Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Auspicious Beginning

I just started my new job at the local hospital...and what should I see leaving on my first day?

A Greater Roadrunner! I love these large, chicken-looking birds that have such an interesting personality. This guy is a ground-dwelling member of the cuckoo family that feeds on snakes, lizards, scorpions, mice...and other birds. I've watched videos of these things hunting in the tall grass; they suddenly hop up straight up a couple of feet and snatch birds they've flushed right from the air. Once they've caught something, they bash it repeatedly on the ground; heaving the creature over their heads and bringing it down hard. Perhaps they're tenderizing, too.

The one above seems to be a youngster; they're bronzier and lack the cool, featherless strip behind their eye; hard to see but quite colorful. Or perhaps its a female, they of course, lack those fancy racing-stripes.

Anyway, I like these birds that seldom fly...and which sound to me like a cross between a dove and a purring cat. Auspicious? Well, some Pueblo Indian tribes, such as the Hopi, believed that the roadrunner provided protection against evil spirits! What more could a new employee ask?

An unusual pair showed up in my yard; a couple of (what I believe were) Eastern Phoebes! I'd seen movement in the far corner of my yard and, assuming I'd only see some House Sparrows eating the tops of weeds back there...instead saw a fly-catcher type. It was not a large bird at all, quite dark on top, sort of a sooty-brown especially around the head, with hardly any wing-bar or other marks. The chin was quite light, almost white, and moving down it displayed that 'vest' look with smudgier edges and a pale yellow belly coming to a point up under it's chest. It looked for all the world like a Black Phoebe in a different outfit! The yellow, pale as it was...was stunning.

And then there were two! They seemed to engage in a game of chase through the weed-tops...and less than two minutes later, were gone from my yard. What a treat. I could detect no eye-ring nor wing bars on either bird...and both showed a dark bill. Actually, at first I thought the one I saw first could be a kingbird...but it was not so big.

Eastern Phoebes are solitary birds that seldom come in contact with other Phoebes. In that youngsters are the ones that exhibit that yellow belly and faint wing-bar, I'm guessing these two were siblings recently fledged and out exploring the world.

An interesting fact: the Eastern Phoebe is the first bird ever banded in North America; Audubon attached a silver thread to the leg of one of these birds to track its return in successive years.

While I don't see adult male Calliope Hummingbirds these days, there are still several dozen Rufus, Black-chinned and Browd-tailed fussing over the feeders and lots of Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, House Finch, Red-winged Blackbirds and Eurasian Collared-Doves.

Photos from Wikipedia