Though he’s called the Arizona woodpecker this brown-and-white bird is slightly misnamed. Most of his range is in Mexico.
He’s one of nine Picoides woodpeckers found in North America, each with its own special habitat. Some of them are familiar and wide ranging. Others have such specific needs that you must travel to see them.
Here’s how they’ve divided up the continent. At least one of them lives near you.
Downy woodpecker: found in most of North America in open woodlands and along streams.
Hairy: found in most of North America in mature woodlands.
Ladder-backed: in desert and desert scrub among cactus in the Southwest.
In my imagination these birds are huge — the size of crows — but they’re really only as big as American robins. Their bulky necks, long tails and upright posture make them look big in photographs. The male’s red breast and deep voice add to the illusion.
Elegant trogons range from southeastern Arizona through Mexico to Costa Rica where they live in deciduous forests and nest in natural cavities in sycamores or unused woodpecker holes. They leave Arizona for the winter(*) but are still present in July … which is why I’m here.
If I’m lucky enough to see this Life Bird I’ll let you know if he “shrank” to his normal size. 😉
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original)
(*) I heard yesterday that because of warmer winters at least one pair of elegant trogons now stays in the area year-round.
p.s. On July 31 in Huachuca Canyon I saw four elegant trogons. Wow!
When I tell people I’m going to Arizona in July I’m sure they wonder, “Are you nuts?”
Today I’m on my way to the Southwest Wings Festival, July 29 to August 1 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. It’s one of the top 10 birding festivals in the U.S. and happens to be in one of the cooler places in the state.
“Cooler” in two ways: cool birds and cooler temperatures than Phoenix.
The festival is held in the mountains of southeastern Arizona where it never gets as hot as Phoenix. The arrow shows where it is.
The birds at this location are definitely cool. The area is the northernmost range of many Central American mountain species and the only place in the U.S. where you can find them including 15 species of hummingbirds, the elegant trogon, the Arizona woodpecker, yellow-eyed juncoes and much, much more.
Many of the best birds are migratory so the festival is held in late July during southeastern Arizona’s “second spring” — the monsoon season. I’m looking forward to a lot of new Life Birds and getting reacquainted with birds I saw the last time I was in Arizona in 1997.
Am I crazy? Well, I’m the only one in the house who’s crazy enough to go to Minnesota in the winter and Arizona in the summer. My non-birder husband is wisely staying home. 😉
We normally see butterflies visiting flowers but they also flit from leaf to leaf.
Adult butterflies are on a mission to reproduce. Yes, they sip flower nectar along the way, but the males are looking for females and the females are looking for host plants on which to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will eat the host leaves and grow into ever-larger caterpillars.
Butterflies taste with their feet, so when the female is ready to lay an egg she flits from leaf to leaf landing on each one to taste it. Standing there she asks herself, “Does this taste good?” If so, she lays an egg.
This flower is blooming everywhere right now but we never notice it. Its beauty is tiny and the plant is a weed so we pass it by.
Galinsoga or Quickweed is an annual in the Aster family with small daisy-like flowers with five notched petals. The leaves are opposite and toothed in a jumbled mass below the long, branching flower stems that give the plant a messy “leggy” appearance, 6-18 inches high.
Look closely and you’ll see the leaves and stems are both hairy. But no one looks closely unless they want to eat it (yes it’s edible).
Here’s what we typically see when walk past Galinsoga on the street.
Once you start looking, Quickweed is everywhere: growing in the sidewalk cracks, sprouting in gardens, covering an abandoned lot where its density makes it pretty. Local gardeners call it “Pittsburgh Pest.”
It earned the name Quickweed or Raceweed because it produces seed rapidly (7,500 seeds per plant per year) and has many generations in the same season.
These owls need wide open spaces but are not picky about humans nearby. They’ll happily dig or take over an existing burrow in remote locations as well as parks, vacant lots, pastures and campuses (Florida Atlantic University). So yes, that video in Florida with people in the background was taken in the wild.
Burrowing owls eat insects, rodents, snakes and whatever they can catch, but they are small so they are wary. They look cute when they stand tall but they’re actually watching for large raptors and mammals that might eat them.
How small are they? The video above shows a research project last summer at Boise State University in which the students learn to hold, measure and band the owls. What a privilege to learn about burrowing owls up close!
Don’t miss the end of the video when the owlets are released near their burrow. Yes, they really are cute.
p.s. Click here if you haven’t seen the Florida video.
(YouTube video from Boise State University, Boise, Idaho)
There’s a moth called the hummingbird clearwing moth that we sometimes mistake for a hummingbird, but did you know that a hummingbird can be mistaken for a bug?
On Saturday at the Cunkelman’s Neighborhood Nestwatch banding I found an annual cicada caught in one of the mist nets. I brought it back to the banding area and Bob Mulvihill held up a hummingbird next to it for comparison. The two are amazingly similar when held in this position.
We rarely confuse hummingbirds with bugs but Bob has seen a bug — a cicada killer — mistake a hummingbird caught in a mist net for a cicada.
Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are large, solitary wasps that feed on nectar as adults. Each female digs an underground nest with chambers where she plans to lay her eggs. Then she patrols the area looking for cicadas to collect as food for her young. When she finds one she stings it with a venom that paralyzes it, then carries the cicada back to the nest where she places it in a chamber, lays one egg on it, and seals the chamber. When the egg hatches the larva eats the paralyzed cicada. (Yes, I’ll say it. Ewwww!)
Because cicada killers are solitary, they aren’t aggressive toward humans. You have to work very hard to make one sting you and when it does the sting is reported on Wikipedia to be as harmless as a pinprick. However see the comments below for more on pain.
Bob told us the cicada killer tried to subdue the hummingbird with a sting but the venom did not affect the bird. Whew!
(comparison photo of hummingbird and cicada by Kate St. John, cicada killer wasp photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)