Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Vesper Sparrow

The Vesper Sparrow population has been in decline in the Eastern U.S. due to habitat loss. It is still common in the West however.

It prefers meadows, prairies, and fields. It is most easily seen along dirt back country roads. 

The Vesper Sparrow forages on the ground looking for insects and seeds. It will eat beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars and moths. Seeds are of weeds and grasses. 

This photo was taken in San Rafael Valley east of Patagonia.

Vesper Sparrow

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Vermillion Flycatcher

The Vermillion Flycatcher is a stunningly beautiful bird. Although it's range is limited in the US to Southern Arizona and Southwest Texas, it is fairly easily seen due to its bright red color. 

It prefers streamsides in arid country, savanna, ranches and riparian areas. It usually perches on leafless tree branches over streams (like a Phoebe) or on wires/fences near open grassy areas where there would be plenty of beetles, flies, wasps, and grasshoppers.

In looking through my photos for this post, I realized that I didn't have a good photo of a male Vermillion Flycatcher on a Wire. So, I included a male which was perched on a rail.

Female Vermillion Flycatcher
Male Vermillion Flycatcher

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

Friday, October 21, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Tropical Kingbird

The Tropical Kingbird is widespread throughout the American Tropics rarely coming into the US and primarily Southern Arizona when it does so. Unlike the other Kingbirds (Western, Cassin's, Thick-Billed) they are generally solitary and avoid large flocks.

It usually perches on wires and fences sallying out to capture insects in flight. It will also hover and drop to the ground to pick up insects.

Tropical Kingbird

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Swainson's Hawk

The Swainson's Hawk is a Western United States raptor whose population unfortunately is in decline.  It can easily be mistaken for a Red Tailed Hawk, especially in its juvenile stages. Like the Red Tailed it uses telephone poles as perches, but unlike Red Tails, it prefers insects to rodents, snakes, and other birds (though it will occasionally take those animals, especially in the early summer). It hunts from its perch, by soaring over grasslands, and by running around on the ground.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Scissor Tailed Flycatcher

Many flycatchers like wires too. It provides them with visibility and a perch to "snatch" insects that fly by. They'll sit on telephone wires, but also fence posts and barbed wires.

The Scissor Tailed Flycatcher is no exception. The STF prefers open country such as ranches, farms, or desert grasslands with scattered trees. It's range is essentially Texas in the summer and the tropics in the winter with occasional reaches into Southern Arizona during those summer months. It can be more easily found along the road where there are telephone poles/lines and fences. 

Scissor Tailed Flycatcher on Fence Post

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Red Tailed Hawk

Raptors in particular love telephone poles. They provided great visibility, a perch for taking off after a  "meal," and a stand for creating a nest.

Southern Arizona has some great raptor corridors. Sulphur Springs Valley south of Willcox; along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac; and Santa Cruz Flats west of Picacho Peak are three major areas in Southern Arizona. It is not unusual to find over 100 raptors in any of these three locations at certain times of the year.

Red Tailed Hawks are the most common hawk throughout much of North America. I remember reading somewhere years ago that if you see a hawk, there is a 90% chance it is a Red Tailed Hawk. I don't know if that is statistically true, but certainly it is the most abundant raptor.

The Red Tailed Hawk is also the most variable in plumage. As such, you don't always recognize it immediately as a Red Tailed. The plumage is especially variable west of the Mississippi where it could be near black to nearly white -- and all shades in between. As an adult the distinguishing characteristic is the "red" -- more like "orange" tail. However, in juvenile stages the tail is much lighter complicating identification further.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Prairie Falcon

Another beautiful raptor is the Prairie Falcon.

Like the Peregrine Falcon the Prairie Falcon was also decimated by pesticides during the mid 1900's. Unlike the faster Peregrine Falcon, the Prairie Falcon pursues smaller prey by flying close to the ground. It likes small birds and mammals.  It's habitat preference is plains and flat scrub desert.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon