Monday, January 22, 2018


It's not all peace and love in this Arizona winter garden. The decreasing blossoms are coveted by a steadily increasing number of hungry hummingbirds.

The remaining flowers are violently fought over, all be it on a minute scale.

For such a tiny bird, hummingbirds have an oversized appetite for fighting.

They will even take on a bird a hundred times their size. This Cooper's Hawk gets an escort while only passing through this Anna's Hummingbird's territory.

There isn't a hint of hawk anxiety or thoughts of changing course. The hummingbird's nerve is commendable.

Confronting intruders with your head on fire is this Costa's preferred offense. Most times it works. They are colorful, quick and oh so agile.

If flowers are worth fighting over and that seems to be so, the hummingbirds have staked out their claim on this garden.

It likely to get harder and harder to defend though, as winter in Arizona marches on.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mexican Jay

A Mexican Jay is a familiar sight in the trees around the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona.

Mexican Jays are big, bold and colorful.
And quite accommodating to visitors, also.

They glide from tree to tree only to be rudely rousted for no apparent reason.

Squabbling between members of this social group of Mexican Jays seems to be the norm. Depending on the individual, one is either the aggressor or the frequently displaced.

Mexican Jays arrived and departed continually. I'm guessing there were fifteen birds at any one time around multiple feeding stations at the lodge.

The lodge owner sets out bird seed for the enjoyment of the gift shop guests.

Between visits to the feeders a Mexican Jay rests, perhaps a time to think.

The colorful blue birds are year round residents and so, brighten the January landscape of this mountain community.

For their part, they do a pretty good job of entertaining visitors while maintaining a watchfulness for their own sake.


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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Northern Cardinal (southwest)

Cloudy, gloomy, drizzly days are a rarity in Arizona, but today was one. I found some Northern Cardinals earlier this week when the skies were bluer and brighter. This Northern Cardinal (southwest) obliged me with a few good pictures opportunities.

A female Northern Cardinal (southwest) politely posed for me, too, as if she actually cared I was there.

The 'southwest' Northern Cardinal is not as colorful as the eastern variety, but still a stand-out in a multi-colored bird world.

A black mask and taller crest gives the Northern Cardinal (southwest) a dramatic look.

These two provided a much needed bright spot to a gloomy day. 


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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Black-tailed & Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A Black-tailed Gnatcatcher snags an insect from a Palo Verde tree. These agile and active desert dwellers flit between branches in virtual non-stop motion.

Ants, caterpillars and spiders are a few of their diet preferences. They glean the thicket and tangles for most any insect their size.

A Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is only five inches long from tip to tail and weighs the equivalent of a nickel.

This one's in non-breeding winter plumage.

A close relative to the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is sporting his more colorful breeding plumage.

This photo is from my files. I found him in the Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, WI in May 2013.

Gnatcatchers are feisty little birds, aggressive enough to face-down birds twice their size.

Their nests can be parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. But, if caught in the act, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher will run off the much larger cowbird.

It's all about food and where to find it.

If you have a bug in your bill already, you can afford to pause and look at someone taking your picture.

It will be over quickly.


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

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