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.

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