May 2009 Archives

Bird Beauties of the Ranch

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As a rule, I dislike beauty contests.  In humans they tend to focus primarily on physical attributes and objectify the contestants.  In reality, the majority of humans are equivalent in beauty to what we classify in the bird world as L.B.J.'s ("Little Brown Jobs").  When it comes to birds, however, I admit to having no qualms about making judgments concerning the relative beauty of different species.  In the bird world, the male of the species is typically (but not always) flashier and prettier than the female. So in considering the bird beauties of the Yampavian Ranch, I will focus on the males, making this a kind of "Mr. Universe," rather than a "Miss America" contest. 

Mountain Bluebird.jpg
In my bird beauty contest, third runner-up goes to the Mountain Bluebird, a breathtaking, brilliant, sky-blue bird who has migrated through, but never nested on the ranch, despite the ten bluebird boxes we have scattered around the property.

Second runner-up goes to the Bullock's Oriole, the orange, black, and white bird who is a regular at my nectar feeders in the spring and summer and whom I have discussed in one of my previous blog entries.
Oriole (beauty).jpg

First runner-up goes to the Lazuli Bunting, another strikingly beautiful "blue" bird with deep blue feathers covering his head and back, a red--orange chest, and a snow white belly.  He shows up occasionally at my feeder in the spring and can be found regularly throughout the summer foraging for insects in the cottonwood trees along the river.
Lazuli Bunting at feeder.jpg

AND THE WINNER IS...................................
              WESTERN TANAGER!!!!

Western Tanager 1.jpg

With his brilliant red head, his bright yellow body, and his black wings, tail, and back, this bird looks as if he has been painted by a wildlife artists.  A relative of the Cardinal, he winters in the tropics and breeds as far north as Alaska.  He shows up on the ranch in late May and is attracted to my water feature and to the fruit that I set out for the orioles.  Last Thursday, a "season" of Western Tanagers (a group of tanagers is called a "season") appeared in my back yard and drank and bathed while I watched in awe.
Tanager 2.jpg

Waxing Eloquent Over Waxwings

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Cedar Waxwing 1.jpg
Cedar Waxwings are among the most elegant of the birds that frequent our ranch. With their long crest, their sleek brown and gray plumage, yellow tail band, and red waxy wing tips, they dazzle me when they flock to my trees.  Waxwings get their name from the red waxy wing tips found at the end of the secondary flight feathers in adult birds.  The color comes from carotenoid pigments in their fruit diet.  Young waxwings have little or no red in their wing tips.

 Cedar Waxwings can show up at any time of the year, but they are most reliable around Memorial Day.  Yesterday our fruit trees were laden with blossoms and Cedar Waxwings.  As I  planted flower boxes, I watched the waxings fly from tree to tree and gorge themselves on buds,
Cedar Waxwing 3.jpg
 blossoms, and insects.  Later in the spring and summer, they will return to eat the berries from our various fruiting trees and shrubs. In the fall they will re-appear to eat whatever fruit there may be left over on the trees. Sometimes when they feast on this over-ripe fruit of the fall, they behave as though they are "inebriated," and I worry about their navigating skills when they take wing. 

The Bohemian Waxwing is the larger, grayer cousin of the Cedar Waxwing.  Bohemians live further north and only visit our area in the fall and winter.  We had one show up at the ranch  for a rare visit one fall several years ago.

In landscaping the ranch, the Cedar Waxwing was one of our target birds.  We planted
serviceberry, dogwood, hawthorne, chokecherry, sand cherry, strawberries, currants, viburnum, and other native fruit trees and shrubs in the hopes of attracting waxing flocks.  I am happy to report that we have succeeded in this endeavor beyond our wildest imagination.

Cedar Waxwing-2.jpg

Oriole Buffet

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Every spring the orioles show up at the ranch the first week of May.  I make a point to hang out a sugar-water feeder the last day of April in anticipation of their arrival.   In Northwest Colorado, we are frequented by one species of oriole- the Bullock's Oriole, which is similar in appearance and call to the Baltimore Oriole.  The Bullock's is found mainly in the west, while the Baltimore is the oriole of the east and midwest.  Because the two species sometimes hybridize where their ranges overlap, they were at one time lumped together as one species- the Northern Oriole. Then the powers-to-be of the ornithological world decided that they were actually two separate species, after all. The Bullock's Oriole is a stunner- the male is bright orange-gold in color with white wing-bars and a black throat.

male oriole at full feeder.jpg

The female is a paler orange and lacks the black on the throat. 

female oriole.jpg


Once the first oriole appears at the feeder (always a male), I put out the whole oriole buffet.  In addition to the nectar feeder, I provide orange halves in a suet feeder and grape jelly in a dish.  The orioles are voracious eaters and will sit in the tree and chatter at me to replenish the buffet if it starts to run low. 

oriole buffet.jpg

I have had as many as 4 orioles waiting their turn at the buffet line. (Actually, they don't wait politely, they butt in line whenever they see an opportunity.)  In addition to sugar-water, jelly, and oranges, the Bullock's Oriole consumes protein in the form of insects, which are plentiful everywhere on the ranch. 


 A short time after their arrival, the orioles begin building their incredible hanging pouch nests around the ranch.  They usually place their nests in cottonwood trees at the end of a slender branch.  They nests are well-hidden in the foliage, so that it isn't until fall (and long after the babies have fledged) that we are able to determine where they have nested.                                                       

oriole nest 2.jpg


From the time of their arrival, throughout the nesting season,  until they depart at the end of the summer, they continue to frequent the oriole buffet and continue to dazzle us with their brilliant color.

  Male Bullock's.jpg


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

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