Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mexican Jay

You'll know they've arrived before you see them.

The highly social Mexican Jay is a noisy bird. Traveling in small family groups, they command your attention by their numbers and clamorous calls.

This band of about a dozen Mexican Jays arrived at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona on a routine stop to partake in the feast set out for birds.

The seed, suet and sugar-water buffet behind the Santa Rita Gift Shop attracts birds to this mountainside lodge in uncounted numbers.

The birders who line up to watch the birds could be counted, but no one has.

Mexican Jays are in the same family as Blue Jays found in Wisconsin all year long. Crows, Ravens and Magpies are close relatives.

In shades of blue and gray the Mexican Jay is slightly less colorful then the Blue Jay, yet still impressive in size and shape.

Gregarious by nature, they attract attention with their energetic darting, dashing and bouncing.

The family groups stay together for years. Males and females look alike with only the juveniles giving away their age.  The telltale white on the bill indicates an age of less than two years old. With time the bill will turn completely black.

Handouts from people are not their only resource. Living in pine/oak forests at higher elevations, they thrive on acorns and pine nuts stored for the winter. Along with insects and invertebrates they manage quite well without the people food.

Mexican Jays are resourceful and manage quite well. They can't be blamed for taking the low hanging fruit provided by humans. They are of Least Concern as to their survival in the foreseeable future.

That is not the case for far too many birds.


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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Arizona Woodpecker

It's not difficult to find a woodpecker anywhere in the United States. They are widespread throughout North America, including the sapsuckers and flickers, which are also in the woodpecker family.

Uniquely though, the Arizona Woodpecker is much rarer. Barely reaching into Arizona from Mexico, you'll need to look a little harder to find the Arizona Woodpecker.

A good place to start your search is far southern Arizona at the higher elevations. A pine/oak forest with dead trees is a perfect spot to look. Woodpeckers need dead trees to supply the insect food they need. Insects and invertebrates hide under dead tree bark.

You might find an Arizona Woodpecker looking right back at you, too.

Bracing herself with stiff tail feathers, this female Arizona Woodpecker was searching with intense concentration. The image may seem to be sideways, but in fact she is hanging below the branch looking upward.  Upside down is no problem for a woodpecker.  With large feet and sharp claws she forages with ease.

Both sexes are similar in size and shape, but there is a small red patch on the back of the male's head.

Arizona Woodpeckers are not significantly different from many other species of woodpeckers with the obvious exception...they are brown and white rather than black and white. They stand out immediately for that one distinction alone.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      This looks to be a first-year juvenile. Adult-like in many ways...she just doesn't appear to be fully mature yet.

It takes a bit more effort to discover an Arizona Woodpecker...rare to the United States as they are, but somehow worth it.

There are 22 species of woodpeckers. I haven't seen them all yet, but therein lies one of the joys of birding...the search.


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

Friday, December 5, 2014

(southwest) Northern Cardinal / Pyrrhuloxia

A bright red bird on a winter's day is a good omen for your soul.

Finely fashioned in red and black, the southwest Northern Cardinal looks surprisingly similar to the Northern Cardinal familiar to the eastern half of the United States. 

But, the southwest Northern Cardinal is larger, has a bushier crest and has a less-black face.

That's a trivial distinction when you see one sitting in a tree, but it's noteworthy for those who take more than a casual interest in birds.

They are a stately bird with a slightly stern appearance.

male Pyrrhuloxia

In the same family as the Northern Cardinal is the Pyrrhuloxia. He's similar in size and shape, but far less flamboyant. In shades of gray and red the male Pyrrhuloxia is impressive and shares a similar stately appearance. 

The Pyrrhuloxia lives at the far southern reaches of Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and most of old Mexico, too.

They thrive in hot and harsh arid lands.

female or juvenile Pyrrhuloxia

Startled at the camera's click this female Pyrrhuloxia stretches tall and thin to investigate the source of the sound. 

Always wary...
the cost of inattentiveness is life itself...all birds respond quickly to threatening sounds.

If this female Pyrrhuloxia looks a bit concerned...she is. She is incubating eggs in a paleverde tree. Not wanting to disturb her, I went about getting my pictures quickly, so she could get back to her motherly duties. The female Pyrrhuloxia is not nearly as colorful as the male. Her colors reflect her surrounds. It is quite likely she placed those blossoms around her nest as a means of camouflaging her yellow bill.

southwest Northern Cardinal

The amount of joy you experience at the sight of a bird varies from person to person. You can't assign a number to it. 

Still be grateful for the number of birds we have in our lives, as many species are declining. 

They could raise your spirits on a cold winter's day.


Credits: Sibley's Guide to Birds

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds