Sunday, February 8, 2015

Desert Birds in the Snow

                          Although snow in rare in the desert, new moisture is always welcome.
These two Curved-billed Thrashers seem puzzled, as snow covers their cactus. Possibly never having experienced snow before, they appear confused...What's this all about?

Although the desert is typically hot and dry, desert snows will develop when atmospheric conditions are right.

As welcome as snow is for some, snow makes finding food harder, especially for the ground dwelling birds like the Mourning Doves.

A young Cooper's Hawk may consider snow an advantage. Cooper's Hawks hunt other birds and may benefit from a white blanket of snow highlighting their prey.  S/he soars quietly with minimal effort looking for a meal.

Snow doesn't last long in the desert and a bird's search for food resumes quickly.

A common sight in the dry southwestern desert is the Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

This Ladder-backed circles sideways in search of insects. Insects hide in cracks and crevices.

His stiff tail supports him upright.

Insects can hide in inaccessible places, too, so finding them takes a bit of dexterity and daring for this Orange-crowned Warbler.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The Cactus Wren is a year-round desert resident...winter cold to summer heat.

As the wren family's largest member, the Cactus Wren is well adapted to find enough moisture in food to survive in arid lands.

Snow melts beneath the Anna's Hummingbird as he awakes from torpor. Torpor is a state of lethargy where the bird's internal temperature drops and breathing and heart rate slows.

This conserves the tiny energy stores the Anna's Hummingbird possesses. Approximately the size of a ping-pong ball and the weight of a nickel...depletion of energy reserves could be fatal during a cold night.

The warmth he needs to rise each morning is provided by the sun. Arizona's dry air and intense sunshine brings him back to life to reflect the sunrise.

The Pyrrhuloxia is a tough-old-bird. He gets most, if not all, the moisture he needs from the food he eats...rarely drinking. As a seed-eating, ground-dwelling bird, capable of surviving in temperatures well over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit he is well suited for the arid southwest.

Snow doesn't bother him and he seldom ventures out of the desert. Related to the more common red Northern Cardinal of the eastern two-thirds of the United States, and similar in appearance, the Desert Cardinal is quite comfortable when the cacti are covered in snow.


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