Big Bend’s Birds of Spring

March 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm (Big Bend National Park TX, Birds - Big Bend TX, Birds - Texas) (, , , , , , , , , )


Red-tailed Hawk on blooming Acacia

In addition to the Common Black Hawks of my last post, there are many other birds returning to Big Bend from their winter getaways, as well as year-round residents exhibiting annoying testosterone-fueled behavior.  

Turkey Vulture eating dead lizard

Turkey Vultures have peppered the sky for a few weeks now, having spent the colder months in Mexico, Central and South America.  These birds have extremely acute olfactory organs for finding rotted meat, and have some nasty (to us) habits such as urinating on their legs to keep cool, and vomiting when alarmed.  They also have trouble getting out of the way of speeding cars, and can easily take out a windshield.  Should a vulture’s guts be ripped open in the process, you might just decide to give the car to a junkyard.  I understand the smell is Putrid Times Ten.  Well, as Jan Allen, one of our volunteer interpreters calls them, they are the Road Kill Cleanup Crew.  They serve an important purpose in the ecosystem, and despite their reputations, are a welcome sight to nature lovers.

Gray Hawk in Cottonwood

A pair of Gray Hawks have returned to their nest at Cottonwood Campground.  The Vermillion flycatchers, which are year-round residents there, are singing their zippy songs (similar to the Eastern Kingbird – which sounds like fingers zipping along the teeth of a large plastic comb.)  There were two males at Cottonwood vying for the love of a particular female, and one Lothario just wouldn’t be chased off by the offended and rightful suitor.

Two Males, One Female – the stuff of drama
Vermillions are fidgety little things
These babies have a loose, fluttery flight that makes them easy to photograph
At the Sam Nail Ranch spring, I saw my first Green-tailed Towhee, along with perhaps a dozen mockingbirds, several cardinals and pyrrhuloxias, hermit thrushes, a spotted towhee, sparrows (rufous-crowned, white-crowned, and black-throated),  and I’m pretty sure there was a brown thrasher skulking in the underbrush.
Green-tailed Towhee

Hummingbirds are busy visiting feeders at Panther Junction residences, and ash-throated flycatchers are calling “pip…ker-BEER” at Rio Grande Village.  Bell’s vireos in the campground are performing what I call the “rattle song” even though I can’t think of an actual rattle that sounds like it.  I just visualize squeaky rattling whenever I hear the songs of these plain-Jane little birds.
Ash-throated Flycatcher in Mesquite
Ash-throated Flycatcher in flight
Ash-throated Flycatcher at Mule Ears Springs trail with blooming ocotillo
Among the annoying behaviors are those birds of the male persuasion who bash themselves against glass windows because they see their reflections and mistake them for intruders in their territory.  At the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center last year we had a curve-billed thrasher, er… thrashing himself against the door and window.  This year I’ve seen a roadrunner getting squirrelly at the door after hours, and this week both a Ladder-back Woodpecker and Common Raven were making pests of themselves.

Ladder-back Woodpecker male on Visitor Center door
Maybe he’s just mad because the VC is closed? 
This is how a male woodpecker ought to behave (below).  This fellow at Sam Nail Ranch was cleaning out a nesting hole for the Missus.
“Our” raven George is most distressing, because ravens are supposed to be too smart to fall for such silly deceptions.  Zydeco king C. J. Chenier has it right, “Women are smarter than a man any day.”  Gracie just looks at George (presumably in disgust) pecking at the “intruder” in the window for hours on end.  Our volunteer Jim made a contraption that was supposed to thwart his pecks and gouges that are ruining the caulking and UV coating.  But it just gets George up a little higher to do his damage.  It’s just a plain waste of poor George’s energy, too, and Lord knows desert critters need to conserve what they have.  

George and his “antagonist” – Alas, the Raven Contraption doesn’t work
Here are more birds seen this week.  My life-listers are the Black and Gray hawks and the Green-tailed Towhee.  Woo-hoo!

Canyon Towhee at Entrance Station
Pyrrhuloxia male
Aforementioned Red-tailed hawk taking flight
Aforementioned Ash-throated Flycatcher taking flight

1 Comment

  1. bobzeller said,

    >Great photos, Cindy. I wish we could have stayed longer, but that's what happens when you're traveling with non-birders. We missed the Green-tailed Towhee, and we didn't have time to visit Cottonwood Campground. We were lucky, though, to get photos of the Vermilion Flycathers and the Black-hawks at Rio Grande Village.We are returning in early June with some very avid birders. I don't know what we will see at that time of year, but we can't return any sooner.

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