Sunday, December 30, 2018

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Last night's frost put a curl in the bougainvillea leaves, but the Broad-billed Hummingbirds survived just fine.

The warm morning sun jolts the Broad-billed Hummingbirds into the day's activities.

Winter is a time for little more than staying alive. Resting and waiting for spring is the most one can expect of a hummingbird in winter.

Nectar means survival.

Guarding their food source is the primary goal. This Broad-billed Hummingbird seems well equipped to protect what he claims as his.

Birds are often named for a noteworthy feature of their being. In the Broad-billed's case I would assume it's his broad red and black bill. Other species of hummingbirds have more slender bills.

Spotting an intruder in his territory, he's off to defend.

This juvenile male has been hanging around the feeders and sipping nectar, whenever he could get away with it.

The gleaming Broad-billed male tolerated some nectar sipping by the juvenile, so this one may be related to him.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

It could be that or maybe he's just tired of constantly springing into action at every trespass.

Really, there is plenty for everyone.

Still, if they all shared and got along peacefully, they wouldn't be hummingbirds... would they?


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

Thursday, December 27, 2018


The natural hummingbird food sources are running low at this time of the year. If your flowers haven't experienced a frost so far, more than likely, frost is on the way soon.

This Broad-billed Hummingbird inspects every flower and moves on quickly, so I believe he's getting very little nectar for his efforts.

He gleams in the rare afternoon overcast of Oro Valley, Arizona.

If you already have hummingbirds or would like to attract them, now is a good time to supplement their dwindling food supply. 

If you start a hummingbird feeding program, please continue it until spring when their natural food returns.

The recipe is simple. 4 cups of water to 1 cup plain white sugar... heat, stir, cool and fill the feeder of your choice.

Place the feeder near a window for your enjoyment. They'll usually return every 10 minutes for a drink. If you have more than one hummingbird, they appear in rotation.

Just be aware hummingbirds are notorious squabblers. They get very defensive of their food sources.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

This Costa's Hummingbird is one of three species of hummingbirds we get here. Different locations get different species. Arizona boasts of 15 different hummingbird species throughout the State.


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

Monday, December 10, 2018

American Kestrel

I like to believe this American Kestrel was proudly showing me his latest catch, but I may be wrong about that.
Rather, he seemed unimpressed and untroubled by my presence just below the roadside power line.

That's a good thing.

The zebra-tailed lizard in his mouth was past showing any emotion.

American Kestrels are commonly seen hunting from utility wires. Predictably though, they'll fly away as your car approaches. This is a female and she's ready to departure any second now.

She did. She circled around only to come back to the same spot when I passed.

You'll occasionally see these small falcons flapping against the wind over an open field. They're flying in place to watch for movement in the grass below.

American Kestrels eat grasshoppers, small mammals, and now I can say for certainty... lizards.

This zebra-tailed lizard must have been tasty throughout, all the way down to its zebra striped tail, as that's all that's left now.

One medium lizard is a generous meal for this dove-sized falcon.   

Being the smallest member of the falcon family, it serves the little falcon well to remain alert to danger. Several species of hawks, barn owls and crows prey on the American Kestrel.


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

Friday, November 30, 2018

Northern Cardinal southwest (diseased)

A Northern Cardinal (southwest) lands on a chair in our back yard. He looks to be carrying a stick in his bill. It doesn't look right though.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

There is a large growth on his lower bill and another on his right eye. He is active and agile... not seeming to be affected by whatever that is.

A quick Google search and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describe it as Avian Pox:

Two forms of avian pox exist. In the more common form, wart-like growths appear on the featherless areas of the body, such as around the eye, the base of the bill, and on the legs and feet. In the second form, plaques develop on the mucous membrane of the mouth, throat, trachea, and lungs resulting in impaired breathing and difficulty feeding.

I have no experience or knowledge of avian diseases and I can't claim this is even avian pox, but it is likely to be that condition.

To avoid spreading this disease, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology suggests cleaning you feeders regularly as noted here:

If a sick bird comes to your feeder, minimize the risk of infecting other birds by cleaning your feeder area thoroughly. If you see several sick birds, take down all your feeders for at least a week to give the birds a chance to disperse. Remember that prevention is the key to avoiding the spread of disease. Regularly clean your feeders even when there are no signs of disease.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Red-tailed Hawk (Close Encounter)

A sharply-focused and single-minded Red-tailed Hawk plunges to the ground. Something moved in the grass below and he's on it.

I imagine, if viewed from above, a mouse moving on the ground would be fairly easy to see, but catching it will take some expertise.

He's not flying now, he's dropping like a rock.
Spinning 180 degrees squares him to the target.

He halts to a brief hover, then drops into the hip-high grass.

I'm calling this bird a 'he',' but I really don't know the gender. He's a small juvenile Red-tailed Hawk... evident in his feather pattern and markings. And typically, the male red-tails are smaller than the female.

This brief 2-second event ended with his prey getting away.

He too, wasted little time getting away. But 'away' wasn't far. He flew, fast and low, past me to land atop a railroading relic of the Ozaukee Interurban Trail in Mequon.

Surprisingly, this was a very approachable bird.

As I walked slowly and quietly to the next pole, he paid me little to no attention. He barely looked in my direction. His focus was on mice.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The Ozaukee Interurban is a multi-use trail for hikers, bikers and other non-motorized people like dog walkers. This may account for his lack of skittishness and acceptance of me.

Here he's diving on a mouse he managed to capture 30 feet in front of me.

One little mouse was just a snack for this growing youngster.  But it was his mouse, so he carefully scanned the sky checking for any others who would steal it.

He gulped it down in a blink.

To get an eye level Close-Encounters-of-the-Red-tailed-Kind is a rare treat. He even gave me this
10-foot, fly-by parting shot as an acknowledgment... I wasn't disturbing him.

I was delighted to be so trusted.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cedar Waxwings

If you also are 'easily entertained,' I would suggest visiting a park, open grassland, a forest edge or even a brushy garden to catch the out-migration happenings of the Cedar Waxwings.

Thousands of these sleek, svelte birds are leaving their breeding grounds in Canada and gorging on the abundance of berries along the route south. 

They are not particularly skittish, but an ounce of patience is important. Binoculars will help, too.

If you see one, you may see a dozen. They travel in groups as they're social birds.

The adults are escorting their first-year young and showing them where food can be found along the way. 

Cedar Waxwings are primarily fruit eaters. In addition to the fruits people eat, they also feast on juniper, ash, dogwood and honeysuckle berries.

You gotta go where the berries grow. Sometimes that's sideways, but no matter... this works!

A backyard flowering crabapple tree provides this juvenile sugary energy for the migration.

As fast as the tree relinquishes its fruit, they gobble them down whole.

The yellow-tipped tail and red-tipped secondary feather of the Cedar Waxwing are unique to waxwings.

There are three species of waxwings. The other two are the Bohemian Waxwing and the Japanese Waxwing of eastern Asia.

They all wear a bandit-like mask.

Not much is free in life, but bird entertainment is.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Great Blue Heron Fishing

Elegant, yet a touch prehistoric. 

A Great Blue Heron lifts off a log to search for a better fishing spot.

Common to fresh water and salt water marshes alike, they prefer to hunt alone.

 Although he'll eat almost anything including mammals, grasshoppers and amphibians, fishing is where you'll most likely find a Great Blue Heron.

Fishing fills his days, followed by grooming, resting and roosting in trees.

Hunting the shallow waters at the edges of lakes, streams or ponds, the Great Blue Heron either grasps its prey or spears it through and through with a dagger sharp bill. The headfirst lunge throws him off balance, but a few quick backbeats of six foot wings pull him upright again.

Speared through the belly, the fight is out of this northern pike. The long thin fish will slide down smoothly.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A little 'panfish snack' is plucked from the Greenfield Park Lagoon as sunshine frames the capture. This is early morning theater for the early morning crowd. This happens daily near nearly everyone. Search out a Great Blue Heron where you live. They are widespread and common throughout North America. 


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Raptors captivate people. And the Osprey is a premier attention getting raptor.

Common throughout North America, Ospreys live near water, allowing for great first-time raptor watching.

Size matters.

I suggest it's an imposing presence that makes the Osprey so interesting.

They prefer tall structures, whether natural or manmade, for their nests. Humans, thankfully, have provided the Osprey with thousands of towers, poles and buoys across America for their personal use.

It's a fair compensation for nearly wiping them out with DDT in the 1970's.

This trio lives a centerfield lifestyle in a Thiensville, Wisconsin softball park. They call out as people pass.

Listen to their call at:

The chick shakes off early morning dew.

Seventy-foot lights tower over open spaces and the nearby Milwaukee River provides good fishing.

According to a local woman I met at the ball park, there were two chicks on this nest. But, as is often the case, one did not survive. An Osprey females doesn't lay all her eggs at one time. If food is scarce only the oldest, strongest chick survives.

Food seems to be plentiful for this pair though. Still, fratricide is a fact.

Ospreys look alike, but I'm assuming this is the male. He's bringing home some food, but it looks as if he had snacked on it beforehand.

The Osprey's territory overlaps the territory of a particularly aggressive Eastern Kingbird, who'd routinely harass him whenever he passed.

You have to hand it to the kingbird for attempting a feather pluck.  He's grossly out matched, yet, ready to teach a lesson to an ill-informed Osprey.

Whether he won the battle and lost the war is an open question.

He did make the Osprey loop around rather than passing directly through, so there was some victory in his fight.

Still, it'll be an ongoing battle.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Seeing a bird with a nearly six-foot wingspan in your local ballpark is a special event. It's free for all who wish to partake.

That's nearby nature.


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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Purple Martins

The Purple Martins are busy this time of year. The eggs have hatched and the young are hungry.

Condominium living suits them just fine.

In the western U.S., Purple Martins nest in old woodpecker holes, but in the east they choose manmade nest boxes almost exclusively now.

This nest box is at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, Port Washington, Wisconsin.

It stands just off the parking lot. It seems to be at or near capacity.

Probably roomy at birth, now the opening accommodates only one chick comfortably... two's a squeeze.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Food deliveries are highly anticipated and thankfully frequent.

Mother Purple Martin is making this delivery. That prompts father Purple Martin to fly off for his turn. Purple Martins are year round insectivores, catching their prey on the wing.

They rarely land on the ground with the exceptions of gathering nesting material or bits of gravel to aid in grinding up insect exoskeletons.

All manner of moths and damsel flies were being devoured today.

Purple Martins are hook-billed, broad-chested swallows that fly high and hunt too far out of range for this ground-hugging photographer.

I must wait for him to return to show what he has caught.

Richly colorful in shades of purple, the Purple Martin could be a welcome addition in your back yard.*

They are common to open lands from Maine to throughout the Great Plains and Florida to Canada.


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

*Purple Martin Nest Construction Plans: