Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Love the Eye Shadow, Dahling

Our Mourning Doves love to sit on top of a feeder right outside our kitchen window. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to study their detailed markings up close.

My favorite marking? The bright blue ring around their eyes. It reminds me of the weird giant Barbie head I had when I was younger. She came with this hideous blue eye shadow that my sister and I used to cake on her eyes (and ours).

The Mourning Dove is much better at applying her, or his, eye shadow. It's this beautiful bright blue, almost turquoise, circle that brings out the rosiness of the bird's head and neck feathers. The bird has obviously gone to cosmetology school...

Linking up with Stewart and a group of other awesome bird bloggers for Wild Bird Wednesday. Check them out.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Abert's Towhee in Arizona

While not a "little" brown bird, the Abert's Towhee is still a non-descript brown bird. I came across several during my morning walks in Arizona a few weeks ago.

At first glance I thought maybe they were female cardinals but the coloring was off (note the somewhat hard to see black face). The tail also seemed a bit long (compared to a cardinal's) and they didn't have crests. Glad I snapped photos of them, it helped me ID them.

And, I must say I think that's one of the greatest things about digital cameras. You can snap photos of something to examine more closely later without worrying about the cost of film, bad exposure, etc.

Back to these interesting birds...Abert's Towhees are primarily found in a very small geographic range in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. In fact, it has the smallest distribution of any bird in America! Small populations can also be found in southwestern Utah and in parts of southern California and the Baja Peninsula.

The bird's population has battled with loss of habitat but several citings listed them as beginning to colonize in the Phoenix suburbs, which is exactly where I found these six birds: North Scottsdale on a small, private golf course.

Like other towhees, they tend to scratch around on the ground stirring up insects - their primary diet:

The Abert's Towhee is non-migratory and stays on its territory with its mate all year round. Nesting begins in late March and they raise two broods during the season.

You know what a group of towhees is called? A "Tangle" or "Teapot!"

Monday, March 11, 2013

Snow Globe Cardinal

Female cardinals are so subtly striking. Everyone raves about the bright red males, but for my money the gorgeous markings of the females outshine the less intricately colored red males.

This female was hanging out on our stone wall during last Tuesday's snowstorm.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Tiny Verdin

While I'm away in Chicago, here's a post from a recent trip to N. Scottsdale, Ariz:

This tiny little Verdin typically darts quickly amidst the desert sage plants and mesquite trees it is fond of. Its movements remind me of gnatcatchers. They're incredibly quick, continually darting around in shrubs, and their small size (only a little over 4"!) can make them somewhat difficult to photograph.

Found throughout the southwestern U.S. states and Mexico, the Verdin is the only North American member of the penduline-tit family (Remizidae), which are found throughout Eurasia and Africa. Most members of the family build incredibly complex hanging nests from spiderwebs, but the Verdin does not. It chooses instead to harvest thorny branches, readily available in its arid habitat, and builds a domed nest in a shrub.

And, it doesn't just build nests for breeding. It's one of the few birds that builds a roosting nest. Temperature ranges in the desert are extreme and the small roosting nests are well insulated to help the birds stay warm during the winter months.

The Verdin's beak is thinner than a typical tit's, and is used to pry bugs out of thin crevices in trees and flowers. Typical of other tits, the Verdin has a tendency to hunt upside down along tree limbs. Verdins also consume nectar. It'll visit hummingbird feeders and loves fresh-cut oranges. During the spring desert bloom, Verdins are often spotted sipping nectar from cactus flowers (I'd love to see that!).

The distinguishing russet shoulder patch isn't visible in this photo, but a good photo showing this can be found in a wonderful Sonoran birds post by Jeff Cooper.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Barred on My Birthday

A smash on my home office window made me cautiously peer out through the blinds. There, down below outside was Dean making a bunch of weird arm movements and pointing east. He'd thrown a snowball up to my window to get my attention.

After a few minutes of charades I realized he wasn't having spasms but was pointing to something in our ash trees.

The Barred Owl has returned and is actively hunting in our yard today. What an awesome birthday gift! The day just keeps getting better and better!

We've had the owl in our yard off and on since last summer when its strange calls (owls do more than hoot!) would send shivers down our spines late at night around the campfire.

A few months ago, it started showing up in our yard in the late evening and early morning, and within the last two weeks it has been roosting in our spruce trees and our big white pine:

Today's the first time I've seen it actually hunting in the middle of the day. We have plenty of prey around for it, with all our bird feeding stations (mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits) so it should be getting enough food. We're guessing it's a young owl who has just staked out its new territory. How lucky are we!

It seems to have learned we don't pose a threat to it, and in fact probably gives us props for chasing off the crows that mob it periodically. The crows will fly in and start a ruckus, the owl will twitch open its eyes, Dean heads out the door and yells at the crows, they leave and the owl goes back to sleep. 

In today's snow the owl is nearly invisible once it's landed in our trees with its brown and white markings. The vision of it swooping low across the snowy yard is just stunning. Will have to try to snap an in-flight photo. Such a treat to watch an amazing bird...