Saturday, April 26, 2014

Painted Redstart

Common, but localized, a Painted Redstart is a beautiful bird to find in the wild.

(Click any picture to enlarge)
Look for them in the border states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas because they barely make it to the United States from the Neotropics.  They prefer a mountain habitat at cooler elevations.  I wasn’t looking for this one, but I appreciate the serendipity of being found. 

I was hiking on Mt. Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona.

When I stopped to rest, this Redstart flew in.  Whether or not he noticed me or was aware and unconcerned, he began to search for insects along the oak and sycamore lined canyon walls.

Redstarts likely got their name from the hunting technique of startling their prey. By rapidly flicking open their wings to produce a brilliant flash of white light, they startle insects into revealing themselves.

Insects can hide anywhere…branches, leaves, crevices...redstarts must be nimble. 

Flashing white wings and tail feathers makes them easy to spot when flitting through trees.  A bright red breast contrasting against a  black body gives them away, too.

But, I  was lucky. I didn't have to search for this one. This one found me.


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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vermilion Flycatcher

Kermit the Frog’s claim that, ‘it's not easy being green’ may be true, but being vermilion presents a challenge, too.

It’s hard to hide in a red feather suit and the male Vermilion Flycatcher is spectacularly dressed in one.  His brilliance doesn’t make him self-conscious though, as he perches proudly while scanning for insects. 

He plucks insects out of the air.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher’s is a standout beauty, too, with her peachy-pink belly.  In the bird-world, filled largely with colorless females, these two make an impressive pair.

Fortunately for the nestlings, an extraordinary degree of mimicry keeps them hidden and safe.

Dressed in white-tipped charcoal feathers, they’ve evolved precisely to match the trees they were born into.

Bright orange, gaping  mouths reveal their presence, but only when a parent is near. Otherwise, they remain motionless and quiet.
Another adaptation in the bird world is the fecal sac*.  The young nestlings excrete their waste surrounded by a transparent mucus membrane.  The sacs are removed, primarily by the female, and deposited some distance away to keep the nest tidy.  An untidy nest could produce odors which could invite predators.  
There are many challenges to protecting this family of three.
(Click any picture to enlarge)

Feral or free-roaming house cats are major predators on birds.  This nest was within easy reach of a tree-climbing cat.

Nestled six-feet overhead on a park tree branch, the daily duties of raising a family played out despite the commotion of baseball, bicycles and baby strollers below.

Meals arrive every 5-10 minutes.  After a parent deposits an insect treat into an open mouth, he departs quickly to avoid attracting attention to the nest. 

It’s a task made seemingly more difficult when you’re bright red.

Come sundown it’s time to sleep. 

The frustrated female shuffled the three nestlings under her breast, with anxious concern.  At times, one or another nestling was unhappy with the sleeping arrangements the mother struggled so hard to provide.  They let her know it, too.
This bedtime battle continued for a while as the sun set behind the mountains.  

All this fuss could attract unwanted attention and it was hardly appreciated by the mother.

When she had enough, she made the adult decision and put her foot down, so to speak.  She got the final word...finally.  She sat down on top of them. 

Still and quiet prevailed for the rest of the evening.    


The Sibley Guide to Birds

Link: *fecal sac