Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Orioles


Hooded Oriole in Sycamore Canyon 3-23-10

With the arrival of spring migration has begun and we are seeing all sorts of new arrivals.  Some of the brightest birds are the male orioles.  I have seen Scotts and Hooded Orioles so far this week, both in my yard and in the surrounding desert and neighborhoods.


The male Hooded Oriole is distinguished by his bright orange-yellow body, orange hood, black back and face mask with a thin, pointy black beak and white lesser coverts on his wings. 



Orioles are actually members of the blackbird family, called the icterids, and they are insect and nectar feeding birds. for this reason one must be very careful in the use of pesticides when these birds are around. As you can see, Orioles will come to your hummingbird feeders.  There are also special oriole feeders you can buy.  they love fruit and you can attract them by putting out sliced oranges or other fruit.  Some people even put out jar lids filled with grape jelly.



Male Scott’s Oriole 3-23-10

This male Scott’s Oriole showed up the same day as the Hooded Oriole.  the cold and rainy weather drove it to a high energy food source-suet.  However, I have seen this oriole and others drinking nectar from our native flowers as well as the flowering bushes we have all planted in our yards. The day before this picture was taken I saw a Scott’s Oriole feeding from the blossoms in my Cape Honeysuckle bushes.



Notice the bright yellow belly, black head and face and black back of this species. Also note the white wing patches.


Scott’s Oriole

Scott’s Oriole Sightings for Sycamore Canyon
Location: Date:
Vermillion Sunset Dr. 3-16-08
Sycamore Canyon Neighborhood 3-24-10
Sienna Bluffs Trail 3-24-10

 DSC_0088 Hooded Oriole


The female of these oriole species are very similar in coloring and shape. They can be very difficult to tell apart. Add in our third species of oriole, the Bullock’s, and it gets even more complicated.  The bullock’s Oriole is orange and black with large  white patches on its wings.  It has an orange face with a black crown and a black line running through its eye from its beak.  I have not seen one yet this year but I am sure we will be seeing them soon!

Hooded Oriole Sightings Sycamore Canyon
Location: Date:
Sycamore Canyon Wash 4-15-2008
Vermillion Sunset Dr. 4-12-09

Bird sightings tables are generated with information from eBird an online resource administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This information is taken form data I have submitted to eBird as a Citizen Scientist since moving here in 2007. Anyone can participate.  Click on the link to learn how.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Costa’s Hummingbird

1. Costa's at feeder

Immature Male Costa’s Hummingbird at my backyard feeder 9-30-2008

Costa’s Hummingbirds are one of our most unique birds to be seen here in Sycamore Canyon. I have documented their presence here year round. The males are unmistakable with their purple “helmets,” those iridescent feathers that go from their throats up over the tops of their heads. Costa’s are one of only two helmeted hummingbirds to be seen here in the USA. The other helmeted hummingbird is the Anna’s which has a rose-red gorget and a much plumper body. It can also be found here in Sycamore Canyon.  The male Costa’s purple gorget is separated from the back of the head by a white patch.  Note also that the feathers go past the neck like streamers.

 2. male costas

Male Costa’s Hummingbird in Sycamore Canyon 8-9-2009

While the males are much easier to distinguish from one another, the female can be much more difficult. In many hummingbird species the females look so much alike that it is difficult for even a professional to distinguish them in the field, but here are a few helpful clues:

Female Costa’s hummingbirds are shiny green above with gray bellies. They have a light grayish cheek patch, a short, slightly down-curved bill and they constantly pump their tail while hovering like Black-chinned hummingbirds. However, the Black Chin’s tail is much longer and the body is sleeker than the Costa’s. While Costa’s are here year round, the Black Chin is most likely to be seen in late summer and early fall.


3. Female costa's

Female Costa’s hummingbird in Sycamore Canyon 8-17-2008

February to March is the breeding season for Costa's hummingbirds in our area. Sometimes you will hear the males whirring feathers as he goes into his display flight. The male flies 75 feet high into the air and dives down in an arc where his spread tail feathers produce the sound you hear. For the first time ever I observed a male doing his shuttle dance in front of a female in my back yard. The female perched on a low tendril of my blue passion vine while the male hovered in front of her shuttling from side to side to gain her favor. I do not know if they ever mated and I have yet to find a nest here in Sycamore Canyon but I know they are out there! The clutch size is usually 2 eggs and the incubation period is from 15 to 18 days. The nesting period is from 20 to 23 days according to Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds.


4. immature costa's

Immature male Costa’s Hummingbird 8-10-2009

  • Here is what I do know:
  • Costa’s hummingbirds are here year round.
  • They like to perch on a horizontal twig with few obstructions but some cover.
  • They are subordinate to all other hummingbirds.
  • Thrashers and roadrunners will eat hummingbirds, so do not put suet or seed near your hummingbird feeders!
  • To attract hummingbirds to your yard, you can put up hummingbird feeders or plant hummingbird friendly plants such as penstemmon, chuparosa, honeysuckle, salvia, and other tubular flowers.
  • Hummingbirds like native Velvet Mesquite trees.
  • If you want to attract hummingbirds to you yard, DO NOT USE PESTICIDES! Hummingbirds eat tiny insects and spiders and use spider web to construct their nests. The use of pesticides can poison these and other birds and lizards that live here in Sycamore Canyon.


5. Costa's feeding

Male Costa’s Hummingbird with 3 females at my feeder 1-22-10


Costa’s Hummingbird first sighted in Sycamore Canyon on 10-2-2007