Back Yard Birds
Our Former BackYard - 120 Species
All photos below were taken from inside the windows of our home with Canon A40 and Kowa 77 mm scope. For information and pictures of this digiscopic equipment, click here.
Click on images for full screen viewThe territory we considered our "Backyard" is a piņon-juniper savannah and woodland at 6960 to 7010 feet elevation, on the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains. The Ventana del Sol subdivision includes 55 acres of undeveloped "common ground" that contains about a mile of paved road, two miles of hiking trails, a large dry arroyo, and a sizable grassland patch. We include birds seen not only in our backyard, but also seen in and from the common ground. In addition to juniper and piņon pine, we have scrubby Gambel Oak, a few Ponderosa Pines, a variety of grasses (Sideoats, Western Wheat-grass and Blue Gramma predominate) and a profusion of wildflowers. Heavy stands of Ponderosa are located just adjacent to our land, in the Cibola National Forest. To make up for the lack of flowing streams we have built two small ponds and maintain a variety of feeders all year 'round. We have a small low- maintenance "lawn" of Blue Gramma and Buffalo Grass that separates us from the piņons and junipers, and have seeded our land with Rabbitbrush, pentstemons, Apache Plume and other local flora. Above, left: Scanned image of our Great Room windows, which overlooked a pond and feeders. Below, left: Male Western Bluebird at our front waterfall, FEB 2003. Above, right: Band-tailed Pigeon at feeder. Below, right: Front pond in winter. Stocked with top minnows (Gambusia or Mosquito Fish) Note stock tank heater.
As much as we enjoyed viewing our familiar yard birds, some rarities appeared at times. Our most notable bird sightings were a Great Blue Heron (magnificently out of place atop our neighbor's garage), a Hooded Warbler at our pond, two spring visits to our hummingbird feeders by Baltimore Oriole , exactly one year apart, fly-overs by a Goshawk, a Ferruginous Hawk, and a pair of Golden Eagles, and several invasions of Cassin's Finches, Red Crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks. Western and Hepatic Tanagers have stopped by to sip nectar or drink at our waterfall. Lincoln's and Lark Sparrows are welcome fall visitors, and a Golden-crowned Sparrow stopped by only once. We waited until 2002 for our first Song Sparrow, which usually is not found in the piņon-juniper habitat. Still hoping for a White-throated Swift fly-over, and Brewer's Sparrow , which must visit our grasslands, but so far we see only Chipping Sparrows in all plumages. Yet we take great pleasure in the company of our more abundant local residents and winter visitors. Above: left, Male Western Bluebird atop a juniper; right, Female Western Bluebird at our front waterfall, FEB 2003.
Birds that nested in boxes on our half acre home site are: Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Juniper Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Violet-green Swallow, and Ash-throated Flycatcher. Our neighbors have additionally attracted Kestrel and Bewick's Wren to their nest boxes. Say's Phoebe and House Finch build nests on light fixtures and under eaves. Cliff Swallows once attempted to nest in our upstairs porch, and Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers drill holes in exterior walls. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Chipping Sparrows, Canyon and Spotted Towhees nest in the trees and under shrubs. In 2003 a Canyon Towhee made its nest in an open nest box that I had set out in hopes of attracting an American Robin. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Bushtits, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinches, Blue Grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, Scrub Jays, American Crows, Virginia's Warbler, Great Horned Owl and a Cooper's Hawk all nest near our homes. Oh yes, European Starlings have appropriated one nest cavity, but we have sighted House Sparrows only twice at our feeders. Our only resident Roadrunner disappeared during the winter of 2000, and Lazuli Buntings nested here at least twice before 1999, but apparently not since then. I have heard migrating Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese overhead, but have yet to spy them from our property. Above, left: Canyon Towhee at ground feeder, FEB 2002. Above, right: Ash-throated Flycatcher at nest box. Lower, left: Mourning Dove. Lower right: Bewick's Wren at suet.
The surrounding forest offered opportunity to see other birds that were unlikely to visit our yard. The pond at Sandia Park has attracted a variety of puddle ducks as well as Ring-necked Duck, and probably accounts for our fly-over ducks and the visiting Great Blue Heron . Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches abound in the Ponderosas and mixed conifers. Sandia Crest, at 10,678 feet elevation, is an easy 14 mile drive up from our home, and has become famous for its winter flock of all three species of Rosy-Finch (see link below). Pine Grosbeaks are regular but rare winter visitors to the Crest, which gets over 11 feet of snow in an average year (compared to our 40 inches). Since 1999 the snow pack has been deficient; many springs have dried up, and in 2002 the pond in Sandia Park was dry for the first time in some 30 years. Our pond and waterfall were especially attractive to Say's Phoebe (left).
(Click on thumbnails for full screen view)
January-- Keep the yard feeders stocked and snow free for the innumerable Dark-eyed Juncos. Expect visits from Pinyon and Steller's Jays and Abert's Squirrel. Sharp-shinned Hawk very active at feeders. Look for White-winged and Slate-colored among the predominating Oregon and Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco subspecies. Hope that a few White-crowned Sparrows stay on through the winter. Wandering flocks of Evening Grosbeak (at our feeder, FEB 2003, left) may show up to gobble sunflower seed. We used to go up to Sandia Crest every few days to stock the feeders for the Rosy-Finches.
February-- At Sandia Crest, rosy-finches break down into smaller flocks of 4 or 5 to a dozen as the month progresses. Be on watch for Merlins along the Crest Road. Nights are long and cold. Hope that snow cover is 100% all month. Find Ponderosa twig tips, stripped of bark, scattered in the snow on the forest floor, evidence that cones are running low, and Abert's Squirrel is being sustained by the cambium (Each squirrel drops about 45 twigs a day, an indicator of their abundance). The Slate-colored (Dark-eyed) Junco sometimes visits (left). Marvel at the survival skills of tiny resident Bushtits, Mountain Chickadee (at suet, right), Juniper Titmice and Canyon Towhees.
March-- Red-tailed Hawks are courting early in the month. American Robin (perched in front yard, left) assemble in large flocks. By the end of the month, most Rosy-Finches disappear from Sandia Crest, but a few linger into early April. Days are perceptibly longer. In the yard, Mountain Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches and Western Bluebirds inspect and claim nest boxes. Townsend's Solitaires sing more vigorously before departing in early April. On or about the first day of spring, expect arrival of Turkey Vultures, Chipping Sparrows in fresh rufous caps (one shown bathing front yard at waterfall, right) and territorial Say's Phoebes . Visit Hawk Watch in the Sandias.
April-- Broad-tailed Hummingbird wings whistle by the first of April. Take down the Rosy-Finch feeders by mid April. Scott's Oriole claims territory in Three Gun Spring (Tres Pistolas) early in month. Bullock's Orioles and Western and Hepatic Tanagers arrive late in the month. White-crowned Sparrows and Juncos depart by end of May. Black-headed Grosbeak (upper right) and Band-tailed Pigeons (upper left, taken through screen on front window) appear at feeders-- add cracked corn! Violet-green Swallows and Ash-throated Flycatchers (below, right) try to displace Bluebirds from nest boxes in the front yard. Look for Blue Grouse on the road to Santa Fe Baldy. Say's Phoebes (below, left, in front yard) are gathering nesting materials before the end of the month.
May-- Cordilleran Flycatcher and most of the forest birds are nesting. Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos are singing at Cienega Canyon Picnic Area off the Crest Road. Grace's Warblers are high in the Ponderosas, weaving in and out of the tips of the limbs, and Virginia's Warblers (at waterfall in front yard, upper right) sing everywhere in the forest. Black-throated Gray Warblers (also visiting our waterfall, at left, below) nest in the surrounding piņon-juniper woodland. Goshawk sitting on eggs early in month. Evening Grosbeaks depart early in May after tolerating an uneasy truce with the arriving Black-headed Grosbeaks at the yard feeders. Northern Pygmy-owl, Northern Saw-whet and Flammulated Owl begin to call along the Crest Road around mid May, through next month. Wednesday morning bird walks begin in the Sandias, and continue into October. At upper left, American Goldfinch at our feeder on May 24, 2003, in full summer attire. Male Blue Grosbeak on juniper in front yard, below to right.
June-- Blue Grosbeaks (male pictured at millet feeder, upper right) start their singing rather late, but after the second week of June they sing incessantly throughout the day on territory, continuing well into August. Meanwhile, the Black-headed Grosbeaks nearly disappear from the feeders as they switch to a diet of insects while raising their young. Their fledgelings will join them at the feeders later in the month. Spotted Towhee (upper left) eggs hatch and fledgelings are out by the beginning of the month. Hope for return of nesting Lazuli Buntings. Dusky Flycatchers arrive at Capulin Springs and at 10K trailhead. Fire danger increases. Click to see photos of slurry tankers fighting a lightning-caused fire southwest of our home. While not our hottest month, it is often the driest, and the lack of clouds in the afternoon makes many days feel hotter than in July or August. Our two waterfalls and two bird baths get lots of avian visitors. Blue pentstemmons are in full bloom. The pond, ablaze with water lily blossoms (lower right), allows a Bullock's Oriole (lower left) to forget his pride.
July-- Rufous Hummingbirds (male, with tongue extended, upper right, and hovering at front feeder, lower right) arrive by the 4th. Some years, Red Crossbill (male photographed at back feeder on July 1, 2003, upper left) breeds in nearby slopes. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (male, lower left, at suet feeder) are feeding young. Blue Grosbeaks continue to sing all day. July and early August are the best times to look for Black Swifts at Jemez Falls. Monsoons begin before mid month, afternoon clouds bring cooler nights, and grass turns green. Pentstemmons bloom. Scott's Oriole may depart from Tres Pistolas Open Space before the
end of the month-- remarkably, though we think of them as "our" birds, they spend nearly two-thirds of their lives in the neotropics (as do most of our breeding vireos, tanagers and warblers). A few Lark Sparrows appear in yard by the last week in July, representing post-breeding wanderers or early migrants. With luck, monsoons bring afternoon showers before mid-month. Blue Flax predominates. Acorn crop has not yet ripened, and if rainfall is scant there is poor forage in the mountains.
August-- Lark Sparrows (Lower right, on our front "lawn") arrive in good numbers. Juniper Titmouse (upper left, at front waterfall) looks shaggy in molt. Both Western Kingbird and , more commonly, Cassin's Kingbird (upper right, also at waterfall) bring their fledglings to bathe and drink. Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks have departed by the end of the month. Sunflowers everywhere! Black-throated Gray, Virginia's (below, center) and Yellow-rumped Warblers (below left), wandering after nesting is finished, become more numerous in the trees and waterfalls. Lazuli Buntings usually arrive around mid-month. Orange-crowned Warblers arrive towards the end of the month. Now is the best time to see Calliope Hummingbirds at feeders, and the migrants that flock to the log at Capulin Spring. Purple Asters and Blanket Flowers begin to steal the show. If there is a good piņon crop, Pinyon Jays visit in large flocks. American Robins become quite scarce, and are seen singly or in groups of only 2 or 3.
Yearling Black Bears (one visiting our ground feeder (below); click here to see damage it caused), turned away by their mothers, begin to explore our feeders, which we removed from our yard entirely during bear season.
September-- Monsoons wane. Aspens at the top of the mountain begin turning yellow by the last week, and oaks blaze red. Lesser Goldfinches (male, left) may still be seen feeding fledglings. All three Towhee species (Spotted, Canyon and Green-tailed) may visit our yard feeders at once. Townsend's Warblers are more common in fall migration than in the spring. Cassin's Vireo is possible at Cienega Picnic Area. Sunflowers bloom everywhere! House Finches (Male, right) are molting. Note curved culmen (top edge of upper bill) which helps distinguish this species from Cassin's Finch. Bushtits (at middle left and right) gather into larger flocks as cold weather approaches. We enjoyed watching the antics of our jays. Scrub Jays dominated the feeders, chasing away the normally very aggressive Steller's Jays. This probably reflects the fact that we lived in the piņon-juniper belt, and the Stellers were straying from their territories in the Ponderosa Pines above our home. Pinyon Jays have fallen on difficult times. The extended drought has supressed the Piņon Pines, which have not had a good crop since about 1999. That year, we had flocks that numbered up to 200 birds nearly completely cover the snow in our front yard. They could gobble up (or more properly, store in their gular pouches and remove) over 2 gallons of black oil sunflower seed in an hour. I counted over 50 seeds being taken by a single Pinyon Jay in one sitting! During the summers of 2002 and 2003 we experienced a huge die-off of Piņon Pines due to their vulnerability to the Ips bark beetle. We struggled to save the 40 or so on our property by importing water from another aquifier and soaking the roots of those nearest our home. Not a single Pinyon Jay visited during the winter of 2002-3. Early in September a few small flocks made brief foraging visits, as if checking on the progress of the crop. Only a few of our piņons developed good cones, and I was surprised when, on September 19, 2003 a flock of about 20 Pinyon Jays descended noisily and began removing the still closed and 3/4 grown cones from the tree in front of our home. Three Scrub Jays joined them, but the Scrubs did not feed-- they just looked at the Pinyon Jays as they harvested the cones. They did not pillage any of the cones, but stood close by and seemed to be curious about what was going down. I took several photos of the Pinyon Jays (immature with grayish plumage and bright blue on face, left, lower), and just happened to catch a Scrub Jay that was perched near one of them, providing a nice comparison of face and bill features (lower right image). Both Wilson's Warbler (male, bottom left) and Black-throated Gray Warblers (male, bottom right) visited on September 25, 2003, just as our fall wildflowers reached their peak. Be sure to click the thumbnails for expanded views.
October-- Rabbitbrush and snakeweed combine with aspens to turn the landscape to gold. Light freeze by mid-month, hard freeze and usually first significant snowfall before month's end. Visit Hawk Watch in the Manzano Mountains, and see Northern Goshawk and huge elk herds at the new Valles Caldera National Preserve (CLICK HERE AND BE SURE TO CHECK THE MAPVIEWER) in the Jemez Mountains.
Look for American Three-toed Woodpeckers at the Dome Burn in the Jemez before the roads are snow-bound. Good-bye to the hummers and the Band-tails. Pygmy Nuthatches and Bushtits have assembled into larger flocks. White-crowned Sparrows and Juncos arrive in droves. Hope for Evening Grosbeak, Cassin's Finch (male, upper left, at front feeder).Red Crossbill (male, upper right, at back pool). As the month progresses, Townsend's Solitaire (center left, on treetop in front of house) arrive to enliven us with their songs, which grow ever brighter with the approach of winter. White-crowned Sparrows (right, at front waterfall) arrive and a few will stay through the winter. We were delighted to see a Williamson's Sapsucker (adult female, lower left) visit our front waterfall on October 8, 2003. My photo is of very poor quality, as the bird flew off before I could get set up for the shot. Click on it to confirm the ID (just like real live birding-- that "Marty Stouffer view" is hard to come by! But see what happened next month). Once the cold drives the bears into hibernation, we can put up the yard feeders again.
November--Rosy-Finch feeders are put up at Sandia Crest early in the month. We placed stock tank heaters in the yard ponds and prayed for snow! Checked Santa Fe Ski Area for White-winged Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak. Got down to Bosque del Apache for Festival of the Cranes. Patience was rewarded when a colorful adult male Williamson's Sapsucker (two views to capture several field marks) visited our front yard pond on November 2, 2003. This time I was able to take several pictures before it was chased off the waterfall by a robin. Click on the pictures to appreciate the contrast and brilliance of its plumage.
December-- All three species of Rosy-Finches should arrive at Sandia Crest by the first week.
Expect two or three large flocks including as many as 100 individuals; plumage brightens as winter progresses. Christmas Bird Counts. Will this be a Townsend's Solitaire/Cassin's Finch/Red Crossbill/Evening Grosbeak Year, or some combination thereof? American Crow (upper left), and Canyon Towhee (lower left) are present all year round. Male Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker (upper right) has a red moustache, while its eastern Yellow-shafted counterpart has a black one. Starlings (Lower right) were rare in our neighborhood until 2 years ago, when a pair took over a Kestrel box across the street.
seen in our yard and
|Great Blue Heron||N||U||-||U||-|
|Great Horned Owl||Y*||C||C||C||C|
|Western Scrub Jay||Y*||A||A||A||A|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||Y*||C||L||C||-|
this site powered by FreeFind
Manzano and Manzanita Mountains
of Game and Fish Non-Game Share with WIldlife
Visit their Web page for Species Descriptions, lists of Threatened and Endangered Species, and lists of projects.