As I’ve mentioned, I manage Jay’s Bird Barn, a store focused on bird feeding and watching in your back yard. Of course we also encourage getting out and finding a wider assortment of birds beyond the confines of your yard. In a given year Prescott will host well over 200 bird species. Most are predictable and can be found without much effort. Many may take some effort on your part by exploring the appropriate habitat. Based on this we have created a Birding Challenge for 2023. It has already started and will conclude on October 18, when the winners will be eligible for prizes.
We have created a checklist of 143 species, taken directly from the two-volume set of folding guides we created several years ago. With some work it’s possible to see all 143, plus many more! We’ve also integrated several other challenges to which we’ve assigned point values as you complete them. These challenges are all geared toward getting our community outdoors and enjoying the amazing nature-viewing opportunities we have. Among the challenges included are: attending one of Jay’s Bird Barn’s free weekly birdwalks, attending a monthly meeting of our local Prescott Audubon chapter, creating an eBird.org account, adding a new feeder to your yard, and many more!
If you’ve ever been interested in the hobby of birdwatching, now is a great time to take that leap — or would “take flight” be more appropriate?
In conjunction with our own Birding Challenge, heavy monsoons and a wet winter have all but guaranteed a bountiful seed and insect crop in the coming year. This growth in natural food tends to bring large numbers of birds to our area, including many species that don’t regularly show up here. Central Arizona is on the fringe of the typical range for many species, but when our region can boast a generous food supply you’ll see spillover or “irruption” of some species motivated by high metabolisms.
A great example of this would be wintering seed-eating birds. The monsoon season we had contributed directly to thousands of square miles of native grass. As all these plants go to seed, it becomes an invaluable resource for calories. Even compared with just last year, our wintering population of white-crowned sparrows has been robust.
Along those same lines, weather patterns can affect bird movement within our region. This year’s poor crop of natural juniper berries has driven birds into more urban settings in search of the next meal. Perhaps you’ve noticed an influx of American robins recently? While they are year-round residents, they do tend to proliferate in the winter. Couple that with a poor berry crop and you may find large flocks in your yard, gorging on berry-producing plants. These large flocks can be great indicators of what else you should look for!
Along with robins, other berry-eating birds may be present, because they use each other to help find food. In the last couple of weeks I’ve recorded the first Townsend’s solitaire in my yard, have seen several cedar waxwings around town, and have been host to a few large flocks of western bluebirds. This last week, I led a walk here in town where we were delighted to find a half dozen mountain bluebirds. If I had to pick a favorite bird, the mountain bluebird would be it, and these conditions have been perfect to draw them into a more suburban habitat.
Please give us a call or drop by the shop if you have any questions regarding this topic or any other. We look forward to bird-watching with you all year, and are excited to see what birds you can dig up. If you want to give it a go, now is the time to start! Many of our wintering birds will be leaving soon and will not return before the contest ends.
My challenge to you, which will give you a great start on your list, is to make an effort to see these ten birds over the coming month: ruby-crowned kinglet, Cassin’s finch, American robin, hairy woodpecker, bushtit, pine siskin, white-crowned sparrow, savannah sparrow, western meadowlark, and ferruginous hawk. You can observe most of these in a yard setting, but a few may take a bit of effort. Ask me where to go! Till next time, happy birding!
The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon.org.