Thursday, December 28, 2017

Harris' Hawk

This Harris' Hawk gave me a quizzical glance as he flew overhead.

I can't know what he was thinking, but the normally social Harris' Hawk flew TOWARDS me rather than away, so I doubt he was truly upset with my presence.

Families of Harris' Hawks travel and hunt together. They are desert dwellers. Living mostly on small mammals, they've achieved success as team hunters.

One Harris' will flush an animal while others chase it down. The food is shared in a loosely hierarchal manner.


Manmade structures like cell towers and utility poles provide ideal hunting platforms. These common and convenient perches contribute to our enjoyment of the Harris' Hawk, too.

It's a safe and stable platform in which to preen and survey the landscape.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

But, the high voltage lines also threaten large birds.

With a wingspan of slightly under four feet, when departing these perches, touching two wires at the same time is instant death.

Utility companies wisely cover dangerous perches with insulating covers.

This juvenile appears to be scolding me, but he's not.

He's squealing a harsh skeeei, skeeei, skeeei sound in a 360 degree direction. He was either hungry or lonely, I couldn't tell.

Whichever, I was allowed to watch from below as three Harris' Hawks rested on three adjacent utility poles along W. Linda Vista Blvd., Oro Valley, Arizona.


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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatchers have enviable eyes.

This not-so-shy little flycatcher spends nearly 90% of his day just perched and looking for food.

This one hunts the outfield grasses of a local ball diamond.

When he sees something of interest he's off in a blaze of brilliant red.

From there on it's a twisting, turning, dizzying display of avian gymnastic.

What he captures is surely of minuscule nutritional value... hardly worth the energy expelled in chasing it.

Though he must feel differently.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A female Vermilion Flycatcher is also hunting in the next tree over. She's waiting for a insect to rise from the grass also. Then it will be her turn to dine.

There is no sharing of insects between them at this point... no gathering of insects for young. It's still a little early in the season for nesting.

After a few minutes of quiet watching and waiting, it's off again at full speed.

He covered a 50 foot semi-circle of the grassy outfield. It astonished me how he could see a flying insect no larger than a gnat at that distance.

Just as astonishing was his ability to corral an insect and catch it in the air.

You must be patient.

This airshow takes some time to get going and then it will be over in seconds.

Still, you will be amazed at the Vermilion Flycatcher's arial antics and his ability to see the nearly invisible.


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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Red-tailed Hawks

There are many places to hide in Arizona's desert landscapes, but the Red-tailed Hawks know most of them.

Gliding overhead with the 'eyes of a hawk,' a redtail scans for prey.

Mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels are typical mammal prey, but medium sized birds like pheasants, starlings, blackbirds and bobwhite are fair game, too.

When seen circling in the sky, most people can recognize a hawk and it's more than likely to be a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks comes in a variety of colors and feather patterns. Their stocky appearance and broad wings help you identify redtails on sight.

Light and dark morphs of Red-tailed Hawks are common, but that makes identifications even more difficult.

A relatively short tail is a good indicator if the red is not visible.

For a large stocky bird, the female Red-tailed Hawk weighs less than three pounds.

Red-tailed Hawks are common and widespread throughout North America. They take advantage of tall manmade and natural perches for hunting.

From towering desert saguaros to utility poles along the highway, the Red-tailed Hawk is comfortable and content with hunting in plain sight.


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

Monday, December 18, 2017


While out on a hike in the desert recently, I came across a jackrabbit. This happens occasionally, but they always see me first and run away. That's disappointing. This jackrabbit was different. He wasn't delighted to see me for sure, but he didn't run far.

He loped away slowly and only a short distance before looking back to see what I was all about.

Jackrabbits are hares in the rabbit family.

According to Wikipedia, the word jackrabbit came into popularity by a Mark Twain book calling them jackass rabbits. It was a reference to the hare's large ears, like those of the donkey. It was later shortened to just jackrabbit.

With those ears, I suspect he heard me coming a mile away.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

This guy... I'll call him a guy, was reluctant to leave this spot. The ground was covered with thousands of rabbit beans, so I know he and maybe some of his friends had spent considerable time here. He would hop to an edge of this circular space, then, if I followed, he would double back.

This went on for hundreds of pictures... till we both got tired.

Yes, it is not a brightly feathered bird this time. Instead it's a long eared furry creature I found in my search for a bird.

Pardon my diversion or lack of focus, but I thought you would enjoy this hike in the desert as much as I did.


National Geographic

Monday, December 11, 2017

Greater Roadrunner

Not very colorful, but oh so comical.

You don't have to be fan of the Roadrunner cartoon to be enamored with the carryings-on of the Greater Roadrunner.

All birds spend a good portion of their day searching for food, but the Greater Roadrunner always LOOKS to be LOOKING for food. He has an intensity of purpose to his look you cannot deny.

Catching critters like roaches is a piece of cake for the Greater Roadrunner.

Taking care to NOT become someone else's lunch is a major concern. As fast as he appears in the cartoons, a willy coyote is twice as fast.  The speedy ground hugging Greater Roadrunner is a not-so-adept flyer.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, December 8, 2017

Costa's & Anna's Hummingbirds

On a chilly day for most of the USA, here are two jewels in the sunshine for your pleasure.
A Costa's Hummingbird gathers nectar from the last of the remaining Sonoran Desert flowers.

His radiance isn't a reflection of the flowers he's visiting. Purple iridescence is only visible when sunlight hits at a perfect angle. As he visits each flower his head intermittently lights up.

Purple 'gorgets' (gor-jets) are his trademark.  He uses them to attract females.

For a Costa's male it's the equivalent of a long mustache.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

The slightly larger Anna's Hummingbird also lives in this desert.

The two species don't get along, as is typical with rivals. They are in a constant battle for territory and resources.

What we perceive as elegance in these birds is more likely aggression.

It matters little to me.

I prefer to enjoy only their brilliance on a chilly day.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Monday, December 4, 2017


This flighty little Verdin often visits our backyard, mostly when I'm not present.

He is a welcome visitor though, but he's oh so skittish.

If I'm around when he stops in, I suspect he suspects that he isn't quite alone and this makes him nervous.

I must remain motionless.

A fixed stare in my direction leads me to believe I've been spotted.

Aware of the slightest movements, he's poised to flee should the need be.

The tiny desert dwelling Verdin is about the size of a chickadee or warbler.

According to the 2014 State of the Birds Report, the Verdin is a Common Bird in Steep Decline, mostly due to habitat loss.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Being wary is a good trait that has served him well up to this point.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
2014 State of the Birds Report