The pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus) is closely related to  and resembles the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Striking birds in their own right, pyrrhuloxia males are not the overall brilliant red of their cousins, but rather have a red crest, face, tail and a reddish stripe running down its brest. The remainder of the male pyrrhuloxia’s plumage is grey. Females are more buffy than the males and lack most of the red. Both sexes have a long crest, long tail and thick, yellow bill.

Pyrrhuloxia are non-migratory residents of the hot deserts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico.

Pyrrhuloxia feed on seeds on or near the ground. They also will take fruits, insects and the nectar and pollen of saguaro. Although pyrrhuloxia get most of their water requirement from their food, they will drink water when it is available.

Pygmy owls, greater roadrunners and cats, both domestic and feral, are enemies of pyrrhuloxia.

This female pyrrhuloxia was photographed in mesquite brush behind Casa Paloma 2 in Green Valley AZ.

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Meadow Goldenrod

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Meadow goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) grows from long creeping rhizomes, often carpeting meadows and other open spaces with yellow in the late summer and autumn. Goldenrod is a sign that my favorite season is upon us. Except for a few Southern … Continue reading

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Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

The great spangled fritillary is found in Southwestern Canada and most of the United States except the Deep South. This butterfly prefers open woods and meadows.

On the upper side, the male great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) is orange with rows of black spots and bars. Near the body the wings are suffused with black. The underwings are pale with brown-black markings and silver spots. Females are more tawny on the upper side than males. The caterpillar is velvety black with six rows of branching red-orange and black spines.

Adult great spangled fritillaries feed on the nectar of a variety of plants. Additional moisture and nutrients come from dung. Caterpillars (larvae) feed on the leaves of violets or other members of Viola.

In late summer the adult great spangled fritillary female lays eggs singly on violet leaves. If the violets are withered and blown away the female can smell the violet roots and lays her eggs nearby. Soon after hatching, the caterpillar, without eating, goes into a state of diapause (halted development) and overwinters. Early the following spring the caterpillar feeds at night and hides during the day away from its violet leaf food source. In its chrysalis the great spangled fritillary is suspended by the tip of its abdomen. Adults are long-lived and can survive for months.

This great spangled fritillary was photographed on the River Trail near the Middle Falls on the McCloud River (Shasta County CA).

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Chickadee Communication

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

“The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman, posits that birds are much more intelligent than we usually assume, rivaling primates and even humans in some forms of intelligence. The book contains research and examples of how birds use their “genius” in unique and technical ways. Fascinating!

Chris Templeton, TM Freeberg and JR Lucas, among others, studied the calls of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). In addition to passing along information about their location and food sources, chickadees communicate threat, both the type of predator and the magnitude of its threat.

When a chickadee makes a high-pitched, soft “si-si-si” it indicates that there is a predator, such as a sharp-shinned hawk or shrike, on the wing. A stationary, perched predator elicits the familiar “chick-a-dee-dee” call. The number of “dees” at the end of the call indicates the size of the predator, hence the threat. More “dees” mean a smaller, more dangerous predator while fewer “dees” warn of a larger nearby bird.

Why is a larger bird such as a great-horned owl less dangerous than a small predator, a pygmy owl for example? The smaller predator is more agile and can maneuver more easily amid the tree branches and is thus a greater menace.

Soard and Ritchison studied the alarm calls of the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  and demonstrated the same pattern of using “dees” to indicate the magnitude of the threat. They suggest that other chickadees, including the pictured mountain chickadee,  probably communicate danger in the same manner.

This mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) was photographed near the Lower Ash Creek Campground (Lassen County CA).

Perhaps “bird brain” is not an insult after all.


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Sad Ending

Hungry Chick

Hungry Chick

A pair of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)  had a nest on our back porch and successfully fledged four chicks in June. (See 2016 Barn Swallow Fledgling 06-27-16).  They, or another pair, built a second nest under the eaves of the back porch. All four eggs hatched.

A heat wave arrived soon after the chicks were born. Afternoon temperatures soared over 100° and it was much hotter under the porch eaves. The parents often sat on the edge of the nest panting. I noticed that the parents fed the chicks less often and the chicks were lethargic. Then I found one chick under the nest. It was alive but not developed enough to have fallen out itself. Leonard placed the chick back in the nest and soon it was on the porch again. After several days the parents disappeared. Checking the nest we found three dead chicks.

Either the extreme heat killed the chicks or the parents were unable, because of the heat, to adequately feed their brood – or both.

The picture was taken through my kitchen window (Lookout CA) of a parent feeding one of the doomed chicks.

Not all stories in nature have a happy ending.

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Yellowleaf Iris

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Yellowleaf iris (Iris chrysophylla) is a native perennial found in the Cascade Range, Siskiyou Mountains and Klamath Mountains of California and Oregon. Its habitat is open coniferous forests. Growing from rhizomes, yellowleaf iris has a flower stem with one or … Continue reading

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Red-shouldered Hawk

This gallery contains 3 photos.

There are five subspecies of red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) – four Eastern and one West Coast form. These forest raptors are found in the eastern United States, southeastern Canada and the nrtheastern portion of Mexico. The western populations inhabit portions … Continue reading

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