Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rose-breasted Grosbeak



Look!

Up in the sky!

A Red-breasted Grosbeak putting on the Superman pose.

This ounce and a half bird with an outsized attitude and a striking red breast can be found in the Eastern half of the United States along forest edges and woodlots.




These three adult males appear to be traveling together on a warm spring day through the Lion's Den Nature Preserve in Grafton, Wisconsin.

To get to North America they likely flew across the Gulf of Mexico in one single night all the way from Central or South America.

That's pretty Super... man!


Both males and females have a whistling, sweet song. Check out the music they make on Cornell University's website:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Rose-breasted_Grosbeak/sounds



The aim of all the singing is to impress a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

She sings the same sweet song, but has arrived here in a far less showy fashion as is typical for female birds.

I found her hiding deep inside a tree full of spring pear blossoms and wary of my intentions.
female





Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are medium sized, stocky songbirds slightly smaller than the American Robin. They're widespread and common, yet, I'm surprised as to how few I get to see while birding. Grosbeaks are just one bird that seems to elude me.




'Super' or not, he is one distinguished bird.

With a bird feeder full of sunflower seeds and raw peanuts you may entice the Rose-breasted Grosbeak to visit you. The caveat being you must live in the eastern half of the United States.

Allan

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted, Eastern)

A Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted) spreads its wings and shows you why he deserves his name.

We're at the Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Town of Grafton, Wisconsin, USA.

Another distinguishing feature of this male Northern Flicker is the black malar (stripe) on his cheek.


It's spring and the male's all consuming drive is to attract a female.

Looking spectacular in not enough, though. Finding a nesting site to offer the female is essential.




A preferred location would be 6-13 feet above the ground with a 3 inch opening. Last year's hole might be fine if it's available. But if she wants a NEW home, chiseling another hole will take some work.

Being woodpeckers, that task is possible.

A dead or decaying tree is chosen. The spongy wood fibers give way to repeated pecks. The pair will share this task of making a 13-16 inch deep cavity in the tree. It will be a little wider near the bottom to accommodate incubation and room for 5-8 hatchlings.

This place looks nice!

The male calls the female to inspect it.







The female Northern Flicker checks it out.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)



She finds one thing she didn't like and tosses it to the wind.

Finding the perfect location to raise the next generation takes careful consideration... is the site too visible... too low, too high... accessible to squirrels, crows or other predators.



Later that morning I watched a European Starling enter the cavity, possibly looking for a meal.
It left within seconds.

Given that European Starlings eat just about anything, including trash, an unguarded egg would likely go missing.



I revisited this site several times to see if the flickers were building a nest. I found no continuing activity. That leads me to believe they've turned down this location.

I'm assuming they are searching elsewhere for a more suitable home to raise this year's brood.

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













Sunday, May 13, 2018

Orchard Oriole





You can't choose which birds you'll see on any given day. It's not up to you.

But if you have an option on an Orchard Oriole, don't pass it up.

These are beautiful birds.



Orchard Orioles are a rare treat. They are not here in Wisconsin for that long.

The Baltimore Orioles are more common and colorful, but the Orchard Oriole still shines in shades of satin black and burnished russet.

The female Orchard Oriole is a standout beauty bird, too.

They mainly eat insects so there is little you can do to entice them to your locale. Still, in fall when the insects disappear, mulberries and chokecherries will attract them.

You might get an Orchard Oriole at your hummingbird feed, whether you like it or not. They have a real 'sweet tooth'. 

They are not social birds, yet rather  agreeable to sharing territory with other birds at nesting time.

Being smaller than the others orioles they may have adapted to being congenial, not so much by choice... rather by necessity.


Look and listen for them singing in the treetops.

There are many smartphone apps you can download for free, so you'll recognize their song when you hear it.

You don't have much time though. Orchard Orioles are one of the first birds to leave in summer. They will be back in Central America all too soon for the winter.

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





Thursday, May 10, 2018

Warbler Watching


Today would be a good day for warbler watching.

The emerging leaves are tiny, enhancing your chances of seeing these cute little birds. This Wilson's Warbler was at eye level and willing to be photographed in his fresh breeding finery.

Wilson's Warblers are common throughout the continental United States and Canada. Look for them gleaning insects from the new twigs and leaves.



Another common and easily recognized warbler is the Yellow-rumped Warbler.

You may be lucky and see one at your feeder if you put out raisins, sunflower seed, suet or peanut butter.

But with the hatch of fresh insects rising from the weeds right now, your offerings may be a second choice.


The Black and White Warbler is another stand-out warbler. 

Striped as a 'jailbird', this bouncy little warbler is usually found hopping up and down tree trunks.  He's searching for insects and invertebrates.

Black and White Warblers lead the warbler migration northward each year.

They're in Wisconsin now.


An Ovenbird scratches the leaf litter in search of food.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds:
Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.





The Palm Warbler is another May warbler... widespread... easy to find with a bit of trying.

Binoculars make birding far more enjoyable. 

Birds seem to fly away when you're just close enough to distinguish their features. That's the frustrating part of birding.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)



Yellow is a popular color in warblers. This one is simply called the Yellow Warbler.

There're more than 50 species of warblers in America. If you wonder why all these colorful birds aren't in your neighborhood, your location may not be 'bird friendly'.

Or, it could be you never got close enough to see what's there. Binoculars will help, but there is nothing more important than an awareness of their existence.

Allan

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Common Raven



To call the Common Raven 'common' sounds rather dismissive to this gleaming black bird.

Common Ravens are widespread over the Northern Hemisphere from Mexico, the western United States, all of Canada and Alaska, and continuing into Russia.

A huge exception to the Common Ravens' range are the Great Plains States and most of the south. 




They are large birds, half-again the size of crows, highly intelligent and adapted to living alongside humans.

They are both graceful in flight and playfully acrobatic. One Common Raven was reported to have flown upside down for a half mile*.

(picture intentionally inverted)

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Males and females look alike.

This pair is nesting under a noisy and well used bridge in Oro Valley, Arizona. A pair nested here last year, too, but I'm not sure this is that same couple.

An assortment of large sticks and vegetation resting atop industrial plumbing forms their six foot nest.

One of the pair, I'm assuming the female, flushed as I passed under the bridge surprising both of us, but thankfully allowing for a picture.


She circled once beneath the bridge, perhaps to evaluate my intentions, before departing with a sharp verbal croak.

The fact that she was 'on the nest' and not 'building the nest' leads me to believe she may be sitting on eggs.

That is important bird work.
I left her alone.



Like the female, the male raven, if I have their sexes straight, wasn't all that thrilled with my presence either.

Using a street light for a perch, he projected a Poe-envoking posture that wasn't hard to read.



I must have been slow in my retreat though.

The female returned to escort me out from beneath the bridge, loudly croaking a second message to leave and return...
Nevermore!*

Allan
Credits:
*https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/overview
*https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven

Saturday, April 21, 2018

White-winged Dove



I never really got what Stevie Nicks was singing about in her 80's hit song, 'Just Like the White-winged Dove,' although it gave the dove's name recognition one hell of a boost.

The song certainly went unnoticed by the bird,
but it grew to an annoying earworm for me.


The White-winged Dove's range in the USA is limited, albeit expanding. They are common in the states which border Mexico.

Tens of thousands of White-winged Doves are shot each year, notably in Texas, as sporting targets.


A slightly larger bird than the more widespread Mourning Dove, the White-winged Dove has adapted to humans and mingles with other seed eating birds at your backyard feeder.

As a vegetarian, seeds and grains make up most of the dove's diet.  A few small stones are also ingested to aid the gizzard in grinding up those tough main courses.

Bright red eyes against soft blue set off this finely feathered brown bird.



White crescents outline the wings and give the White-winged Dove its name.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)


They're increasing in numbers, against many challenges.

Having a 'hit' song has no practical value for the ground foraging White-winged Dove. Keeping your cat indoors would be a big help though.

Allan

Credits: 
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Texas Parks and Wildlife Management
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edge_of_Seventeen






Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Northern Pygmy-Owl




Your mental image of an owl may be a big strong shy stocky bird... the stealthy hunter in the night.

That is true, but that's not the role a Northern Pygmy-Owl plays. Northern Pygmy-Owls don't look like fierce predators, rather a small round headed ball of feathers with an in-your-face attitude.

They're more like, "You go away. I was here first."



These diurnal hunters perch proudly in the open, often getting mobbed by other birds when discovered.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl hunts mainly other birds, often taking sparrows, hummingbirds and chickadees. Small mammals, insects and lizards are part of this owl's diet, too.

It's a bird-eat-bird world out there in the woods. So, in turn, Northern Pygmy-Owls are hunted by larger owls.



As a defensive measure they seem to have 'eyes' in the back of their head. Two black spots mimicking eyes provide a degree of doubt in any attacker's mind.

Northern Pygmy-Owls live in mountainous areas ranging from Central America all the way to southern Alaska. That's where to look, if you're so inclined.

You won't have to search in the dark. Other birds will even help you find one. Listen for jays, nuthatches, wrens, warblers and many other birds mobbing the Northern Pygmy-Owl giving you its location.

That's a rather bold thing to do because, when caught off guard, all these 'mobbers' are food to the Northern Pygmy-Owl.

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