Sunday, March 15, 2020

Abert's Towhee Baby

It's 'What's for Dinner'... a juicy green worm and a couple of crane flies.

This baby Abert's Towhee is newly out of the nest and very hungry. He was born in our lilac vine bush and that's his problem.

Both his parents provide him plenty of food, but he's trapped here in our backyard.

Abert's Towhees are mainly birds of Arizona's Sonoran Desert. They don't migrate and they stay close to their home territory all year long. They are ground-dwelling birds of brushy areas.

But people live here, too, and there are a lot of people.  People build fences around their homes. Fences keep out javelinas and coyotes, but fences are a baby bird's dilemma.

If your 'steel' fence could let a rattlesnake through, people put up an additional 'snake fence' to keep rattlesnakes out.

When a baby towhee is born behind one of these snake fences he's trapped.

Mom and Dad can easily fly over the fence, but it's tough on the little ones.

His parents perch nearby with plump treats encouraging baby to come. But he can't do it.

He flutters and claws, but runs out of energy half way up the fence.

It's only an eighteen inch wire barrier, but he's only weeks old and can't make the climb.

He drops down to find another way.

A parent offers food from the other side.

His nature is to hide, but that won't solve his problem. He looks again to join his parents.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

With perseverance and diligence he finds a seam in the fence.

With wing and claw he pushes, squeezes and struggles through into the desert beyond.



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

Monday, February 17, 2020

Great Horned Owls

The two Great Horned Owls who have claimed Arizona's Big Wash as their territory are now calling back and forth nightly. It's a soothing pleasant 'hooting' sound, likely originating from our rooftop.

Eavesdropping into these flirtations is unavoidable at 3AM.

(Hear various Great Horned Owl calls at:

During the daylight they rest.

Walking in the Big Wash, I come across this pair quite often. I've seen them here since May, 2014 on the same cliff raising their broods.

I'm not sure they recognize me, but they don't seem to mind my presence. The only reaction I receive walking by is a slight turn of a head or an occasional blink.

The larger female is in the upper left and the smaller male is lower right.

I don't know their plans for this nesting season because monsoon rains and erosion has changed the cliff face. Their former burrow/hole has been washed away.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The female dozes.

They are stunning looking birds with the talons to do great harm to anyone threatening them.

Being largely ignored at this point is a good thing.

I'm convinced I am not upsetting her being this close.

She landed in our backyard tree in October 2019. She only glanced at me occasionally as she rested ten feet overhead in our desert willow tree.

I could have reached up and touched her tail, but I'm not crazy.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Northern Harrier

It's only food if you can find it.
A next meal is not guaranteed.

A female Northern Harrier searches the cattail marsh for something to eat.

She quickly glides through the thicket, to disappear just as quickly if no opportunity exists. Surprising a coot or small mammal was her plan.

Today she's not having much luck.

The coots and small critters are hiding in the cattails. Her hunting pressure has made them weary. She stops to rest in a tree to let the marsh relax again. This tactic might bring her success later.

She watches from the far end of the pond.

But life depends on finding food today. Hunger makes her hunt.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Arriving fast, low, and silently is her way of thriving.

Gliding over the wetland is a daily routine for her. It's a pleasure to see her work, regardless of success or failure.

This is 'nature' as entertainment.

It's quiet, unpredictable, rewarding and free.


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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Costa's Hummingbird

I thought he was injured at first.

This Costa's Hummingbird looks to be wearing a gray mask. I imagined him flying into a window, smashing his face and breaking his bill.

It didn't happen that way. Not this time anyway.

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of birds* die every year just like that.

Windows are an especial threat to birds. They can't imagine glass. But cars, cats, and a loss of habitat are just as threatening.

Picture for a moment the millions of miles of utility wires that criss-cross America. Harmless enough in the daylight, but deadly on a night migration.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 174 million** birds die each year by flying into these wires.

Our bird is okay, however. Instead of injury, he is going through a molt. All birds do that once or twice a year.

The gray mask you see are the new feathers' protective sheathes. Inside are the purple feathers that give the Costa's Hummingbird its unique helmeted look. 
He's quite capable of flying, feeding, and defending his territory.

And, when his molt is complete, imagine him looking pretty spectacular for this spring's mating season.

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


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Birds in the Rain

Living 24/7 in the elements has its drawbacks.

The few and far between rains have made this bird's hunt more difficult.

The bedraggled juvenile Cooper's Hawk landed in our backyard rather wet and somewhat dejected after an unsuccessful attack on the Mourning Dove flock.

All animals must deal with the elements. Whether they get stressed by the rain is uncertain.

Curve-billed Thrashers only live in a dry environment where rains are rare.

Luckily, he doesn't have to put up with this indignity that often.

Too much or too little rain doesn't faze a Cactus Wren.

The Cactus Wren rarely drinks water. Instead s/he gets all his water requirements from the insects he eats.

Rain is a threat for the Broad-billed Hummingbird though. At 0.12 ounce, a hail stone could remove this tiny bird from the picture.

Resting on a thorn in the open, this one is making the best of a wet situation.

The Abert's Towhee in a dry land, ground dwelling bird. Pairing up for life to sing in the desert underbrush, they survive on insects and seeds. Slippery rocks won't phase them either.

Hear their sweet song at:

As for the wet Cooper's Hawk, s/he might make a meal of any of the previously mentioned birds, with the possible exception of the Broad-billed Hummingbird. There's just not enough there to make that effort.

Six or seven hours later in the afternoon sunshine, he had dove for dinner.

(Click any picture to enlarge)
Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Monday, November 25, 2019

Not All Birds are COMMON to Everyone

It's hard to be more common than the ubiquitous Mourning Dove. Then again, when seen up close, the Mourning Dove is a respectable stand-out.

Blacks, whites and grays blend with soft shading as a stunning feather pattern appears. To that add a blue eye-ring and you have a beautiful bird.

Widespread and also common is the Gila Woodpecker. The male's red head and yellow belly, along with its piercing arrival and departure calls, grabs your attention.

Hear its shrill call at:

The Harris's Hawk is a larger and darker bird. Its size will impress you immediately.

Its colors, dark brown to near black to chestnut red, all jumble into a dull sheen.

They hunt together in family groups.

The Great Horned Owl is another large bird common to the desert southwest. Often heard hooting a longing lament on winter nights, they are seldom seen in the daylight.

This one proudly perched in our backyard at mid-morning. She was most accommodating, as we watched each other for a while.

Somewhat colorless except for its bright yellow eye, the Curve-billed Thrasher, a southwestern bird, is widely seen and heard... the definition of common.

What he lacks in color he makes up for in song or maybe whistles.

Hear its unique song at:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cooper's Hawk Portraits

The neighborhood Cooper's Hawk lands on our railing twenty feet out our patio door. 

S/he visits several times a day in hopes of scoring a meal. 

I haven't witnessed any carnage lately, (i.e. feathers), so to be in good health, he must be eating regularly some place else.

A breeze from the Big Wash ruffles his young feathers.

I stand half inside the doorway. He certainly sees me. I'm not advancing, but he's not leaving either. I am close enough for portraits.

He turns his head in robotic start/stop motions, taking in every sight and sound. His head reacts to every shutter click. He's that close. He's not fazed.

He gave me a few exciting minutes. He even dropped to the ground and came back to the same spot on the railing.

But then he glides down into the wash and is gone.

I like to think he was tail-waving me good-bye here, though I could be wrong.

(Click any picture to enlarge)