Thursday, December 29, 2016

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracaras scan the horizon from a small tree. Looking for food is a daily task. This is probably a mated pair, though it is hard to tell as Crested Caracaras look alike...females being slightly larger. With a wingspan of nearly four feet, these are impressive birds whether in flight or at rest.

A juvenile, possibly related to the pair, wobbles unsteadily nearby. Lacking the distinctive coloration of an adult as well as the coordination, he struggles to gain a footing.

In the United States the Crested Caracara is chiefly found near the Arizona borderlands, although they are common throughout Mexico, Central and South America.

They also maintain a significance presence in southern Texas. Their overall population numbers are steady.

This is the Sonoran Desert where Crested Caracaras spend their day watching for things that don't move...dead things...carrion. Right now they are eyeing an Arizona sheep pasture halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. It's late December, 2016. It's lambing time and there will be plenty to eat for these hungry birds.

Nearly a hundred ewes will be giving birth during this brief period of time.

The caracaras and other birds are here to partake of an annual feast...not the lambs, but the remains of the birthing process.

Eighteen Black Vultures arrived for this bounty, too, but Crested Caracara's are not vultures.

They are actually in the family Falconidae...a family of fast flying falcons. Looking at the Crested Caracara you can see similarities, but caracaras are the low and slow flying family members.

The Crested Caracara is not a fussy eater.

Snakes, lizards, fish, amphibians, small mammals, eggs, nestlings and crawling things found under cow dung are all on a caracara menu.

But, rest assured...

...the little lambs are NOT.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 
All About Birds

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Spotted Towhee

                                 It's his dramatic red eyes looking back at you that catches your eye first.

Going completely unnoticed would be preferable to a Spotted Towhee because Spotted Towhees live where danger ground level.

Security to a Spotted Towhee means tangled branches, thorns and twisted dark pathways through the understory.

Speckled sunlight shining through the leaves could be the Spotted Towhee's best ally.

It's suggested that the white spots on an otherwise black-backed bird confuses predators, as it mimics a sun dappled forest floor where the Spotted Towhee scratches for food.

The rufous shading of his flanks provides additional disguise as he searches the leaf litter for beetles and weevils, crickets and caterpillars. While this stand-out member of the sparrow family's aim is to remain as inconspicuous as possibly...beautiful red eyes still give him away.


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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Steller's Jay

A Steller's Jay may take on a clown-like appearance when the wind blows his crest, but this is a serious bird.

Boldly colorful and stocky in appearance, the Steller's Jay is an intelligent and inquisitive bird.

Steller's Jays possess remarkable spatial memory skills enabling them to hide hundreds of food stores for the winter.

They not only remember where they stashed an acorn or nut, they occasionally move them around if they believe another bird saw them hide it.

Plumped up against the predawn cold of Summerhaven, Arizona...elevation 8000 feet...this Steller's Jay watches for a food opportunity.  Although eating mostly vegetable matter like nuts, seeds and berries, the Steller's Jay is not hesitant about taking an egg or a nestling.

Social, so not particularly shy, the
Steller's Jay is often found around people. Traveling in small groups you may find them interested in your offerings of peanuts or seeds.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, November 27, 2016


The Verdin is a cute little bird about the size of a Black-capped Chickadee and just as flighty. They thrive in the southern border region of the United States and most of Mexico.

They are quite common, but hard to see. They bounce on branches with dizzying acrobatics in a search for food.

Being small sized, they dine on the tiniest of insects and spiders as well as wasp larvae, aphids and scale.

Birds play a huge role in the balance of nature. Without birds, all the pesticides in the world would not stop insects from defoliating our planet.

Secretive by nature in addition to small in stature, you need to be observant with a bit of luck to spot a Verdin.

Fortunately, Verdins forage at eye level in small trees and bushes, so if you are quiet and calm, they can be a beautiful bird to watch.

You might find a Verdin standing on one leg, holding a berry in his other foot and munching on it as he watches you.

He won't stay long, so enjoy the time you spend.     Allan        (Click any picture to enlarge.)

Credits: Audubon Field Guide, 
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Greater Roadrunner

   Born to run...perhaps rather preferring not to fly, a Greater Roadrunner is quite a challenge to catch.

Running with head and tail nearly parallel to the ground, the roadrunner uses its long tail as a rudder for balance.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A roadrunner is a meat eater. In this case it's worm meat, but you get the idea.

Typical menu items include small mammals, snakes, lizards, centipedes, scorpions and even other birds.

          When threatened, the roadrunner displays a vivid orange and blue crescent behind each eye.

The colors inform other birds, as it did this Mourning Dove, that landing too close is unwise.

No further argument was necessary...the dove left.

Males and females look alike. They re-establish their lifelong bond each spring through rituals of dance and bowing. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Mating is equally orchestrated: the male roadrunner leaps onto his partner’s back while holding a mouse or other food offering, which both partners grasp as they copulate. Afterward he circles his mate, bowing, cooing and flicking his tail in a stylized display.

Born to run, yes, but the belief that the roadrunner always gets away from Wily E. Coyote is a cartoon myth.

Coyotes can easily outrun a roadrunner and are major threats to them.

Still, over a million roadrunners are estimated to live in this world. Sixty-two percent of them live in the Southwestern United States.

From Southern California and now expanding all the way east to Louisiana, the Greater Roadrunner is a survivor.


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

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Cooper's Hawk vs Mourning Dove

A ghostly bird image marks our patio window.

Windows remove millions of birds from this world every year. It's a modern danger birds don't see or understand until the last moment...often too late.

This crash resulted from of a high speed chase by a Cooper's Hawk.

Moments earlier a flock of Mourning Dove was cautiously collecting seeds among the rocks. The hawk's arrival was low and fast. Suddenly, they exploded in all directions. The hawk simply targeted the nearest and slowest.  This unfolded right in front of me...only the window glass separated us.

The Cooper's Hawk failed to capture a Mourning Dove in the air...the window nearly did her in.

She lay injured on the patio bricks delirious and drooping, not knowing what just happened. The hawk returned to pick her up, but saw me through the glass, fluttered in the air for a moment and flew away.

In this case, my presence was tipping the balance of nature in the dove's favor. Still, I chose not to remove myself from this event.

The hawk landed on a railing to assess the chances of reclaiming his prize.

If this is a male Cooper's Hawk he was likely only hunting for himself. But someday he must provide food for a mate while she sits on eggs for a month, and later to feed his family. This could be three months of continuous hunting for him. Missing a meal then could be serious.

He decided on his own to leave.

The Mourning Dove staggered to temporary cover under a chair. We both knew she was badly hurt. She had a neck wound and a damaged wing.

She remained in hiding throughout the next day. I put out food and water for her, but I don't know if she helped herself to it.

Nature was running its course.

A little food and water is all I'll do to further affect an outcome that happens thousands of times each day.


(Click any picture to enlarge.)

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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Anna's Hummingbird

A male Anna's Hummingbird watches his territory diligently. From his sun speckled perch in an Arizona mesquite tree he controls everything in his 360 degree view. He is the king of this plot...judging which other hummingbirds stay and which must go...most must go. He projects a regal air to show he's serious about his sovereignty.

Then again, it's difficult to look humble when your head is on fire.

Resembling the glowing embers of a hot coal fire, the fear factor alone of his fiery face coming at you must be formidable.

With a fresh sunrise to warm his backside and a good morning stretch completed, he is ready to face the day.

It's a day for hundreds of trips to hundreds of flowers for minute sips of sweet nectar.

This high energy bird lives on sugar water and tiny airborne insects.

Hummingbirds have enemies.
Although quicker than most other birds he's hardly a meal worth one's effort.

Feral cats, large mouth bass, hawks and even large spiders prey on the adults, while crows, chipmunks and squirrels raid nests.

Smaller in stature than other birds yet with an out-sized 'birdsonality', the hummingbird, reigns as a bird worthy of everyone's interest and protection.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blue Jay

Besides being a noisy bird with a harsh voice, the Blue Jay copes with a rather unsettling reputation. Commonly known to be a nest robber and an egg eater...his defense is he is not the worst of the bunch. And that's right. The American Crow has an even more menacing reputation of nest predation.

'Not the worst' isn't the most eloquent defense though, but he is just playing the hand he was dealt.

Blue Jays are social birds within their own group...some even mate for life. But Blue Jays don't seem to make friends easily.

You rarely see Blue Jays intermingle with other birds in defensive cooperation.

Blue Jays keep to themselves.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A noisy "squawk" often announces his arrival, closely followed by a posture declaring who the boss is now. It's a he cannot defend. Many other birds bully the Blue Jay until he flies away.

One outstanding feature of a Blue Jay is the blue. 

Bold contrasts and gentle shading give this large songbird a dramatic look like no other.

In actual fact, the blue is not blue at all. According to Cornell University:
The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.

Even social birds can have their squabbles.

A dispute erupts on a low branch over the green-blanketed Milwaukee River. Two Blue Jays fight over possession of this prime river spot.

The attacker quickly becomes the loser. He receives a mucky green bath for his boldness before flying off.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

It's hard to clean up a soiled reputation. It's likely Blue Jays are not all that good at influencing public opinion or simply don't care either way. Perhaps, however, our opinion of the beautiful Blue Jay's nature deserves an upgrade.


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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

              A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak is photobombed as she poses prettily in Mequon, WI.

She sees something interesting and strains to investigate.

She is a careful bird. There is a Cooper's Hawk in this neighborhood and Cooper's are fast and deadly. The hawk has not been seen today, but that is of little comfort to her.

The usual seeds and berries of fall are scattered all around, although the summer insects are disappearing. 

She will need to gather many seeds and berries along her way to Central or South America. This is just a brief stop for her...passing through Wisconsin.


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