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.