Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Your mental image of an owl may be a big strong shy stocky bird... the stealthy hunter in the night.

That is true, but that's not the role a Northern Pygmy-Owl plays. Northern Pygmy-Owls don't look like fierce predators, rather a small round headed ball of feathers with an in-your-face attitude.

They're more like, "You go away. I was here first."

These diurnal hunters perch proudly in the open, often getting mobbed by other birds when discovered.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl hunts mainly other birds, often taking sparrows, hummingbirds and chickadees. Small mammals, insects and lizards are part of this owl's diet, too.

It's a bird-eat-bird world out there in the woods. So, in turn, Northern Pygmy-Owls are hunted by larger owls.

As a defensive measure they seem to have 'eyes' in the back of their head. Two black spots mimicking eyes provide a degree of doubt in any attacker's mind.

Northern Pygmy-Owls live in mountainous areas ranging from Central America all the way to southern Alaska. That's where to look, if you're so inclined.

You won't have to search in the dark. Other birds will even help you find one. Listen for jays, nuthatches, wrens, warblers and many other birds mobbing the Northern Pygmy-Owl giving you its location.

That's a rather bold thing to do because, when caught off guard, all these 'mobbers' are food to the Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, Sibley's Guide to Birds

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Great Horned Owl w/babies (disturbing pictures)

Something must die for something else to live.

I'd been watching this male Great Horned Owl for a couple of weeks whenever I walked the Big Wash behind our home in Arizona. The Big Wash is a dry riverbed.

We'd focus on each other, which is understandable for me being a wildlife photographer of sorts.  But what holds the owl's interest in me?

I should be an inconvenience to him... nothing more.
The expected behavior would be to fly away.

Eons of erosion have shaped these 100' Big Wash bluffs. Two Great Horned Owls have made their home in this one.

The male guards while the female sits on eggs. He watches the coming and going near the center hole entrance. He is the sole food provider for his mate during cold desert nights.

A serving of packrat was offered this time.

Now there are two extra mouths to feed. It looks, though, like the owlet on the left has been getting fed the most.

A little one, nearly buried between big sibling and mother, must be struggling to get any share of food.

Death is not uncommon among hatchlings when resources are scarce.

But food doesn't seem to be a problem in this case. Here the female finishes the feather, feet and bones of a meal that was likely fed to the strongest and fastest of the two owlets.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

I returned to the burrow again the next day. Now there's only one owlet.

Fratricide happens when there is a gap in hatchings. The first owlet likely is the strongest. It gets the most food. It follows so on down the pecking order. A pecking order is just that and the smallest takes the brunt of it.

You can't expect justice in nature.

More disturbing yet is when the mother feeds the remaining owlet the body of the departed.

Resist passing judgement on nature. It is what it is and it has been going on for millions of years. It's just life.

One owlet gets to live.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Green Heron & Frog

A Green Heron snatches a tadpole bullfrog from a Sweetwater Wetlands retention pond.

It's curtains for a tadpole... brunch for a heron.

A few sharp shakes put and end to the tadpole's squirming, then to be swallowed whole.

Green Herons prefer hunting near the protection of dense vegetation. It's there they find their favorites of fish, amphibians, snails and even an occasional rodent.

Downing this slippery, slimy soon-to-have-been frog triggers a need to readjust.

A whole body shudder arranges his new meal and seemingly anything else misadjusted. 

A short test flight to a nearby branch settles his stomach even further.

Yet more importantly, his landing nearby assures me I wasn't bothering him by being too close.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, March 16, 2018

Northern Flicker (red-shafted, Western)

The Northern Flicker's true colors mainly shine in flight.

This large woodpecker with its distinctive plumage is seen all over the United States.

In the East, the yellow-shafted variation is common.  In the West, the red-shafted dominate as pictured here.

The Western male has a red mustache, while the male in the Eastern half has a black mustache. You may find one high in a tree, but more likely on the ground searching for ants, a favorite food.

They'll see you approaching first and flush. Then the red or yellow flight feather coloring will be visible.

You won't miss the white rump flying away either... shared by both sexes.

There is a third species of this beautiful woodpecker called the Gilded Flicker, but they're only seen in Southern Arizona, California, and the Baja peninsula of Mexico.

The breast markings of the Northern Flicker are distinct, too. They range from multiple black dots to Valentine-shaped hearts.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

I caught this one in a blink. Its eye was either closed or the transparent nictitating membrane that protects and lubricates the eye was shut. It's also called a 'third eyelid'.

He could have been dreaming, but he wasn't asleep.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Northern Parula

A female Northern Parula bounces between branches searching for food.

(pronounced: par-OOH-la)

The leaves in southern Arizona are just emerging, but the aphids have already discovered them.

It takes a lot of aphids to satisfy a warbler's appetite. (notice the aphid in bill) The energy expended gathering a full meal of aphids must be enormous. Parulas flit constantly.

Could aphids be that caloric?

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

It also takes dexterity and determination to find this teensy-weensy prey.

Aphids live in inaccessible places.

It's likely this Northern Parula is migrating through. Her stop here in the Sweetwater Wetlands of Tucson will be brief.
Sightings of Northern Parulas are considered rare for Arizona.

She'll probably build her nest far away... alone... in a suspended clump of moss-like vegetation. The entire eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada is a good bet for her seasonal brood.

Oddly though, a few states will lose out. Northern Parulas typically avoid Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

Clearcutting and the draining of bogs may be the reason for the Northern Parulas' decline in these States.*

You'll have a good chance of seeing a Northern Parula when you go birding. They are a bird of Low Concern* as to their species' population.

They are migrating north now. Expect them soon in your state, especially if you live east of the Mississippi River.


*Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Green Herons Battle

Dropping sharply from the air, an adult Green Heron attacks a juvenile. The juvenile showed mild concern toward the approaching adult, until it suddenly turned to panic.

The attack seemed unprovoked from my point of reference standing on the edge of this slowly draining water hole. Both birds had appeared to be tending to Green Heron business on opposite sides of the pond in mutual harmony.

A platform overlooks this area known as Sweetwater Wetlands. The pond is being drained for a controlled burn to remove excessive vegetation. Still, it seems large enough for all to coexist peacefully. A Great Egret and a Snowy Egret showed no animosity towards each other and foraged peacefully.

Unfortunately, somehow, something provoked the adult into attacking the juvenile.

It's likely the Green Heron's actions raised the pond inhabitants' anxiety level a few notches with their displays of aggression and posturing.

The adult on the left was upset at the juvenile on the right, possibly for the younger's mere presence at the pond.

That's only my observation, but Green Heron the Younger seems to be receiving a little foot action to deliver that message.

He retreats only to land across the pond at the exact spot where the adult left to initiate his attack.

Now the adult Green Heron gets to claim this lovely new section of mudflats.

I wonder how he feels about that?


Credits: Sibley's Guide to Birds

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cooper's Hawk

Surprise is a predator's most worthy asset.

Being one with your environment helps make predation happen. Resting motionless on a monochrome backdrop, a Cooper's Hawk watches for a dining opportunity.

Soaring quietly overhead is another stealthy approach to finding a meal.

The Cooper's Hawk is mainly a bird hunter. Typical prey includes doves, pigeons and starlings, but robins, jays and even chickens are also targets.

Though mostly in the West, small mammals like bats, chipmunks, squirrels and hares round out the Cooper's Hawks' diet.

This juvenile Cooper's Hawk looks healthy and well-fed, still, he concentrates on something of interest in the Sonoran Desert behind our home in Tucson, AZ.

Rainfall is rare in the desert, yet it happens.

Coping with the indignities of a wet feather coat once in a while comes with the territory.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

This juvenile Cooper's Hawk is a frequent visitor on our patio.

Surprisingly, as I write this a Cooper's Hawk startled the birds on our platform feeder into panic flight. I looked up quickly enough only to see a Cooper's Hawk dart through the scattering birds. I missed the capture, but watched as a cascade of dove feathers floated back to earth.

The hawk had a meal.

It was the cycle of life playing out once again on a sunny Sunday morning.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds