Friday, October 1, 2010

Mystery Birds

Loggerhead Shrike (Wikimedia Commons)

A few Sundays ago, my husband and I got to see a Loggerhead Shrike (top) in our yard several times. It is amazing that he is a full-time Texas resident and I have never seen one before or since. Populations are declining in part of the state due to insecticide use killing off most of the grasshoppers. We had a bumper crop of grasshoppers this year where I live so I don't understand why I didn't see more of them. They also eat other insects, lizards, small mammals, and frogs. We have all of those readily available here in the country north of Stanton, Texas. These birds have to impale their prey on a barbed wire fence or other sharp object because their feet are too weak to hold their catch.

Above is a picture of a European Starling in winter plumage. These birds have been a mystery to me for a few weeks now. I thought they were closer to Starlings than any other bird but I have never seen their winter plumage--only solid black ones. They have a lot of purple and green iridescence in their winter coats. Beautiful! One of the sexes has a lighter-colored head. There are many more pictures here that show this winter oddity.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Female Blue Grosbeak

My husband and I identified a female Blue Grosbeak a couple of days ago. I had seen her several times before but could not get a good enough look at her to clearly identify her. She has continued to visit our water source and I hope I get to see her husband before they migrate south. They spend the summer here, but I have not seen the male.

They eat mostly insects, but also some seeds and fruit so my feeders offer a little that they might be interested in.

The picture is from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Water and Wind!

When I lived in the city, I always provided a bowl of water when I fed the birds. That worked fine. Now that I live in the country, I have discovered that the best way to attract lots of wild birds in the summertime is to have abundant water. At first, I tried offering a basin of water and some did come to it, but not as many as you might think. By accident, I let it run over a few times and it filled ruts in the nearby road. That did it! Birds came from everywhere! I counted nine Bullock's Orioles taking a bath all at one time. Once, I had 5 Pyrrholuxia all at once. They bathe and drink and drink and bathe. Even the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Kindbirds and Mockingbirds come frequently to bathe and drink.

The water also attracted a few critters. The park where I live is sort of a sanctuary for wildlife. We have a resident Jack Rabbit that is one of the biggest I have seen. He has come to drink and so have little bunnies and the prettiest (blonde, almost white) spotted ground squirrel I have ever seen came to the water once. Unfortunately, the water also attracts the unwanted--a rattlesnake came to the puddles just outside our fence last Saturday.

We used to see only an occasional quail. When the water is spraying and flowing into the ruts, the whole covey comes to drink--chicks and adults together. We have had coveys of both Bob White and Scaled Quail regularly come to the water.

Night before last, a covey of Scaled Quail came to our yard. I counted 9 or 10 little chicks. Their heads were not fully feathered and they were so cute and fuzzy. They came right up to our steps so I got a good look. They were about the size of the little juvenile male Golden Fronted Woodpecker that comes to my yard daily. 

Another thing I have discovered is that, when the wind blows, the birds that mostly fly to get where they are going don't move around much. The doves, the hummer, the House Sparrows and a few Finches will brave it but the colorful birds pretty much limit their moving around during the windiest times.

(photos from Wikimedia)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Swainson's Hawks Here Today!

This picture of a Swainson's Hawk is from FlickR (Wikimedia Commons) and, judging from its size relationship to the fence post it is standing on, it seems less than half as big as the pair that came to my yard today.

About 7 to 10 days ago, one of these birds landed just outside the chain link fence in my yard. I was so flabbergasted at its size that I could not remain calm enough to start making a positive I.D. One of my dogs started raising such a ruckus that the bird immediately flew. Because it was so large, I thought it might even be an eagle.

Just now, a pair of these birds landed in the dirt road just past my fence. I am still overwhelmed at their size. My books say that the female, which is larger than the male, is 20 to 22 inches long, but I thought she looked bigger than that. These are definitely the largest birds that take flight that I have ever met in person. They may look especially large because their legs are long so they stand tall. The wingspan is 4-1/4 feet. 

Because I offer large puddles of fresh water (and a basin too, but they prefer the mud puddles), I always have a lot of birds here. There were Mockingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White Wing Doves, Eurasian Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Grackles, Finches, Bullock's Orioles, Lark Sparrows, Western Kingbirds, and a Curve-Billed Thrasher all jockeying for places in the water just before the two hawks landed.

I didn't see one of them catch it, but there was definitely a small bird in its talons and it began eating it while still in my yard.

Below are two more views (Wikimedia, Megan McCarty) but they do not show how huge these birds are. (I started worrying about my little Shih Tzu, who was outside under the porch.) Swainson's Hawks eat rodents, snakes, small birds, and insects.

I could hear the call they made and it was a familiar sound that I had heard in Western movies a number of times over the years, a very distant-sounding "Keeeaar."

I hate that one of my regulars had to be breakfast, but the hawks have to survive too. I never know if my feeding and making water available makes an unlevel playing field, but I do know that with our 100- to 104-degree temps, some would heat stroke and die without the water.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lark Buntings Return?

We had flocks of Lark Buntings and they were one of the most frequent visitors to my feed sources until the weather warmed up. During the summer, they completely disappeared until today. I just saw a male in our yard.

I couldn't find a good picture. The male is mostly black with white wing patches and a large blue-gray bill. The female is brown with a heavily streaked chest. She has a very mottled appearance (as do some of the males).

A Lark Bunting today, a Western Meadowlark yesterday. Something is changing the makeup of my bird population again. Anyway, I am thrilled to have these two birds starting to come back so I can enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Birds Showering Here This Morning

It is cloudy and a little cooler here this morning than it has been. I have the water hose running and there is a fine mist plus some puddles around. The favorite is a tire track that is a few inches deep. It is full of water and has been like a magnet this morning for the thirsty birdies!

I was amazed to see the first Rufous Crowned Sparrow I have seen out here in the Permian Basin Desert. As always the picture ( doesn't do it justice. That little rusty-colored cap is quite vivid and it is very easy to tell it is not a House Sparrow.

By chance, I looked up to see a Meadowlark fledgling this morning. The Western Meadowlarks are plentiful where I live during cold weather but, though my bird books say they don't migrate, they all disappeared when warm weather came. Glad to see one again. They are so beautiful.
The chance for a bath has appealed the most to a male Pyrrholuxia who has been in the water here repeatedly today. He makes the most noise and splashes more when he is bathing than any of the others. He obviously enjoys it!

My regulars, also showing up this morning for a drink, include my Canyon Towhee, Cactus Wren, White-winged Doves, Eurasian Ring-necked Doves, House Sparrows, House Finches, Lark Sparrows, Brown Headed Cowbirds, Curve Bill Thrashers, Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, Western Kingbirds, and Bullock's Orioles.

I love my life here in the country watching these beautiful birds!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lark Sparrow

I have seen a Lark Sparrow at a distance several times, but one came to my yard for a few-minutes stay this morning. (Photo is courtesy of credit: The beautiful (quail-like) markings on its head, and its slightly bigger size, distinguish it from the House Sparrows here.

Lark Sparrows breed in Texas in the summertime. I have a variety of food and there is water. I didn't see this bird eat anything but I don't know how long it was here before I saw it. It eats seeds and insects. I hope it will visit again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Rescued Baby Barn Owl

The best place for any baby bird is with its parents. Chances of survival go down drastically when people have to intervene...and sometimes it is done unnecessarily. This is the time of year when baby birds are on the ground. They are supposed to be. They learn to fly and to feed from the ground. If they have their feathers and are not injured and they try to flutter away, they probably don't need help and their parents are probably nearby.

This little guy was not so lucky. The wonderful people here at the camp where I live found this beautiful baby and it seemed to be orphaned. A dead adult had been found a few days ago. After waiting and watching, it was determined that he was indeed not receiving care and attention from an adult owl.

I called Bebe McCasland in Big Spring. She came with her bullet-proof gloves and secured the owl so that it could be taken to safety. I think it had been 24 hours or so without food.

Thank goodness for licensed wildlife experts. This baby is now at the South Plains Wildlife Rehab Center in Lubbock, Texas. He will live there and learn the way of the owls from his surrogate parents until he can be released into the wild.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Scaled Quail

Two of these gorgeous Scaled Quails came near our yard this evening. We had seen one on the other side of the park where we live about a month ago. They are sometimes called "Cottontops" because of their little white topknots. Their numbers are decreasing due to habitat destruction. They are more common in the dry, desert areas such as the Permian Basin than the Bobwhite Quail.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bewick's Wren

The picture above is a Bewick's Wren. One came to our yard last night. It is a precious, interesting, cute, and very tiny bird (5-1/2 inches). It looks a little like a miniature Cactus Wren. The photo is from Wikimedia Commons. I looked for a photo that shows the bird with its mouth open because that is what I saw. It never shut up and it flicked its tail in a prissy manner the whole time it was here. This little bird is here in the Permian Basin year-round. Since insects make up 97% of its diet, and seeds only about 3%, I may not see it often at my feeder.

The picture on the left is a Great Crested Flycatcher. It has been to the yard several times briefly and I had not been able to identify it until now. In retrospect, I believe I have seen this bird in the trees several times and mistook it for a Western Kingbird because of the yellow belly. It is about 9 inches in length and has a very proud, regal appearance. It breeds here in the summer. It eats insects and fruit. I didn't see it feed while it was here, but it has come into the yard on three different days so something is attracting it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Morning Red Eye!

The Bronzed Cowbird is distinguishable from the Brown-headed Cowbird by his red eye and prominent neck ruff. He also has very bluish-green wings and is a pleasure to see. He has been feeding in the yard off and on this morning.

The yard is full of birds this morning after our rain, hail, and tornado watches yesterday and last night. A number of fledglings are begging to be fed, though they seem to be pretty good at eating independently when they have to.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Canyon Towhee

I have been trying to identify this bird for about a week now. At first I thought it was a Say's Phoebe. It is about that size and overall color but it differs in that it has a rusty cap and undertail. It also has a necklace of dark spots on its chest.

It lives in the Permian Basin all year long and may mate for life. I believe I have seen a female too but need another look to be sure.

A male and two female Bullock's Orioles were in the yard this morning. Such an electric orange!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Another Viewing Day with Cousin Carol

Cousin Carol came over Friday, May 7, and we sat in our perfect viewing spot and watched the kaleidoscope of birds for about 5-1/2 hours or so.We saw: male and female Lark Buntings, White-Crowned Sparrows, Eurasian Collared Doves, Say's Phoebe, White-Winged Doves, female Brown-headed Cowbird, male and female House Finch, European Starlings, male and female Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Western Kingbirds, Cactus Wren, and a hawk of some kind.

Carol identified two additional birds: A yellow male House Finch (diet causes the variant) and a female Black-headed Grosbeak (top). They are evidently migrating through here on the way to Mexico/South America.The male was here for about five days but didn't show up on Friday. The males show up here in the spring before the females.

Tom and I had a visit from a female and three young Yellow-Headed Blackbirds yesterday (right). They were in the Mesquite tree early this morning but did not come into the yard to feed with the other birds. They stay in Texas for the summer, but maybe they are migrating to a different locale in Texas because we only saw the males for one day and have not seen them again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Red-Winged Blackbird

I put up a thistle sock a week or so ago, thinking the House Finches would enjoy it. Just now, a Red-winged Blackbird was feeding on it. The Woodpeckers, Orioles, and Grosbeaks, both male and female, come frequently to the feeders.

I just looked up to see a beautiful little bird, maybe a Finch of some sort, kind of chartreuse colored. I haven't identified it yet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My beautiful Orioles, Woodpecker, and Grosbeaks

The Bullock's Oriole has frequented the apple I put in the yard for the birds. Yesterday a female (see picture) appeared and she has been back this morning. She is not quite as pale as the picture shows.

There were two Black-headed Grosbeaks here at the same time this morning. They have taken up residence in the Mesquite tree just outside the fenced part of my yard. It looks like they plan to stay, at least a while. They have come to the feeders frequently during the day since they first showed up.

All of the birds love the apples I am putting out (except for the doves). The Golden-Fronted Woodpecker comes at least once or twice daily.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bullock's Oriole

This beauty came to the yard this morning. At first I thought it was another Grosbeak, but it has more vivid orange coloring and a more definite white stripe on the wing. The Bullock's Oriole also has orange above the eye and a black stripe through the eye.

The Bullock's Oriole breeds here during the summer. It enjoyed a bite or two of the apple we put out before it flew away. The Black-Headed Grosbeak and the Golden-Fronted Woodpecker have both been here this morning, several times.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Black-Headed Grosbeak

I can't find a good picture that I can show. You can follow the link to to see this beauty. He is much more vivid than the picture shows. His orange is very bright and his black is very dark.

He has spent the day in our yard, eating seed and sharing an apple with our Golden-Fronted Woodpecker. He spends his winter south of us and is headed north for the breeding season. Thrilled to have him!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Birdwatching Day with Carol

Yesterday my cousin, Carol, came around 10 a.m. Since we both love birds, we planned a day of just sitting in front of the sliding glass double-door of my RV and birdwatching. I feed the birds just outside it and we have a very clear view of them when they come in the yard.

Here are some of the birds we saw: House Finch, House Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Winged Junco, Scissor-Tailed Flycather, Curved-Bill Thrasher, Say's Phoebe, a sparrow I have not identified, European Starlings, Cactus Wren, Grackles, Hummingbird, and probably others I am forgetting.

This picture (bottom row) does not do justice to the Scissor-Tailed Flycathcer. The breast area of the two that visited us was a beautiful apricot color.

We also saw a couple of Horned Toads (second row). These prehistoric guys used to be so plentiful in Texas when we were kids and are drastically decreased in number now.

The most exciting thing we saw was two Curved-Bill Thrashers chasing a snake. The snake was moving at lightning speed. I think he knew the two Thrashers did not have friendly intentions. Anyway, he outran them.

We wished that our Aunt Patsy could have been here to watch with us. We sipped white tea during the morning and had a big salad full of all kinds of yummy veggies. It was a wonderful day.

I got a chance to go walking this morning and saw a lot of Barn Swallows (picture above is third row). Carol and I caught a glimpse of a few yesterday that flew near the yard here.

This morning, a Tufted Titmouse (top row) came to visit for about 15 to 20 seconds. I hoped it would hop down and join the other birds, but it decided not to. I thought I caught a glimpse of it yesterday while Carol was here, but I am not sure. Anyway, the picture doesn't do him justice. His colors are prettier than the picture.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beautiful Pyrrhuloxia

Two of these gorgeous guys were at my seed cake on the fence this morning.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yellow-head Blackbird

Every day is a new bird discovery here in the Texas desert (Permian Basin). I feel like I am in a bird dream. Today I looked up and there was a Yellow-Headed Blackbird feeding in my yard. He has been there most of the morning and is still there now, pecking away at the seed I put out! This picture doesn't do him justice. He is jet black.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Black Crested Titmouse

Black Crested Titmouse--another little gorgeous bird! We saw a flock of about 15 to 20 on our walk tonight...right close to our home. Gorgeous, tiny little bird.

Scaled Quail

Tom and I saw a beautiful Scaled Quail here in our desert park today. This quail lives in the southwestern desert here year-round. I've never seen one. It was gorgeous!

Like other quail, they live on the ground and run away to escape danger rather than flying.

Every day here is a wonderful new bird discovery! I love it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Texas Desert Birds--A Beautiful Visitor

The female of the Golden-Fronted Woodpecker doesn't have the red cap. She visited my yard for about an hour this morning.

The male Golden-Fronted Woodpecker has also visited my yard briefly a couple of times.

This bird lives in Texas year-round, but I never expected to see one here in the desert north of Stanton!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We do also have Ladder-backed Woodpeckers

We walked the park here night before last and did definitely see a little Ladder-backed Woodpecker. I have also had a visit from a gorgeous woodpecker, about the size of a mourning dove, with an orange neck and red head. I have not made a positive ID. I love it here!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cactus Wren

The little bird that I thought looked most like a ladder-backed woodpecker is a Cactus Wren! I'm thrilled to have finally identified it.

This morning I had another thrill. A woodpecker or flicker about the size of a Mourning Dove came walking into the yard. It had a black and white body and a brightly colored orange neck and red head. So far, no ID.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bird Lover Discovers Free Entertainment in the Permian Basin

Discovering and Watching Beautiful and Interesting Wild Birds that Live in the Texas Desert

I have discovered something new in the Permian Basin. I was unaware that such beautiful and interesting wild birds live in the Texas Desert. I have discovered Western Meadowlarks, Say’s Phoebes, Curve-billed Thrashers, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers at my new home—Circle 6 Ranch at Lenorah, Texas. This is wonderful free entertainment for a bird lover -- watching and listening to these newly discovered wild birds.

Curve-Billed Thrasher

I’ve seen Curve-billed Thrashers before because it lives in the Texas desert all year. I had not heard their beautiful song before I moved to Circle 6 Ranch.

Our Curve-billed Thrasher announces the arrival of each morning with a gorgeous song and he continues his song all day. His singing is beautiful with a nice range of notes and interesting sounds.

When I first offered food to the Curve-billed Thrasher, he (she?) hesitated a long while before deciding that it was safe to eat. I began the habit of calling out the name we gave him, “Lightnin’ Jack,” when I put out food. After the first week, he began to come to the food immediately after he heard me call. He is very possessive and chases away the Meadowlarks, Phoebes, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers that try to come near the food.

When the Curve-billed Thrasher sings from a nearby treetop, I tell him what a beautiful sound he makes. When I talk, he stops singing. When I stop talking, he starts singing. I have convinced myself that he enjoys the interchange as much as I do.

Say’s Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe is a beautiful bird that I had never heard of until I moved to Circle 6 Ranch. It also has a pleasing song but without the variety of notes that the Curve-billed Thrasher’s song offers. Say’s Phoebe has a brownish-gray upper body and a cinnamon-colored belly.

Something about the head of the Say’s Phoebe gives it a cute “baby bird” appearance, regardless of its age.

These songbirds often come right up our porch steps to the sliding glass door and I get to see them up close. They sing incessantly as they search the ground for insects.

I don’t know if I will see these songbirds all year. Our part of the Texas desert is on the very edge of their year-round habitat.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlarks are gorgeous and have a pleasant singing voice! They have a bright lemon-yellow breast with a beautiful black V marking.

A number of Western Meadowlarks come regularly to eat the food I offer (when Lightnin’ Jack is not guarding too closely). Their cautious behavior is entertaining. They walk up to the food. Look at it. Then they walk around it, stretching their necks to the maximum length. Then they examine the food again, stretch the neck again, and so on. As soon as they decide to grab a morsel, they escape quickly as if being chased by a predator.

I have learned from “All About Birds” that these lemon-colored songbirds live and breed in the Texas desert year-round. Male Meadowlarks often have two wives which is fortunate since the female does all the work of raising the young.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Laura Erickson, Science Editor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has been trying to help confirm the identity of this wild bird.

The bird that visits my yard looks exactly like a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker. However Cornell’s website, “All About Birds,” describes the color as black and white. My bird is sable brown and white. I did see it cling to the side of a tree like a woodpecker, but it spends most of its time foraging on the ground in my yard.

Whatever this bird is, it is beautiful. It has such an unusual (to me) speckled-egg appearance on its body and it is amusing to watch because it has an air of self importance.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers live in deserts and are native to my area, though I had never seen one until I moved to Circle 6 Ranch.


I have seen the Killdeer in other areas of Texas, usually near water. I did not know that they were in the Permian Basin desert. According to “All About Birds,” Killdeer “is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds.”

This bird entertains with its alternating comical walking, then running, then stopping to look, then walking again.

Killdeer calls vary. There is a call to express aggression, one for alarm, and a different flight call. Sometimes the call sounds like someone saying “killdeer” in a shrill manner.

I have not seen this wild bird take any of the soaked dry dog food fare that I offer and hasn’t come to my yard as frequently as the Meadowlarks, Phoebes, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and Thrashers.

Barn Owl

Every night during the approximate 75 days we have lived at Circle 6 Ranch, I have heard the call of a barn owl—“who? Who? Who?” Last evening, at dusk, I had the thrill of seeing a pair of them together. Their heart-shaped snow-white faces make them stunning!

Thanks to my precious sister-in-law, I had the pleasure of reading Wesley the Barn Owl, the story of a Barn Owl that was raised and loved by a woman for 19 years, until he died. From the book, I learned that Barn Owls mate for life. When a Barn owl’s mate dies, it turns its face to a wall and wills itself to die.

This pair of Barn Owls lives in an abandoned house behind us.

Lucky Me!

Here at Circle 6 Ranch at Lenorah, Texas, I am enjoying wild birds I didn’t know existed in the Permian Basin. We have the birds I watched in nearby Midland—American Robins, White-winged Doves, Mourning Doves, House Finches, European Starlings, and Curve-billed Thrashers. However, it is great to find something new in the Texas desert-- a population of beautiful and interesting birds that includes Western Meadowlarks, Say’s Phoebes, Barn Owls, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and Killdeers. Watching these lovely wild birds and being serenaded by them while I research and write articles is my favorite past-time. This free entertainment that nature provides me makes me say to myself, “Lucky Me!”


No author given. Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

No author given. Say’s Phoebe.

No author given. Western Meadowlark.

No author given. Barn Owl.

No author given. Killdeer.