Natural History Notes on the Birds

Roadrunner, Kingfisher, Woodpeckers, Hummingbirds and Swifts

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About the categories

Name

Common name

Food

The main food category.

Feeding Techniques

How it acquires its food.

Habitat

What kind of area does the bird live?

Plumage

Is there similarity between the male and the female, between winter and spring, young and adult, or are there variations in the plumage amongst the species.

Distribution

Approximately where it is found in the United States.

Breeding

Unique aspects on how the species breeds.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Special notes on the status or natural history of this bird.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Selections from the Life Histories of North American Birds, edited by A. C. Bent.

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Name

Roadrunner
Lesson Plan

Food

Lizards, snakes, etc.

Feeding Techniques

Runs on the ground to hunt

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; no seasonal difference

Distribution

Southwestern states

Breeding

Nest is a platform set off the ground usually near a cactus or brush.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The following section by Bent captures the feeding behavior of the Roadrunner which is one of our most entertaining birds.

flycatcherwise - refers to the habit that flycatchers have to better hold the insects that they catch.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Sometimes, traveling in a motorcar, we come upon him perched on a fence post or telegraph pole close to the highway. Now we have opportunity to observe how slim he is, how long his legs, how noticeable his crest. But as we pass he leaps to the ground, swings off through the cactus clumps, and is gone. Once more only a glimpse! Once more only the retreat of a timid desert creature that appears to be half bird, half reptile. 

But lie in wait for the roadrunner! Watch him race across the sand, full speed, after a lizard. Watch him put out a wing, change his course, throw up his tail, change his course again, plunge headlong into a clump of cactus, and emerge, whacking his limp victim on the ground. Watch him jerk a slender snake from the grass, fling it into the air, grasp it by the head or neck, pummel it with his hard mandibles, and gulp it head first. Watch him stalk a grasshopper, slipping quietly forward, making a sudden rush with wings and tail fully spread. frightening the doomed insect into flight, then leaping 3 or 4 feet in air to snatch it flycatcherwise in his long bill. Watch the roadrunner for an hour at his daily business of catching food and you will deem him among the most amazing of all the desert's amazing creatures. Snake-killer indeed! Chaparral cock! Not by sitting quietly on fence posts, not by slipping shyly from the path, has the roadrunner earned for himself these bloodstirring names!

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Name

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Lesson Plan

Food

Caterpillars and other insects. One of the few species of birds to feed on tent caterpillars.

Feeding Techniques

Gleans food from branches of shrubs and trees.

Habitat

Woodlands, orchards, riparian groves

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found in the eastern US but can also be found in riparian woods of the southwest.

Breeding

Both sexes participate in building the nest and feeding the young.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: Unlike the European cuckoo, both of our North American species usually build their own nests and rear their own young, though they are very poor nest builders and are often careless about laying in each other's nests or the nests of other species. Major Bendire (1895) gives the following very good account of the nesting habits of the yellow-billed cuckoo:

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is one of the poorest nest builders known to me, and undoubtedly the slovenly manner in which it constructs its nest causes the contents of many to be accidentally destroyed, and this probably accounts to some extent for the many apparent irregularities in their nesting habits. The nests are shallow, frail platforms, composed of small rootlets, sticks, or twigs, few of these being over 4 or 5 inches in length, and among them a few dry leaves and bits of mosses; rags, etc., are occasionally mixed in, and the surface is lined with dry blossoms of the horse-chestnut and other flowering plants, the male aments or catkins of oaks, willows, etc., tufts of grasses, One and spruce needles, and mosses of different kinds. These materials are loosely placed on the top of the little platform, which is frequently so small that the extremities of the bird project on both sides, and there is scarcely any depression to keep the eggs from rolling out even in only a moderate windstorm, unless one of the parents sits on the nest, and it is therefore not a rare occurrence to find broken eggs lying under the trees or bushes in which the nests are placed. Some of these are so slightly built that the eggs can be readily seen through the bottom. An average nest measures about 5 inches in outer diameter by 1 1/2 inches in depth. They are rarely placed over 20 feet from the ground, generally from 4 to 8 feet upon horizontal limbs of oak, beech, gum, dogwood, hawthorn, mulberry, pine, cedar, fir, apple, orange, fig, and other trees. Thick bushes particularly such as are overrun with wild grape and other vines as well as hedgerows, especially those of osage orange are most frequently selected for nesting sites. The nests are ordinarily well concealed by the overhanging and surrounding foliage and while usually shy and timid at other times, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is generally courageous and bold in the defense of its chosen home; the bird on the nest not unfrequently will raise its feathers at right angles from the body and occasionally even fly at the intruder.

Of five Massachusetts nests, on which I have notes, the lowest was only 2 feet above the ground in some bushes, and the highest was 12 feet up in a crotch near the top of an oak sapling in a swampy thicket near a brook. Owen Durfee mentions in his notes a nest 5 feet up in a juniper on the edge of a swamp. The others were at low elevations in thickets along brooks.

A. D. DuBois has sent me his notes on five Illinois nests; one of these was on the end of a branch of an apple tree, 8 feet from the ground, near a country schoolhouse; this nest contained 3 eggs of the cuckoo and a robin's egg. Another was near the end of a branch in an osage-orange hedge, 10 feet tip; still another was in an isolated clump of willows, between a field and a pasture, 6 feet from the ground.

But cuckoos do not always nest in such low situations; there are several records of their nesting well up in elm trees. Grant Foreman (1924) tells of a pair that nested on his place in Muskogee, Okla., for one or two years, high up in an elm tree; he says: "The next year after nesting in this inaccessible place, they built their nest in a little elm tree in the parking, in a low limb overhanging the curb on an asphalt street where hundreds of automobiles were passing every day, and here in this exposed, noisy place they raised a brood of young. This year they built their nest in a little hackberry tree in the parking along the side of my lot; but here also the nest was on a low limb overhanging the curb on a paved street, and the ice wagon stopped every morning directly under this nest, which was so low down that the driver might have put his hand in it."

George Finlay Simmons (1915) mentions a nest that he found near Houston, Tex., on the horizontal limb of a young pine near the edge, of some woods. He says of it: "The nest was a slight platform about eleven feet up, through which I could see with ease; it was composed of small pine twigs, about an eighth of an inch in diameter and averaging six or eight inches Iong, and was much more concave than I had expected. This shallow saucer was neatly, though quite thinly lined with a few pine needles, a small quantity of Spanish moss and several tiny buds."

George. B. Sennett (1879) says that in the Lower Rio Grande region of Texas "ebony trees near the ranch, mesquites among cactuses, thorny bushes in open chaparral, and open woodland, were favored breeding places."

Wright and Harper (1913) found a well-made nest in Okefinokee Swamp, in a tupelo tree at the margin of the Suwannee. "It was placed in a cluster of mistletoe on a horizontal branch four feet above the water, and consisted of sticks interwoven with Spanish 'moss' (Tillandsia usneoides)."

Dr. Harry C. Oberholser (1896) gives the measurements of four nests; the average height of the nests was 4 inches, and the greatest outside diameters averaged 7.63 by 6.25 inches.

Both species of North American cuckoos often lay their eggs in each other's nests. The eggs of the yellow-billed cuckoo have been found several times in nests of the robin and catbird. H. P. Attwater (1892) writes: "In 1884 I found a Dickcissel's nest which contained five eggs and one Yellow-billed Cuckoo's egg. The next year some boys brought me three Black-throated Sparrow's eggs and one Yellow-billed Cuckoo's, from the same field, which they said they found all together in one nest." J. L. Davison (1887) says: "I also found a nest of Merula migratoria, taken possession of by Coccyzus americanus before it was finished, which was filled nearly full of rootlets; and in this condition the Robin laid one egg and the Cuckoo laid two and commenced incubation, when a Mourning Dove (Zenaidura macroura) also occupied it and laid two eggs and commenced incubation with the Cuckoo. I found both birds on the nest at the same time, when I secured nest and eggs. The eggs of the Robin and Cuckoo were slightly incubated; those of the Mourning Dove were fresh."

Bendire (1895) adds the wood thrush, cedar waxwing, and cardinal to the list of birds that have been imposed upon, and says: "Such instances appear to be much rarer, however, than those in which they interlay with each other, and the majority of these may well be due to accident, their own nest having possibly been capsized, and it compelled the bird to deposit its egg elsewhere. Such instances do occur at times with species that can not possibly be charged with parasitic tendencies." Marcia B. Clay (1929) thus describes the cuckoo's method of gathering twigs for her nest:

Flying into an adjacent apple tree containing a considerable quantity of dead material, the Cuckoo landed on a limb, selected a dead twig, and grasping it in her bill bent it back and forth until it snapped from the limb, whereupon she flew with it to her nesting-site in the next tree, arranged this twig and quickly returned for another. As she tugged at a stubborn twig, her back was arched and very long tail curved under or waved about If a twig resisted too well her attack, the bird desisted at once and tried another. Always she worked rapidly with great energy, attacking a twig as soon as she landed in the tree, never carrying more than one twig at a time, holding It squarely at right angles to her bill and flying rapidly with long tail streaming.

The Cuckoo's concentration in the work, coupled with her indifference to observers, was remarkable. Not once did she descend to the ground for material. Not once did she gather material in the tree in which her nest was located. With two exceptions the twigs were all gathered from the same tree. Working thus off and on for an hour or two at a time, the bird completed the nest. The third night the Cuckoo was sitting on the nest at dusk, but after two days she deserted.

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Name

Groove-billed Ani

Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground and in bushes

Habitat

Open country with thickets

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern most part of Texas

Breeding

Twig nest built by both sexes in tree.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This Central and South American species was added to our fauna by George B. Sennett (1879), who secured a fine male on May 19, 1878, near Lomita, Tex., while it was "flying about the low bushes in open chaparral. It was very shy, flying in and about the bushes, and was shot on the wing." The only one I have ever seen did not seem at all shy. I was sitting down, quietly watching some Texas sparrows that were hopping around on the ground near me, in some thick brush bordering a resaca near Brownsville, Tex., when one of these curious birds appeared. It seemed more curious than shy, as it moved about slowly in the bushes, looking me over; it remained in my vicinity for some time and I could have shot it easily. It is said to show a preference for thick underbrush in the vicinity of water, or for lightly wooded swamps.

In his proposed work on the birds of the Caribbean lowlands, Alexander F. Skutch devotes two long and very interesting chapters to the home life of the groove-billed ani. He has kindly placed at my disposal his unpublished manuscript and allowed me to quote freely from it. As to its haunts, he writes: "The variety of the habitat of the anis is enormous and their only restriction seems to be that they do not tolerate the forest and are never seen there. They are birds of open country but seem nearly indifferent to its type. In the inhabited districts of the humid coastal regions they are one of the most conspicuous species. Their favorite haunts are bushy pastures, orchards, the lighter second growth, and even lawns and clearings about the native huts. Marshland is as acceptable to them as a well-drained hillside, and they are numerous in such extensive stands of sawgrass as that surrounding the Toloa Lagoon in Honduras, although it is probable that they do not venture far from some outstanding hummock or ridge which supports a few low bushes in which they can roost and nest, in the semidesert regions of the interior, where their associates of the coast lands, if present at all, are as a rule rare and restricted to the moist thickets along the rivers, they are among the most numerous of birds, and live among scattered cacti and acacias as successfully as amid the rankest vegetation of the districts watered by 12 feet of rainfall in the year. In altitude they range upward to 5,000 feet, but are not nearly so numerous in the elevated districts as in the lowlands."

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Name

Belted Kingfisher
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in the air and dives into the water to grab fish

Habitat

Water areas

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. Female has a red stripe on chest

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Nest is a burrow created by both sexes in a dirt bank

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The following Bent selection points out a problem that has been around for a long time: the competition between humans and non-human animals for the same food.

In the second paragraph there is an example of anthropomorphism, which is the attributing to non-human animals, the emotions and motivation of humans. To characterize the rattle sound of the kingfisher as laughter towards a hawk that had chased it has no zoological support.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: The most serious enemies of the kingfisher are the selfish fisherman, who wants all the fish for himself and begrudges the poor bird an honest living, and the proprietor of a trout hatchery, who is unwilling to go to the trouble and expense of screening his pools to protect his fish. The former shoots every kingfisher he can with misguided satisfaction; the latter either shoots or traps any that visit his pools. A small, unbaited, steel trap is set and fastened to the top of a stake or post near the bird's favorite fishing pool; if the trap is so set that the pan is at the highest point, the bird is almost sure to alight on it and is caught. Hundreds of kingfishers are caught and killed in this way along private trout streams, or about trout hatcheries, every year.

The natural enemies of the kingfisher are of no great menace to its welfare. The Cooper's and the sharp-shinned hawks often pursue it, perhaps largely for sport; under the accounts of these two hawks, in a previous volume, will be found references to these attacks and the successful attempts of the kingfisher to escape by diving; it even seems as if the kingfisher enjoyed the sport, judged by its derisive "laughter" at the defeat of the hawk.

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Name

Green Kingfisher
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from a low hanging perch.

Habitat

Riparian woods

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southern part of Texas and Arizona

Breeding

Nests in burrow in bank

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food mentioned by Mr. Skutch (MS.) consisted of small minnows. Mr. Simmons (1925) says that this kingfisher is a "business-like little fisherman, perching atop a stick or stake in the water or on a low branch overhanging low water"; it "frequently flies back and forth over the water, hunting for small fish." It's often driven off feeding-grounds by the larger Belted Kingfisher, with which it is sometimes found."

Enemies: The first set of eggs that Mr. Skutch found failed to hatch, as they were destroyed by ants. He writes (MS.): "Opening the burrow, I found it swarming with myriads of small, amber 'fire ants,' a scourge to man and beast alike. Invading the nest, they had worried the birds until they fidgeted on their eggs and cracked them; then they had worked into the cracks and begun to eat the embryos. I had cleaned them out the previous evening, but all to no avail. The nest was completely ruined. That same morning they had attacked and killed three young woodpeckers in their nest in a dead stub standing a few paces from the kingfishers' burrow. In the humid coastal regions, ants are one of the principal enemies, if not actually the chief enemy, of nesting birds. I have found more eggs and nestlings destroyed by them than by all other known agents combined."

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Name

Elegant Trogan
Lesson Plan

Food

Fruit and insects

Feeding Techniques

Foraging and chasing insects like a flycatcher

Habitat

Southeastern Arizona wooded canyons

Plumage

Sexes have different plumage

Distribution

A few birds visit each year, and some nest in extreme southeastern part of Arizona.

Breeding

Nests in tree cavities

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: F. H. Fowler (1903) writes:

On June 9, 1892, my father and I accompanied Dr. A. K. Fisher to Garden Canyon seven miles south of the post. We reached the canyon and were riding up the narrow trail bordered with pines and live oaks, when suddenly a beautiful male trogan flew across the path just ahead of us, and perched on a live oak bush on the other side of the small stream which flows through the canyon. The Doctor tried to approach it, but the noise caused by his passage through the thick brush and over the sliding rocks on the hill side alarmed the bird, which from the first had seemed a trifle uneasy, and it was soon lost to view among the trees down the canyon.

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Name

Lewis Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, fruit

Feeding Techniques

Flycatches after insects

Habitat

Plumage

The adult male and female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

Nest is cavity in tree; usually excavated by male.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Referring to the food of Lewis's woodpecker, Major Bendire (1895) writes:

In summer its food consists mainly of insects of different kinds, such as grasshoppers, large black crickets, ants, beetles, flies, larva of different kinds, as well as of berries, like wild strawberries and raspberries, service berries and salmon berries, acorns, pine seeds, and juniper berries, while in cultivated districts cherries and other small fruits enter into its daily bill of fare. Here, when common, it may occasionally do some little damage in the orchards, but this is fully compensated by the noxious insects it destroys at the same time. In localities where grasshoppers are abundant they live on these pests almost exclusively while they last. Mr. Shelly W. Denton tells me he noticed this Woodpecker gathering numbers of May flies (Ephemera) and sticking them in crevices of pines, generally in trees in which it nested, evidently putting them away for future use, as they lasted but a few days. It is an expert flycatcher, and has an extremely keen vision, sallying forth frequently after some small insect when this is perhaps fully 100 feet from its perch.

On this latter subject, Mr. Rathbun writes to me:

Lewis's woodpecker is an expert at catching insects on the wing. When in this act, its perch is some vantage spot such as the top of a dead tree or a bare limb in the open. Here it sits motionless, except to turn its head from side to side on the lookout for its prey; and when this is seen, the bird glides from its resting place to make a capture. On one occasion for more than an hour, we watched a pair of these woodpeckers seize flying insects, and in that length of time not less than 35 were taken. Through our field glasses we kept a close watch on the birds and soon learned from their actions when an insect was sighted, thus it was easy for us to anticipate its capture, and in not a single instance was a failure made by either of the birds. Once, a light puff of air changed the course of the insect just at the time it was about to be taken, but the woodpecker made a quick turn upward at the same time, dropped its legs straight down, and neatly made the take. When busy catching insects on the wing, this bird leaves its perch by easy wing beats or a long, slow, graceful glide; then, after its prey is caught, rises in its flight and, quickly wheeling, returns to its lookout station.

But, as if not content with hunting insects after the manner of a flycatcher, sometimes this bird mingles with the swallows as they hawk over the ground. On one occasion in summer, as we came to a very open pasture, we noticed numbers of barn and cliff swallows in flight over it after insects, and in company with them was a pair of Lewis's woodpeckers. Back and forth over the meadow flew these dark birds, busy in an attempt to catch flying insects, and their actions as they flew were in marked contrast to those of the graceful swallows. Although we watched the woodpeckers for more than half an hour, throughout that time neither one alighted; and when we left the place both still coursed busily above the field.

About one-third of the food of Lewis's woodpecker consists of acorns. It shares with the California woodpecker the interesting habit of storing acorns, though its method of storing them is quite different, for it seldom, if ever, makes the neat round holes to fit the acorns, so characteristic of the other species; and its stores of acorns are never so extensive, so systematic, or so conspicuous as those of the California woodpecker. Charles W. Michael (1926) writes:

Recently we watched a Lewis Woodpecker making trips back and forth between a Kellogg oak and his home tree, a cottonwood. He was busy storing away his winter supply of acorns. Occasionally he picked a fallen acorn from the ground; more often he flew into the lesser branches of the oak, and hanging like a great black chickadee he plucked the acorn from the cup. With crow-like fiappings, his broad wings carried him back to the dead cottonwood with his prize In his bill. Alighting somewhat below the summit of his tree he would, by a series of flight jumps, come to a certain shattered stub where a fissure formed a vise. Into this he would wedge the acorn.

With the acorn held firmly In place he would set about cutting away the hull, and strong strokes of his bill would soon split away the shell and expose the kernel. But he was not satisfied in merely making the kernel accessible, he must go on with his pounding until he had broken It into several pieces, and then with a piece in his bill he would dive into the air like a gymnast, drop twenty or thirty feet and come with an upward swoop to perch on the trunk of the same tree. A few hitching movements would bring him to a deep crack that opened Into the heart of the tree. Here he would carefully poke away, for future reference, his morsel. Usually the acorn was cut into four parts, involving four such trips, and on the last trip to the vise he would take the empty hull In his bill, and with a jerk of his head, toss it into the air. An examination of the ground beneath the tree disclosed hundreds of empty acorn shells. Holding a watch on the Lewis Woodpecker, we found that he made five trips in five minutes and stored five acorns.

J. Eugene Law (1929) has published another illuminating paper on this subject, which is well worth reading; he describes in considerable detail the woodpeckers' methods in storing the meats of acorns in cracks in poles and indulges in some speculation as to the causes and purposes involved in the habit.

Herbert Brown (1902) found Lewis's woodpeckers quite destructive to pomegranates and quinces, near Tucson, Ariz. On September 30 he counted ten in the pomegranate groves; "they were mostly feeding on pomegranate fruit. They first cut a hole through the hard skin of the fruit and then extract the pulp, leaving nothing but an empty shell." Later, on October 13, he says: "Now that the pomegranate crop has been destroyed they have commenced to eat the quinces, of which there are large quantities. On the tops of some of the bushes I noticed that every quince had been eaten into, one side -of the fruit being generally eaten away."

William E. Sherwood (1927) writes:

On June 16, 1923, while collecting near Imnaha, Wallowa County, Oregon, I frightened a Lewis woodpecker from the top of a fence post where it was evidently having a feast. On top of the post it had left a fresh egg, probably its own; for it was absolutely fresh, of the right size, and unmarked. The shell had been broken into, but the contents not yet extracted.

In a knothole on the side of the post was an eggshell (of the same kind), and a snail shell which had been broken into. Wedged into the cracks of the post were several insects (some of them still alive) of the two species commonly known as "salmon flies" and "trout flies." On the ground at the foot of the post were several snail shells, a green prune (picked into), and several cherry seeds with stems attached.

Johnson A. Neff (1928) has much to say about the economic status of this woodpecker, mainly in Oregon. A few quotations from his paper will serve to show the vast amount of damage to the fruit grower that it does in sections where it is abundant, mainly in summer and fall. He says that Prof. Beal (1911) "mentions one case in Washington wherein the birds tore the paper at the corners of packed boxes of apples left in the orchard over night, picking into every apple within reach, and necessitating the repacking of every box attacked."

S. D. Hill wrote to Mr. Neff:

In some sections and seasons they will destroy carloads of fruit, especially in orchards near timber. I have known them to do 50 percent damage to a pear crop in the Peyton district on upper Rogue River." Jackson Gyger, Ashland, wrote: "In 1924 the loss on Spitz and Delicious apples was about 75 percent, on Newtowns about 15 percent; Bosc and Anion pears about 10 percent. The loss on trees near oak timber was nearly 100 percent. This season (1925) due to hunting them every day the loss was possibly 50 percent less. I bought $18.00 worth of ammunition to combat them this year. One man can not keep them out of a seven acre orchard, as they will work on one end while you are scaring them out of the other.

Mr. Neff goes on to say:

These complaints can not be over-looked, for stomach analyses show only the volume of fruit eaten, not the percentage of fruit damaged per tree, nor the real loss to the orchardist. * * *

In Oregon, although it sometimes becomes a nuisance in the small fruit plantings of various areas, it centers its destructive activities in the Rogue Valley; there it flocks in the greatest abundance. * * *

In this area there can be no question of the objectionable status of the Lewis woodpecker. If the birds would consume each fruit injured, there would be little complaint of their taking the quantity which probably would satisfy them. They are restless and energetic, however, and always attacking fresh fruit, which with one stroke of the bill is ruined for commercial use. If one allows only one bite to each fruit, some of the stomachs studied would have contained the samples of as high as two bushels of fruit In the restricted areas mentioned the Lewis woodpecker is a pest.

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Name

Acorn Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Acorns

Feeding Techniques

Stores acorns in trees

Habitat

Chaparral grassland, oak woodlands

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. Female has less red on forehead

Distribution

Pacific coast states and Arizona

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

This is an amazing account of how many acorns a group of Acorn Woodpeckers could fit on a single oak tree. Acorn Woodpeckers are colonial birds and have been known to collectively store acorns in a tree that they will share during the winter.

carpintero - referring to the Acorn Woodpecker as a carpenter.

Notes from A.C. Bent

In Tecolote Canyon, west of Santa Barbara, there is a giant sycamore which I count one of the handsomest examples of Carpintero's workmanship: an unbroken shaft, at least forty feet high and three feet across the inlaid face, covered with a "solid" mass of acorns totalling, say, some 20,000. Strawberry Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains appears to be a paradise for the California Woodpecker. Here majestic oaks (Quercus californica) alternate with still more majestic pines (Pinus ponderosa), the former for sustenance and the latter for storage, and the doughty "California" is probably the most abundant bird in the valley. The holes of the most enormous pines are methodically riddled with their acorn-carrying niches, and in some of the trees the work is carried through from base to crown. In one such tree I estimated that there were imbedded no less than 50,000 acorns.

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Name

Downy Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Gleans insects from branches in addition to drilling in trees for insects

Habitat

Young forests, parks

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. Male has red crown and female does not

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

An interesting account that suggests that different species may work together to form stronger protection by being together, than by being on their own.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Writing of the habits of these woodpeckers in the sandhills of North Carolina, Milton P. Skinner (1928) says:

They are seen at times with Chickadees, red-cockaded woodpeckers, Brownheaded Nuthatches, Kinglets and Juncos. And these associations seem to be actual and usual, and not temporary and accidental ones as they are between most birds of different species. The downy woodpeckers are peaceable little fellows but other birds will impose on them. I have seen a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a mob of three or four English Sparrows near Pine Bluff chasing one about. But downy was a fast flier and outflew all his tormentors each time. Their flight is undulating and typical of the woodpecker family. These woodpeckers have one trait of the Brown Creepers: they prefer to work up a tree and fly down to the base of the next one.

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Name

Hairy Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Drills for insects

Habitat

More mature forests than Downy

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. Male has red crown and female does not

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

When I consider the advantage of the Hairy Woodpecker spending time with rough-bark trees over smooth-barked trees, and I remember that it eats mostly insects, I figure that there are a lot more insects to be found in the crevices of the rough barked tree than the smooth barked tree.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The hairy woodpecker is a much shier, more retiring bird than the confiding little downy; it is also more active and noisier; it usually will not allow such close approach but will dodge around the trunk of a tree or fly away, if an intruder comes too near, bounding through the air in a series of graceful dips and rebounds. Rex Brasher (1926) followed one for four hours that alighted "on two hundred and eighteen different trees, an average of nearly one a minute! The longest time he remained on one tree was seven minutes. This was a dead chestnut with most of the bark still adhering. By far the larger proportion of the trees were old chestnuts, and under their loosely attached covering he found most successful hunting. Rough-bark species were preferred: chestnuts, oaks, old maples and hickories, about in the order named. Smooth-barked ones received little notice."

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Name

Northern Flicker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Sometimes feeds on the ground to get ants; also drills trees for insects

Habitat

Diverse habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. Female does not have a red "moustache"

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The courtship of the flicker is a lively and spectacular performance, noisy, full of action, and often ludicrous, as three or more birds of both sexes indulge in their comical dancing, nodding, bowing, and swaying motions, or chase each other around the trunk or through the branches of a tree. From the time of Audubon to the present day, many observers have noted and described the curious antics of this star performer. But I prefer to quote first from some extensive notes recently contributed by Francis H. Allen, as follows: "The courtship of the flicker is an elaborate and somewhat puzzling performance. Two birds face each other on the branch of a tree or cling side by side, though at a little distance apart, on the trunk, and spread their tails and jerk their heads about in a sort of weaving motion, frequently uttering a note that is peculiar to this performance, a wick-up or weekup. The head motion is a series of backward jerks with the bill pointing up at an angle of perhaps 60 degrees and the head at the same time swinging from side to side. Sometimes a short, low wuck is uttered from time to time during the performance. These bouts occur not only between male and female, but frequently between two males or two females.

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Pileated Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Creates large holes in trees to find food

Habitat

Diverse habitat; mature forests in the Northwest, and diverse forests in the east

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. ; female does not have red on her forehead

Distribution

Eastern United States and Pacific Northwest

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Competition for nesting sites is very intense between different species. There are only so many cavities to go around as the story below demonstrates.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Audubon (1842) relates the following story, as told to him by the Rev. John Bachman: "A pair of pileated woodpeckers had a nest in an old elm tree, in a swamp, which they occupied that year; the next spring early, two blue-birds took possession of it, and there had young. Before these were half grown, the woodpeckers returned to the place, and, despite of the cries and reiterated attacks of the blue-birds, the others took the young, not very gently, as you may imagine, and carried them away to some distance. Next the nest itself was disposed of, the hole cleaned and enlarged, and there they raised a brood. The nest, it is true, was originally their own."

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Name

White-headed Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Probing the trunk of a tree

Habitat

Coniferous forests

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Pacific states

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The northern race of the white-headed woodpecker is found in the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, from Washington to Kern County, Calif., and eastward into western Idaho and western Nevada.

It is a bird of the pine and fir forests in the mountains, ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet during the breeding season, but coming down to lower levels in winter. W. L. Dawson (1923) says: "This woodpecker is essentially a pine-loving species and is, therefore, nearly confined to the slopes of the Sierras and the Transition zones of the southern ranges. Only in winter does it appear at lower levels, and then rarely beyond the pale of the yellow pine. So close is this devotion of bird to tree that the woodpecker's feathers are almost always smeared with pine pitch; and I have found eggs dotted with pitch and soiled to blackness by contact with the sitting bird."

Clarence F. Smith writes to me that he found this woodpecker very common around a camp where he was located from June 25 to July 10, 1935, in Tuolumne County, Calif., in the Transition Zone at an elevation of about 4,000 feet. The camp was at one time a lumbering mill, and there was much dead standing timber nearby. Most of the trees were Pinus ponderosa and Pinus lambertianti.

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Name

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, tree sap (See below)

Feeding Techniques

Drilling a series of small holes in selected trees, from which it obtains the sap of the tree.

Habitat

Variety of wooded habitats depending on the season

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Pacific states

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The word, well, in the section below refers to the holes that the sapsuckers typically drill in the trunks of trees so they can eat the sap that comes up from the holes. In one sense they are "sugar wells" just like "oil wells". There is debate on the percentage that sap plays in the diet of the sapsuckers.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of the red-breasted sapsucker is much like that of its close relatives in the various group. M. P. Skinner writes to me: "I have found red-breasted sapsuckers drilling on cottonwoods, willows, yellow pines, and lodgepole pines; but all the actual feeding I have seen was on willows. Mr. Michael tells me that these birds work largely on the apple trees that have been planted in various parts of the Yosemite Valley. When a sapsucker is at its wells, it takes a sip now and then, but considerable time is used in watchful guarding, or in driving away intruders or would-be robbers. In the case of such wells as I found on willow stems, I could see no established regularity in arrangement. They looked as if the bark had been irregularly scaled off. In fact, such work may be necessary to secure the inner bark; yet the birds actually took sap at such wells. One had a dozen willow stems on which it drilled and sipped in succession; each one was only a few inches from the next; and the bark of each, both above and below the wells, was worn smooth. This bird went from well to well in regular order, then back to the first well to begin again. Although sap formed the bulk of their food in August, I have seen them also searching the bark for insects during that same month."

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Name

Williamson's Sapsucker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, tree sap

Feeding Techniques

Drilling a series of small holes in selected trees, from which it obtains the sap of the tree.

Habitat

Mountainous forests

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

A very interesting account of the confusion in determining which birds are related to each other. As far as I know this is the only example found in the US of a species where the plumage difference between the male and the female are so great that they were considered different species.

This is an interesting group of people. Cassin, Baird, and Lawrence, each have at least one species of bird named after them: Cassin's Finch, Baird's Sandpiper, and Lawrence's Goldfinch.

"suspicious proximity" means that the two birds were in the same area.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Williamson's sapsucker is not only one of our most unique woodpeckers in its striking coloration, but it has an interesting history. Owing to the radical difference in appearance between the two sexes, they were for some time regarded as two distinct, species. The female was the first to be described by John Cassin (1852, p. 349), based on a specimen collected by John G. Bell in Eldorado County, Calif. Under the name black-breasted woodpecker (Melanerpes thyroideus), Cassin describes and figures (1854) the adult female as the male of the species and says of the female:

"Similar to the male, but with the colors more obscure, and the black of the breast of less extent and not so deep in shade," which is a very fair description of the immature female. The male was discovered and described and figured by Dr. Newberry (1857) under the name Picus williamsonii, based on a specimen collected by him on August 23, 1855, on the shores of Klamath Lake, Oreg. Baird, Cassin, and Lawrence (1860) give a very good description of an adult male, as the male of the species, but say "female with the chin white instead of red," which, of course, is the immature male. Thus we have the adult of each sex regarded as the male of a species, and the young bird of each sex regarded as the female of a species. With careless, or improper, sexing of specimens, such an error might easily occur, but it is remarkable that it remained so long undiscovered. Baird,Cassin, and Lawrence (1860) describe the male as Sphyrapicus williamsonii Baird, Williamson's woodpecker, and the female as Sphyrapicus thyroideus Baird, brown-headed woodpecker. J. G. Cooper (1870), in the Geological Survey of California, edited by Baird, follows the same error but calls the female the round-headed woodpecker. Even Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, in their history of North American Birds, had not discovered the error, for they use substantially the same nomenclature.

It remained for Henry W. Henshaw (1875) to discover the true relationship of the two supposed species and clear up the previous misunderstanding. He writes: "While near Fort Garland, I obtained abundant proof of the specific identity of the two birds in question; williamsonii being the male of thyroideus. Though led to suspect this, from finding the two birds in suspicious proximity, it was some time before I could procure a pair actually mated. A nest was at length discovered, excavated in the trunk of a live aspen, and both the parent birds were secured as they flew from the hole, having just entered with food for the newly hatched young."

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Name

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, tree sap

Feeding Techniques

Drilling a series of small holes in selected trees, from which it obtains the sap of the tree.

Habitat

Woodlands; mixed coniferous and deciduous trees.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Spring: It is spring in the Transition Zone when in April the yellow-bellied sapsucker passes through on the way from its winter quarters to its breeding ground in the Canadian Zone. If spring is tardy most of the trees may be leafless, but many of them have blossomed, and the sap is running.

At this season the sapsucker is light-hearted and jaunty compared to the sober, quiet bird that visited us the autumn before. The breeding season is near at hand, and if two birds meet they often engage in a sort of game, a precursory courtship, wherein one bird flies at the other in a playful attack; the other eludes the rush of the oncoming bird by a sudden, last-minute retreat: winding around the branch on which it rests, or sliding off into the air. In these pursuits in and out among the branches we are impressed by the agility and grace of the birds and by the easy way they direct their course through the air. They do not appear to impel themselves by strength of wing alone, but, especially in their slanting descents, they let the force of gravity pull them swiftly along, and then, by the impetus of the speed attained, glide upward to a perch. They seem to swing from branch to branch with little effort, slowly opening and closing their wings to guide them on their way. As we watch them we are reminded of trapeze artists in the circus.

But the new sap is running, and the birds quickly tap the supply by drilling into the bark of their favorite trees and drink of the sap as it flows freely from the wounds.

Every spring the birds come to a sturdy yellow birch tree on the Boston Public Garden, a species of tree with which they must be familiar on their breeding grounds in the north. The sap flows plenteously in mid-April from the many punctures that the birds make; it wets a large portion of the trunk of the tree and often drips to the ground from the branches. The birds stand clear of the tree as they feed at the sap wells with only the feet and the tip of the tail touching the bark. The tail is braced against the trunk at an angle of about 45 degrees and the feet reach far forward to grasp the bark opposite the bend of the wing. I have never seen a sapsucker crouch against this wet bark as a downy woodpecker commonly does when digging out a grub: like a cat hunched up lapping a saucer of milk. When a bird wishes to move to a point below where it is perched, it jumps from the tree and floats in the air, then turning, with its wings held out somewhat, dives bead-downward, drifting in an easy, leisurely manner as if moving under water; then, just before alighting, it rights itself. If you come too near, the sapsucker scrambles around to the rear of the limb, and if you step close up to the tree, the bird starts away in free, sweeping curves, like a skater over the ice, the white in the wing flashing out.

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Name

Red-naped Sapsucker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, tree sap

Feeding Techniques

Drilling a series of small holes in selected trees, from which it obtains the sap of the tree.

Habitat

Variety of wooded habitats depending on the season

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. ; sometimes male has more red in the nape than the female.

Distribution

Western United States, though usually not found on the Pacific states

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: John H. Flanagan (1911) witnessed a rather remarkable performance by a red-naped sapsucker, such as I had not seen recorded elsewhere. He had chopped out a nest containing two fresh eggs and was intending to leave them for a possible addition to the set, as he had done successfully before, when one of the birds, "both of which remained in sight, flew to the tree, perched a moment upon the edge of the cut hole, then went in, and shortly reappeared with one of the eggs in its beak. It flew to a nearby stub, not more than forty feet from where" he "was sitting, calmly devoured the egg and dropped the empty shell."

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Name

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Larvae of various insects and fruit.

Feeding Techniques

Forages in cacti and trees

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southwest US

Breeding

Nests in cavity in trees or cactus.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Cactus Woodpecker is an old name for Ladder-backed Woodpecker. (Dryobates S. cactophilus) is an older scientific name for Ladder-bakced Woodpecker.

The Gilded Flicker mentioned below is now considered a sub-species of the Northern Flicker.

P. pubescens is a reference to the Downy Woodpecker.

Notes from A.C. Bent

The cactus woodpecker ranges, according to the 1931 AOU Check-List, from "central western Texas through New Mexico and Arizona to extreme northeastern Lower California and southeastern California, north to extreme southern Nevada and southwestern Utah, and south to northern Durango." It frequents the deserts, or the borders of the deserts, and the lower slopes of the mountains in the Sonoran Zone, a hot, dry region where there are no trees of any size and where this is about the only species of woodpecker found. We never found it in the giant-cactus, or saguaro, region, where it seemed to be replaced by the noisy Gila woodpecker and Mearns's gilded flicker. W. Leon Dawson (1923) says:

Of course it must not be understood that the Cactus Woodpecker tries to live In the central wastes of the desert; for however much it may forage over the creosote and cholla patches, on occasion, it requires something of more ample girth for a nesting site. Hence its breeding range is confined to the more fruitful upper edges of the Lower Sonoran zone, and to the moister bottoms. In the former situation the dried stalks of the agave and the lesser yucca (whippici), or of the Joshua tree (Yucca arborescena), and the Mobave Yucca offer asylum. In the valley of the Colorado, fearing no rivalry from P. pubescens lunch, the Cactus Woodpecker is able to monopolize the willows which grow so rankly along the lagoons.

Referring to Arizona, Harry S. Swarth (1904) says: "This woodpecker is seldom seen above 5,500 feet, and rarely ventures into the canyons. On the plains below, wherever there is brush or trees, and all along the San Pedro River it is very common, as in fact, I have found it in all similar places I have visited in southern Arizona."

Swarth says elsewhere (1929):

In southeastern Arizona, east of the Santa Rita Mountains, the vast areas of prairie land are for the most part unsuitable to this species. Wherever even a scanty growth of chaparral has found a foothold, though, the Cactus Woodpecker is pretty sure to occur, for it does not require large trees. Along the streams and washes in this same area, as elsewhere, it does frequent the sycamores and other larger growths, but these do not form the preferred habitat. In the lowlands west of the Santa Rita Mountains this woodpecker is in the surroundings that suit it best. It does not frequent the giant cactus (I do not believe that there is a known instance of its nesting in one), but stays nearer the ground, in cholla cactus, creosote bush, catelaw or other lowgrowing vegetation.

Nesting: Major Bendire (1895) writes:

In southern New Mexico and Arizona it nests sometimes in the flowering stems of the agave plant and also in yucca trees, and I have found it nesting on Billito Creek, Arizona, in a small dead willow sapling not over 3½ inches in diameter. The cavity was about 12 feet from the ground and 10 inches in depth, and the entrance hole a trifle over 1½ inches in diameter. This nest was found on June 8, 1872, and contained only two eggs, in which incubation was about one-half advanced; the eggs laid on fine chips. The nesting sites are placed at various distances from the ground, from 3 to 30, usually from 11 to 14 feet. Dead branches of trees or partly decayed ones seem to be preferred to live ones. * * * It nests by preference in mesquite trees, one of our hardest woods, and it must require a long time to chisel out a nesting site in one of these trees. While it is true that the heart is usually more or less decayed, the birds have first to work through an inch or two of solid wood which is almost impervious to a sharp ax.

Mrs. Florence M. Bailey (1928) says that in New Mexico the nests are "from 2 to 30 feet from the ground in holes in mesquite, screw bean, palo verde, hackberry, and China trees, willows, cottonwoods, walnuts, oaks, and other trees, telegraph poles, fence posts, and stalks of agave, yucca, and cactus."

While collecting with Frank C. Willard, in southern Arizona, we found the cactus woodpecker fairly common about Tombstone and near Fairbanks on the San Pedro River. Near the former place, one nest was 6½ feet up in a fence post; the cavity was about 10 inches deep and 31/4 inches in diameter at the bottom; another nest was in a cavity 12 inches deep in the dry stalk of a mescal about 5 feet from the ground. In the valley of the San Pedro River, we found a nest about 12 feet from the ground in a willow stub; and another nest was located in a stump of a willow beside a fence; it was only 6 feet up in the solid part of the stub, and so well concealed behind a bunch of sprouts that we had passed it many times without seeing it.

Mr. Willard (1918) says:

Along the San Pedro River the Cactus Woodpecker (Dryobates S. cactophilus) is the only one nesting at all commonly. In the lines of willows bordering the irrigation ditches and in all the small groups found along the river banks, I had quite a list of pairs whose nests I could count upon finding within certain circumscribed areas. They exhibited individual characteristics. One pair never dug its nest lower than twenty feet from the ground and usually selected a site that overhung the water, Another liked short stubs not over five or six feet tall. Another was partial to fence posts. While these selections were not invariably followed they were so usual that I always began my search by examining all the available sites of that character before looking at others and was usually successful in my first search."

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Name

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly insects (See below)

Feeding Techniques

Searches trees for insects - male may feed more often from the trunk, while the female which is smaller may feed more often on smaller branches

Habitat

Riparian woodlands - oak woodlands

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. male has red crown

Distribution

Only found in California

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of Nuttall's woodpecker is very similar to that of the downy and other small woodpeckers. Prof. F. E. L. Beal (1911) summarizes it by saying: "In its animal food the Nuttall woodpecker is beyond criticism. Practically all of the insects eaten are either pests or of no positive benefit. While some fruit is eaten, it consists largely, and perhaps entirely, of wild varieties. Probably the worst that can be said of the bird is that it helps in the distribution of poison-oak seeds."

Among the insect food, the most prominent items seem to be the larvae of the very harmful wood-boring beetles Cerambycidae and Elateridae; other beetles are eaten largely, as well as ants and other Hymenoptera, scales, plant lice and other bugs, weevils, caterpillars, spiders, flies, and millipeds.Prof. Beal (1911) says: "Two stomachs contained each between 30 and 40 box-elder bugs (Leptocoris trivittatus). These insects have a way of becoming very abundant at times and making a nuisance of themselves by invading buildings in search of winter quarters."

The vegetable food consists mainly of wild fruits, such as blackberries, elderberries, and the seeds of poison-oaks; a few acorns and some grain are occasionally eaten. Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) write: "Trees that this woodpecker foraged over were sycamore, cotton, valley oak, blue oak (most frequently), digger pine, yellow pine (rarely), and orchard trees. On June 3, 1926, one was seen feeding on cherries in an orchard near Manton."

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Name

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages by looking for insects on tree trunk

Habitat

Woodland

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Eastern states

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This showy and noisy woodpecker enjoys a wide distribution throughout much of the eastern half of the United States, except the most northern and northeastern States. Throughout much of this range, it is one of the commonest and most conspicuous of the woodpeckers. Arthur H. Howell (1932) writes: "In Florida, red-bellied woodpeckers are found chiefly in hammocks, groves, and wet bottomland timber, less commonly in the pine woods and the cypress swamps. * * * These woodpeckers are not particularly shy, and they often visit dooryards and orchards." In Texas, according to George Finlay Simmons (1925), its favorite haunts are "heavily timbered bottom lands or swampy woods; open deciduous or mixed coniferous woodlands with very large trees; heavy woods of oak and elm along river and creek bottoms; shade trees and dead trees in town." Major Bendire (1895) says: "Throughout the northern portions of its range it prefers deciduous or mixed forests to coniferous, but in the south it is apparently as common in the flat, low pine woods as in the oak hammocks. Newly cleared lands in which numbers of girdled trees still remain standing are favorite resorts for this as well as other species."

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Name

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, fruit, seeds, berries

Feeding Techniques

Gleans prey items from the trunks of tree, and the branches, and sometimes feeds on the ground

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. but male has red crown

Distribution

Primarily found in Texas

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: In general habits and behavior, the golden-fronted woodpecker is much like the red-bellied woodpecker, to which it is closely related; and it reminded me also of our more familiar red headed woodpecker. It is a lively, active, noisy bird, being much in evidence wherever it is found. It loves to perch for many minutes in the dead top of some tall tree or on some telegraph or telephone pole, where it can obtain a good outlook. Mr. Burros says: "During the fall and winter they may be found traveling about from place to place in pairs, and are easily located by the call note, which somewhat resembles that of the red-bellied woodpecker, the habits of the two birds being in many respects quite similar. In the spring, when nesting, they become very noisy, and when approached, utter their alarm note with great vigor. I have never known this species to drum on a dead limb, as most of the other woodpeckers do. When searching for food they may be seen very diligently at work near the base of old trees, among the thick bushes, or even on the ground."

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Gila Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages on tree trunks and cacti

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage. but male has red crown

Distribution

Southeast Arizona

Breeding

Nest is in tree cavity, excavated by both sexes

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The Gila woodpecker is not only the most abundant woodpecker, in fact one of the most abundant birds, in the region it inhabits, but it is more conspicuous, noisier, and more active than any of its neighbors. It is always much in evidence, always protesting the intrusion of a stranger, and shows the greatest concern when its nest is approached, especially if it has young. It is a close sitter and will often remain in the nest hole to peck viciously at an investigating hand; while the nest is being robbed, it flits nervously about, scolding vociferously with all the vile epithets it can muster. As to its behavior with other species, Mr. Gilman (1915) writes:

This woodpecker has not the best disposition in the world, for he is very quarrelsome and intolerant he fights his own kin and all the neighbors that he dares. He, or she, is a great bluffer however and when "called", frequently side-steps, subsides, or backs out entirely. I saw one approach a Bendire Thrasher that was eating, and suddenly pounce on him. He had the thrasher down and I was thinking of offering my friendly services as a board of arbitration, when the under bird crawled from beneath and soon gave the woodpecker the thrashing of his career. Several times I have seen the woodpeckers start to attack Bendire and Palmer thrashers, but they were always bluffed or beaten at the game. With the Bronzed Cowbirds it is a drawn battle, sometimes one and then the other backing down. Most other birds, such as Cardinals, Abert Towhees, Dwarf Cowbirds and Cactus Wrens do not attempt to assert their rights, but always take a rear seat. But when it is woodpecker versus woodpecker it seems not to be a case of "Thrice armed is he who hath his quarrel just", but rather, "Four times he who gets his blow in first".

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Name

Red-headed Woodpecker
Lesson Plan

Food

Omnivorous

Feeding Techniques

Varies on the food being eaten

Habitat

Open forested country

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Most of the US, except Pacific States

Breeding

Nests in cavity in old tree.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: The red-headed woodpecker has some bad habits, which have at times caused considerable damage to property, arousing the enmity of those who have suffered from its depredations and resulting in the destruction of large numbers of these birds. Raids on cultivated fruits have given these woodpeckers a bad name and many have been killed by fruit growers. Audubon (1842) asserts that as many as "a hundred have been shot upon a single cherry tree in one day. Pears, peaches, apples, figs, mulberries, and even peas, are thus attacked."

They do considerable damage to pole lines by excavating their nests in them. An editorial in The Osprey (vol. 1, p. 147) quotes, as follows, from an article in the Kansas City Star:

The little red-headed woodpecker has become such a nuisance on the electric lines of the metropolitan street railway system, that it has become necessary to appoint an official woodpecker exterminator. The title has been conferred on Coffee Rice, an Independence young man, and yesterday he killed nineteen of the destructive birds on the Independence line. The woodpeckers attack the large poles which hold up the feed cables and dig holes into the center and downward to a depth of more than a foot. * * * The result is that in a season the water gets into the heart of the pole and it rots off and breaks, requiring a new pole to be set up; whereas, ordinarily, the life of the big pole Is several years. A large number of the electric line poles have been ruined this way, and there was a threatened loss of many thousand dollars unless the pest was checked.

Red-headed woodpeckers seem to be oftener killed on highways by speeding automobiles than any other species, as attested by several observers. Dr. Dayton Stoner (1932) made some observations on this point on an automobile trip, on July 15, 1924, for a distance of 211 miles on well-graveled roads in Iowa. He says:

En route, 105 dead animals representing fifteen species were counted; of these, thirty-nine were red-headed woodpeckers. The mortality in this species was higher than for any other species of vertebrate animal noted and I believe that several contributory factors are responsible for It. First, these birds have a propensity for feeding upon insects and waste grain in and along the roads; second, they delay taking wing before the approaching car, in all probability being poor judges of its speed; and third, they have a slow "get-away," that is, they can not quickly gain sufficient speed to escape the oncoming car. However, I feel certain that a speed as high as thirty-five to forty miles an hour is necessary in order to overtake these birds.

Alexander Wilson (1832) writes:

Notwithstanding the care which this bird, in common with the rest of its genus, takes to place its young beyond the reach of enemies, within the hollows of trees, yet there is one deadly foe, against whose depredations neither the height of the tree nor the depth of the cavity, is the least security. This is the black snake (Coluber constrictor), who frequently glides up the trunk of the tree, and, like a skulking savage, enters the woodpecker's peaceful apartment, devours the eggs or helpless young, in spite of the cries and fluttering of the parents; and, if the place be large enough, coils himself up in the spot they occupied, where he will sometimes remain for several days.

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Name

White-throated Swift
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Catches insects while flying

Habitat

Canyons, open areas, sometimes cities

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; no change with seasons

Distribution

Western US

Breeding

Nests in crevices and also buildings.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

In the mountainous regions of the far west, especially where precipitous, rocky cliffs tower above deep canyons, one may catch a glimpse of these little winged meteors darting about far overhead. It was in the Huachuca Mountains in Arizona where I first saw this marvelous swift; a mountain brook flows swiftly over its rocky bed through a steep and narrow canyon, known as "the box," so narrow that in some places one can almost touch both sides of it at once; on each side the rocky cliffs rise to a height of 100 or 200 feet, almost shutting out the light of day; and far above us we could see these swifts darting in and out of crevices in the rocks, or cleaving the sky in their rapid gyrations. Swifts are well named, for, in proportion to their size, they are the swiftest birds that fly, and this species is one of the swiftest of them all. I am tempted to quote the following appreciation from the writings of Dr. George M. Sutton (1935) : "The White-throated Swift belongs to the heavens, not to earth. Beautiful as the creature is, when seen lying among the rocks where it has fallen, or on your hand, it somehow is no longer a White-throated Swift at all. Like a fish from the deep sea that has burst in shallow water, it is only a mass of flesh already starting to decay: of feathers that so recently had pushed aside the thin atmosphere of dizzy heights; feathers that twanged and rustled as the bird shot forward a hundred yards in a twinkling; feathers that knew nothing of the shadows of forests, that knew only the shadows of clouds, the full blaze of the sun, the coolness of clean unscaled pinnacles."

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Name

Chimney Swift
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Catching insects while flying.

Habitat

Diverse

Plumage

Sexes the same

Distribution

Eastern United States

Breeding

Nests in chimney or similar structure.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

New England Swift is a older name for White-throated Swift.

Notes from A.C. Bent

When the birds appear, leisurely drifting up from the south, they often fly in great loops. They turn slowly aside from their northerly course, swinging farther and farther around until they are moving for a time toward the south, then, veering gradually, they resume their journey, but soon turn again and make another sweeping curve, each loop carrying them nearer their destination.

An hour before dark, in the lengthening evenings of early May, we often see a little gathering of New England swifts that have settled on their nesting grounds but are not occupied as yet with breeding activities, flying about in company, high over their chosen chimney, chattering together. The birds may be so high in the air that the sound of their voices barely reaches our ears. These newly arrived birds pay little attention to each other and do not approach near or chase one another as they will in June, yet they keep in a loose flock, sailing and flickering in a somewhat circular path and sometimes coast down from their high elevation, and climb up to it again. Then, as dusk deepens, at about the time the bat appears, they gather around their chimney and drop into it.

Although swifts, during their spring migration, often collect, before going to roost, in flocks of considerable numbers, they are less conspicuous at this season than during their impressive gatherings in autumn.

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Name

Anna's Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Wide variety of habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

In two respects Anna's hummingbird occupies a unique place among our hummingbirds. It is the only species the greater part of whose general range is included within a single State of the Union, and the only one that winters mainly within the United States. It is also the species most familiar to residents of California, since its territory includes all the more populous districts of the State, where it is a constant and by no means shy visitor to city parks and gardens. Anna's hummingbird seems to be in some degree nomadic in its habits, and it probably shifts slightly southward during the colder months, but it performs no true migration, thereby differing from all our other species except that portion or race of Allen's hummingbird resident on the Channel Islands of southern California.

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Name

Allen's Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Wide variety of habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Sparrow Hawk - a former name for the American Kestrel

Green-backs - is an informal name for the Allen's Hummingbird

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Henshaw (1877), with his original description of Allen's hummingbird, makes the following comparison of this species with the rufous hummingbird:

I am in possession of but few notes bearing upon the habits of this hummer. Mr. Allen remarks incidentally in a letter that the Green-backs are much the livelier and more active of the two, keeping constantly in the open, and always perching upon the most prominent dead twigs they can find. Their extreme shyness, as contrasted with the unsuspicious nature of the Rufous-backed, is quite remarkable. They seem to possess a larger share than usual of the courage and pugnacity which is so constantly displayed in birds of this family. Not only do they always come off the victors when chance encounters take place between them and the Rufous-backs, but Mr. Allen has seen a pair attack and put to rout a Red-tailed hawk; while, as he remarks, "Sparrow Hawks have no chance at all with them." He has often seen the little fellows in hot chase after these latter birds and their only care seemed to be to get out of the way as soon as possible of foes so determined.

Each male seems to claim a particular range, which he occupies for feeding and breeding purposes, and every other bird seen by him encroaching on his preserve is at once so determinedly set upon and harassed that he is only too glad to beat a hasty retreat. During their quarrels these birds keep up an incessant, sharp chirping, end a harsh, rasping buzzing with their wings, which sounds very different from the low, soft humming they make with these while feeding. Every action and motion at such times indicates that they are as mad as can be; the poor Anna Hummers have to get out of their way pretty quickly at any time, but especially when they encroach on their breeding grounds. The males very often have quarrels among themselves, and are then very noisy, while the females are more orderly and quiet; but even they have occasional little misunderstandings with each other, especially when a pair meet while feeding on the same bush ; one generally vacates the premises very quickly, and as soon as she does all becomes quiet again.

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Name

Rufous Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Wide variety of habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: A very good account of this bird's courtship is given by G. D. Sprot (1927) as follows:

In the displays I have witnessed, which have been many, a careful survey of the ground beneath the performer invariably revealed the female sitting motionless on some twig of the low-growing underbrush, and as the aerial acrobat reached the limit of his upward flight she was seen to turn her head slightly and glance admiringly aloft. The male ascended usually with his back towards his mate, then turning, faced her, and with gorget fully expanded descended swiftly until within an inch or two of her, when spreading both wings and tail he checked himself and soared aloft again to repeat the performance, or else settled on some near-by bush. As be so checked his flight the whining note was produced, undoubtedly by the rush of air through the outspread feathers.

On two occasions, in May, 1925, and May, 1926, I witnessed in connection with the above performance what I believe to he the actual mating of the birds. After one or two towering flights by the male, the female rose from her perch and the male immediately closed with her. Then over a distance of some ten or twelve feet, and horizontally, they swung together backwards and forwards through the air, just as one often sees insects so doing. The regular swinging hum of the wings is hard to describe but is just what one might expect. So fast is this swinging flight, and so close was I, not over four or five feet away in one instance, that I was totally unable to see the birds except as a blurred streak of color. As the flight ceased I saw them separate, and in one instance the female was seen to fall to the ground, but later to regain her perch, while the male continued his towering flights.

Mr. Haskin says in his notes: "Besides the diving act it has another modified performance. In this act the male 'teeters' in the air above the female who is hidden in the grass below. It is like the dive, but the arc is much shorter and flatter: a shallow curve of only 6 or 8 inches. The male in this stunt shoots forward with the tail spread and much elevated, followed by a quick backward dart, tail lowered, and twittering and buzzing to his utmost. This is repeated again and again.

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Name

Calliope Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Forests - usually on a mountain

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This tiny mite is the smallest member of the group containing the smallest North American birds. Grinnell and Storer (1924) state that "its average weight is only about 3 grams (one-tenth of an ounce) which is about half that of an Anna Hummingbird, or of a kinglet or bush-tit." The length of the male is about 2 3/4 inches and that of the female is less than 3 inches. But it is a hardy little midget and a long-distance traveler, migrating from northern British Columbia to Mexico City; it spends its summers in the Canadian zones at high altitudes in the mountains and at lower levels farther north.

Its generic name was well chosen, Stellula, little star, for the long, narrow, metallic purple feathers rise and spread, under excitement, above the snow-white background of the gorget, like a scintillating star. The choice of the specific name, calliope, was not so fortunate; Calliope was the muse of eloquence, and this is a very silent bird.

At least throughout the southern portion of its breeding range, and to some extent farther north, the calliope hummingbird is essentially a mountain species, though it breeds in the lower valleys and near sea level in some of the more northern portions of its range. Dawson (1923) says that in California:

It is essentially a mountain-loving species, and is, so far as we have been able to prove, the only breeding Hummer of the higher Sierran slopes. There is a 3000 foot record, by Stephens, of a nest in the San Bernardinos; but 4000 is the usual minimum, and 8000 a better average. In the Canadian zone, therefore, the bird knows no restrictions, save that it does not favor the densely timbered sections. In the Sierras it nests nearly up to timber line, 10,000 to 11,500 feet, and follows the advancing season to the limit of flowers. A bit of heather on a northern peak, where we camped at an elevation of 8,000 feet, yielded thirty-two species of plants in conspicuous bloom within a stone's throw of the breakfast table.

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Name

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Desert canyon

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Southern part of Arizona

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

tavachin -

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Referring to the behavior of the female in the defense of her eggless nest, an unusual occurrence among hummingbirds, Mr. Moore (MS.) writes: "lt is true that her little majesty was never real rude about it, for when I set up my camera without camouflage this bit of animated lightning betrayed no resentment, flew straight to the nest, twirled about on it two or three times, and showed no irritation because of the huge eye of the graflex. Curiously enough, the only time she really attacked was when I photographed her with moving picture camera 20 yards from the nest, as she fed from the scarlet flowers of the 'tavachin.' A formal visit to her home seemed perfectly proper, but an intrusion at the dinner hour was the epitome of rudeness. Even then the attack was only half-hearted, and chronic good nature took possession immediately, as she whirled from one brilliant flower to another.

"A male broadbill was observed feeding from the 'tavachin' and, although he several times flew within 10 feet of the nest tree, he never landed on it, nor did the female appear to object to his feeding 20 feet away across the sandy wash. The broadbill is a common bird of the region and the male bird might not have been the 'mate'. Although the males of United States hummingbirds do not make a practice of assisting about the nest, southern species often do. In Ecuador I have observed the male as well as the female violet-ear take turns incubating the same nest. Both individuals were collected to prove this habit.

"Such evidences of anger as the female exhibited were directed not so much at me as at the large blue swallowtail that insisted on appropriating the sweets from her flower garden. Several times she, as well as the male, chased it away, but they did not attempt to pursue the smaller butterflies. The flight of this bird from flower to flower is so characteristic that it can be recognized at some distance. Instead of darting straight to its object, as many hummingbirds do, Cynanthus progresses with a somewhat jerky, irregular flight. At least its short flight has an exceedingly nervous kind of movement, the tail bobbing up and down, lacking the precision of the Rivoli's undeviating course. Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1932) says: "The broad-bill seems quieter and less active than some of the species that have been described, and frequently, after aggressive flight in pursuit of some intruder, I have seen the two combatants perch four or five inches from one another for a few seconds, while with raised wings they gave a low, chattering call." He also refers to the ordinary flight as "accompanied by a subdued humming sound." The sound produced by this bird in flight, as I have heard it, is more like the shriek of a passing bullet, far from subdued.

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Name

Costa's Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Desert streams

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Southern California and Arizona

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The courtship performance of Costa's hummingbird follows the same general pattern of that of other hummingbirds, consisting of spectacular swoops, dives, and loops in the vicinity of its observing mate. James B. Dixon (1912) says that for a short time prior to the nesting season "they are quite noisy, chasing each other up, down and around through the surrounding bushes and trees." He continues:

Their note consists of a few sharp squeaks, given out more often when in very rapid flight than otherwise. During the breeding season the male has a very peculiar way of disporting himself before the female. When he locates his mate sitting on a tree, or more often on a low bush, he will ascend to an elevation of about one hundred feet and to one side of the female and will then turn and swoop down at a fearful speed, passing perhaps within a few inches of the watching female and ascending in the air to complete a half circle. This he keeps up until the female becomes impatient and endeavors to escape; then perhaps all that one will see is a streak, and a sharp squeak or two is heard as they flash up the hillside. The noise that the male makes in doing his fancy dive is easily heard at some distance and quite often heard when the bird himself is not visible on account of the extreme speed at which he travels on his downward plunge.

Mr. Woods (1927b), in comparing the performance of this hummer with that of the Anna's hummingbird, says: "The Costa's Hummingbird, instead of making a more or less abrupt turn, sweeps through a great arc to describe an immense letter U, then passes overhead to shoot downward again, either from the same direction or at a new angle. A continuous shrill whistle or miniature shriek accompanies most of the downward course and part of the upward: in other words, that part of the circuit in which the velocity is highest. This Hummingbird often ends his series of loops by darting away at high speed in an erratic, zigzagging flight."

W. L. Dawson (1923) says that the sound made by the male hummer in this flight is, he believes, "the very shrillest in the bird world, and one which is fairly terrifying in its intensity. This sound is generically like that produced by the Anna Hummer, but it is much more prolonged and more dramatic, more, in fact, like the shriek of a glancing bullet, or a bit of shrapnel."

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Name

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Lesson Plan

 

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Parks, gardens, etc.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Primarily the eastern United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

In the notes below the writer quotes Ariel who is an interesting character in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest.

The insect order diptera is made up mostly of flys. Hymenoptera is the order of wasps, bees, ants and others. Coleoptera are beetles, hemiptera are true bugs, and homoptera are cicadas, aphids, etc.

Notes from A.C. Bent

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that enters the eastern two-thirds of the United States. A minute spritelike bird, scarcely bigger than a good-sized insect, it is white below and burnished, sparkling green on the back. The adult male has a gorgeous flaming throat, which, when the sun strikes it, flashes back a deep, glowing orange or red.

Food: The hummingbird is popularly regarded solely as a sipper of nectar, as it buzzes from flower to flower; as one who might say with Ariel, "Where the bee sucks, there suck I" but when it comes down to the examination of stomach contents, it is proved that a considerable part of the bird's food consists of insects, chiefly those that come to the flower the hummingbird visits. Frederic A. Lucas (1893), after examining the contents of 29 stomachs of several species of hummingbirds, comes to the following conclusion:

It would seem to be safe to assume that the main food of Hummingbirds is small insects, mainly diptera and hymenoptera. Homoptera are usually present, and small spiders form an important article of food, while hemiptera and coleoptera are now and then found. The small size of the insects may be inferred from the fact that one stomach contained remains of not less than fifty individuals, probably more.

Most of the insects found occur in or about flowers, and my own views agree with those of Mr. Clute, that it is usually insects, and not honey, that attract Hummingbirds to flowers.

Name

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Semi-arid habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Very southern parts of Arizona and Mexico

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The Arizona blue-throated hummingbird will always be associated in my mind with Ramsey Canyon, that interesting bird paradise on the eastern slope of the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The approach to it lies across some gently sloping, grassy plains, which rise to an elevation of about 4,500 feet at the base of the mountains; from here the tail in the canyon slopes upward to a height of about 9,000 feet at the summit of the divide. Around the mouth of the canyon an open parklike grove of large black-jack oaks furnishes a congenial home for a number of noisy and conspicuous Arizona jays. The lower and wider portion of the canyon, along the bed of the stream, is heavily wooded with giant picturesque sycamores and various oaks, maples, ashes, walnuts, alders, and locusts; while on the drier slopes are dense thickets of scrubby oaks and various thorny bushes, with scattered red-stemmed manzanitas and small alligator-bark cedars; and on the hillsides the rounded head of a handsome madrone towers occasionally above the forest.

 

Name

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Semi-arid habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

From Wikipedia:salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, lamiacea, with nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous prennials, and annuals. Within the Lamiaceae, Salvia is member of the tribe Mentheae within the subfamily Nepetooideae .It is one of several genera commonly referred to as sage.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Alexander F. Skutch sends me the following note on the courtship of the Guatemala race of this species: "It was during the brightest, warmest hours of the day that I saw the broad-tailed hummingbirds rising and falling above the brushy growth on the sunny mountainside where the salvias bloomed. One morning I watched a female as she perched within 2 feet of the ground in a little thicket where there was an abundance of flowers. Presently a male of her kind appeared; and she rose a few inches into the air and hovered with her bill pointed toward him, while he posed motionless on beating wings before her eyes. Then of a sudden he rose almost vertically 30 or 40 feet into the air, whence he dropped straight downward and shot through the edge of the thicket directly in front of the female, who meanwhile had resumed her perch. Once past her, he inclined his course slightly upward and darted away over the mountainside."

 

Name

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Semi-arid habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

From Wikipedia:A catkin or ament is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, with inconspicuous or no petals, usually wind-pollinated (anemophilous) but sometimes insect pollinated (as in Salix). They contain many, usually unisexual flowers, arranged closely along a central stem which is often drooping. They are found in many plant families, including Betulaceae, Fagaceae, Moraceae, and Salicaceae. For some time, they were believed to be a key synapomorphy among the proposed Hamamelididae, but it is now believed that this flower arrangement has arisen independently by convergent evolution on a number of occasionss

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: Major Bendire (1895) gives a rather comprehensive account of the nesting of black-chinned hummingbirds, and I cannot do better than to quote his remarks. He says:

Throughout the greater part of their range, it rarely begins laying before May 1, and the season is at its height through this month, while second or possibly third sets are found up to the latter part of July, and occasionally still later. The nest is readily distinguishable from that of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird by not being covered on the outside with lichens. It is composed of plant down, varying in color from white to buff; the latter is obtained from the under side of the young leaves of the sycamore, the former probably from willows, milkweed, or thistles. These materials are well worked together, and the outside of the nest is thickly coated with spider web. In an occasional specimen a small leaf or two, or a few flower blossoms of the oak are worked in the outer walls. In a specimen from Marfa, Texas, the outside is well covered with small flower spikes, the male aments of a species of oak, hiding the inner lining completely.

He mentions a beautiful nest that "is mainly composed of white willow down, mixed on the outside with a few small leaves and the scales from the willow buds."

These are firmly held in place by an abundance of spider web, with which it is also securely attached to the little fork in which it is saddled. The outer diameter of this nest is about 1 3/8 inches by 1 inch in depth; the inner cup is 1 inch in diameter by five eighths of an inch deep; and while some specimens before me are a trifle larger, others are considerably smaller. Nests taken in the Sequoia National Park, in Tulare County, California, have perceptibly thicker walls than those from the warmer lowlands, and are also correspondingly larger. The nests are either saddled on a small, drooping branch or on a fork, one or two of the smaller twigs composing this usually being incorporated in the walls and holding it securely in place. Many of the nests resemble small, fine sponges, and are equally elastic, readily regaining their shape after being squeezed together. They are generally placed from 4 to 8 feet from the ground, mostly in the shrubbery found near small creeks or springs, and frequently their nests overhang the water or the dry creek bed. Alders, cottonwoods, oak, sycamore, laurel, and willows are most often selected for nesting sites, as well as young orchards, especially apple and orange trees, where they are available.

Frank Stephens wrote to Bendire that he "found a set of eggs of this species * * * laid in a nest of the House Finch, No lining had been added, or any other changes made; the bird evidently was in haste to lay, her nest, perhaps, having been suddenly destroyed."

Nests have also been found in a pear tree in an orchard, in a wild grape vine, in a tree-rose in a garden, and even on the stalks of various weeds; Dr. Grinnell (1914) mentions one that "was four feet above the ground on a slanting dead stalk of arrowweed beneath a large spreading willow." John McB. Robertson (1933) reports a nest in a most unusual location. It was built in the loop of a small rope that hung from a board in his garage. The nest rested on a knot at the bottom of the loop and was supported on opposite sides by the rope, to which it was securely tied with spider web; it was made of plant down and covered on the outside with stamens of eucalyptus blossoms. "Other objects to be seen in it are several tiny bits of eucalyptus bark, a scrap of dry leaf, several long human hairs, a small feather that is probably from a Linnet, a pair of bracts from a plant that furnished down, and a seed of alfilaria."

The nest of the black-chinned hummingbird is an exquisite structure, semiglobular in shape, or little more than half of a sphere, as if less than the upper half of the globe had been removed; it is deeply hollowed, and the rim is curved inward at the top, a wise provision of the builder to prevent the eggs or small young from falling out, as the supporting twig or weed stalk is swayed by the wind. It is firmly felted with plant down of various colors, mainly in different shades of buff, from "cartridge buff" to "pale pinkish buff" or "cinnamon-buff"; an occasional nest, in some 40 that I have examined, is made of the buffy-white or pure white down of the willow. The elastic, spongy structure is well reinforced and firmly bound to the supporting twigs with spider web, giving it much greater strength than it appears to have. Its durability is remarkable for such a frail-looking nest, as frequently a new nest is built on the well-preserved remains of a nest of the previous season.

The nest seems hardly large enough at first to contain even the small young, but, as the young increase in size, the elastic top expands, as Bayard H. Christy (1932) so gracefully portrays it: "As the young continue to grow a beautiful contrivance comes into play; the surrounding wall of the nest becomes as it were. a living integument about the chicks; it expands with their growth; its rim yields to their little strugglings; its sphere opens like a flower-bud; until the little birds, all but ready to take flight, remain resting upon the full blown corolla."

Mrs. Bailey (1896) gives the following account of the nest building: "'The peculiar feature of the building was the quivering motion of the bird in moulding. When the material was placed she moulded the nest like a potter, twirling tremulously around against the sides, sometimes pressing so hard she ruffled up the feathers of her breast. She shaped the cup as if it were a piece of clay. To round the outside she would sit on the rim and lean over, smoothing the sides with her bill, often with the same tremulous motion. When she wanted to turn around in the nest she lifted herself by whirring her wings."

In southern Texas this hummingbird sometimes builds its nest at greater heights above the ground than mentioned above; Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) report two such nests found in Brewster County; one was "about twenty feet from the ground on a slender willow branch," and the other was "fully thirty feet from the ground in a gigantic cottonwood."

James B. Dixon writes to me from Escondido, Calif. : "Like most of the hummingbirds they are sometimes found resting in very unexpected locations, such as on a porch where doors were swinging open at all hours of the day or night, on a steel rod poked into the roof of a blacksmith shop where men were busy at an anvil, and on an old piece of haywire stuck into a chink in the wall of a barn. Two locations seem to be preferred in the wilder places, the most popular being a long, meandering canyon filled with scrawny sycamores in the bottom and located where the surrounding hillsides are covered with flowering sage; the other location is in the dense willow thickets, locally known as willow montes, which border running streams or lakes. Here the black-chinned hummingbird is found breeding in large numbers, and it is not unusual to find a nest on the average of every hundred feet in such locations. I have found as high as three-storied nests of his bird, where apparently the bird had returned to the same nest for three successive seasons and built a new nest on the foundations of the previous year's home."

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Name

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Lesson Plan

Food

Nectar and insects

Feeding Techniques

Hovers in front of flowers to feed

Habitat

Semi-arid habitat

Plumage

Male and female have essentially the same plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The buff-bellied hummingbird was added to our fauna by Dr. James C. Merrill (1878), who took the first speciman within our borders on the military reservation of Fort Brown, Texas, on August 17, 1876. He found it to be an "abundant summer visitor" and says that "it seems perfectly at home among the dense, tangled thickets, darting rapidly among the bushes and creeping vines, and is with diffculty obtained. A rather noisy bird, its shrill cries usually first attract one's attention to its presence.

 

Name

Lesson Plan

Food

Feeding Techniques

Habitat

Plumage

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent