

John West

Anna’s hummingbirds dine on nectar from a variety of flowering plants, tree sap leaking from holes created by sapsuckers, and a variety of small insects, often captured in flight. If you don't see them at a feeder or flowers, check out nearby trees and bushes, where they often perch and announce their presence with song.

During courting a male attracts the attention of a potential mate by climbing high into the sky and diving straight down at full speed, stopping abruptly a few feet in front of her, announcing his arrival with a distinctive sound created with his broad tail. Males and females are not exclusive, and either sex may mate with more than one individual per season, while the females build nests and care for the young.

Nests are constructed with an assortment of plant parts, feathers, down, and spider webs as mom sits inside the inch-high by one-half inch diameter, cup-shaped bowl, forming it around her. There are up to three broods per year, each with two half-inch by one-third-inch white eggs. Incubation lasts 16 days, and nesting time 20 days. The chicks hatch with minimal down and are virtually helpless.

They maintain a body temperature as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit, but will enter torpor to slow down breathing and heart rate when the weather cools, then magically return to full activity once the weather improves.

Anna’s hummingbirds are a welcome addition to any birder’s list, and bring an upbeat atmosphere to any backyard. To attract them, simply fill your feeder with one part sugar to three parts water, without honey or coloring, and stand by to be entertained with energetic and exciting flight demonstrations!

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