Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Canyon Towhee

You have to creep like a cat to see them...the Canyon Towhees.

Not all birds are bright, brilliant and beguiling. Some species are shy, dun colored and receding. They live in the understory and they prefer it that way, too. When they do show themselves, it's a treat.

The Canyon Towhee is a larger member of the sparrow family.

Well-adapted to the sunbaked southwestern states, the Canyon Towhee thrives in a scrub and cactus environment.

Foraging for seeds around rocks and in the desert leaf litter, they pose little contrast to the desert to go unseen.

Their boldest distinguishing mark is a rust colored under tail, but that, too, remains hidden at ground level.

Their conical bill gives them away as a seedeater.

To uncover the seeds the desert floor provides, the Canyon Towhee grabs a two-footed hold of the ground litter and makes a big backwards leap.

This scraping action reveals seeds and insects hiding beneath. It's this bird's way of smartly picking up a meal.

Unfortunately, this scraping takes place undercover, mostly out of sight.

It's a foraging trait the Canyon Towhees practice well.

Luckily, Canyon Towhee population numbers have remained strong over the past fifty years, despite a human desire for desert living. Sadly, as humans encroach on the desert, they bring their cats with them...many going feral. It's the feral cats that are placing a downward pressure on many bird populations.

Unfortunately, even the secretive haunts of the Canyon Towhee won't protect them from a hunting cat.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)


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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hummingbird Wars

At warp speed, hummingbirds do battle daily...Star Wars on the smallest scale.

A male Anna's Hummingbird watches from his treetop perch. He claims ownership of our backyard as his territory and he watches over it closely.

He doesn't like trespassers.

He scans the comings and goings of other hummingbirds who stop or pass too slowly, persuading them to leave before they get hurt.

His weapons are a swordlike bill and an awesome-hot helmut.

He controls his territory with all-out frontal attacks and a take no prisoners attitude.

This Broad-billed Hummingbird was one bird who lingered too long.

He received a high speed escort to anywhere else but here.

In this case the tresspasser escaped to a tree in the front yard, well away from the food at the backyard.

His only retort to this rude treatment was delivered after the fact.

This Costa's Hummingbird was similarly encouraged to leave, but the odds were more even here. The Costa's Hummingbird is capable of standing his ground against the Anna's Hummingbird, resulting in a begrudging agreement to share opposite sides of the feeder.

He's similarly adorned with an fabulous purple helmut and long gorgets, adding a dash of flare and fierceness to his look.

This first-year male Anna's Hummingbird doesn't stand a chance against the older male of his own kind. He takes flight at first sight of an attack.

He is just now sprouting the weapons he needs to defend a territory and attract a female.

Defending a territory takes a lot of energy...nectar.

Plain sugar water provides energy in a 4 to 1 ratio.

Even though I provide plenty of nectar, there seems to be a natural aversion to sharing this wealth of food.

It's a winner takes all world and the strong survive.

Aggression seems so unnecessary to an outsider, but nature plays by its own rules.

As the undisputed master of arial acrobatics, hummingbirds enforce their rules. Weighing in at only a nickel's weight, they maintain the smallest of no-fly zones. With landing gear extended, the male Anna's flutters into the treetop to resume the watch for challengers...whether real or imagined.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds