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