Songbird Stroll October 20, 2015

Migrating birds are continuing to show up little by little as fall migration progresses. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warblers are a couple of the later-arriving migrants that were seen this morning. While scanning the radiantly-red turk’s cap flowers along Birding Creek, the forceful chatter of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird was heard. After drawing our attention to the call notes we saw swaying stalks and leaves where this hummingbird was flying. It was such a treat to see this beautiful Buff-bellied Hummingbird hover and feed as it probed the freshly-opened turk’s cap flowers.


Buff-bellied Hummingbird feeding on the turk’s cap flowers.

Green Jays gave their squawky call notes, marking their feeding territories to other jays in the area. As they leaped from branch to branch throughout the mature oak tree, the jays gobbled up acorns found hidden among the leaves. Green Jays feed readily on sunflowers and suet too. They can’t help but show off their endless shades of lime green and ocean blue.


GRJA eating sunflower

Down the hatch! A Green Jay is about to swallow a sunflower seed.

We continued to walk towards Ebony Grove after visiting Birding Creek. As we stood below the palm snags we heard and saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers feeding over our heads. They gave their sharp call notes as the probed up and down the tree trunks looking for insects to eat.


Look carefully and you’ll see the bright yellow “front” of this bird’s forehead. That is where the name Golden-fronted Woodpecker originates!


Here is one of the many Clay-colored Thrushes seen this morning. They are such a striking bird!


First heard then seen, the buzzy “bzzt” call note caught our attention as we spotted this female Indigo Bunting.


Two Plain Chachalacas rest together and preen each other in a mesquite along Birding Creek.

Below is the eBird checklist form this morning’s Songbird Stroll.  Be sure to join us next Saturday from 8:00-9:30 as we look for recently-arrived migrating birds!
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  50
Plain Chachalaca  20
Inca Dove  10
White-winged Dove  12
Mourning Dove  4
Common Pauraque  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Green Jay  2
Barn Swallow  5
Cave Swallow  3
Verdin 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Clay-colored Thrush 15
Curve-billed Thrasher 8
Long-billed Thrasher 1
Northern Mockingbird 6
European Starling 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Olive Sparrow 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Great-tailed Grackle 20
Bronzed Cowbird 2
House Sparrow 15

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke


Nature At Your Doorstep

Written by Manager Colleen Curran HookBird Walk 2013-08-24 Buff-bellied Hummer John Brush

With the fast pace lives we lead, there is something very calming about having nature at your doorstep.  Real live nature reminds us of the beauty in life, the seasons, the rise and fall of the sun, as well as the pull of the moon.  Most of us won’t have vast reaches of wilderness to get lost in close to home, but we can create patches and pockets of wildness to enjoy in our own backyards.

In the months of September and October, the valley will enjoy the arrival of hummingbirds.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has started their migration—returning to their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico.  Of the 323 different hummingbirds seen in the Americas, 21 species have been seen in North America.  It is interesting that hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere!  In the Valley you might see four different hummingbirds:  Buff-bellied (permanent resident), Ruby-throated and Rufous (migrant in September/October) and the Black-chinned Hummingbird (uncommon).


The following 5 TIPS will help you attract hummingbirds to your backyard:

Design in Layers:  Build a top, middle and lower canopy of plants in your garden.  The habitat provides food, place to hide from predators, nesting and resting sites in your yard.

Plant Flowers with Nectar:  While hummingbirds are attracted to red tubular plants, they are opportunistic feeders and are mainly looking for nectar.  Nectar is rich in sugar and attracts pollinators like bees and hummingbirds.  Our top plants at Quinta Mazatlan include the Turk’s Cap, Scarlet Sage, Coral Bean Tree and Wild Olive Tree.

Hang Feeders:  Feeders should be used as “frosting on the cake” with the cake being the habitat!  Most flowering plants provide 20% sugar—so that is your ratio for your nectar creation.  Mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  There is no need for red dye as it might hurt the birds—and the red on your “hanging feeder” will attract attention.  The feeders should be cleaned twice a week.

Insects are Good-Avoid Insecticides:  The birds feed their young a diet of small insects. The adults get their protein from mosquitoes, spiders, gnats and others.  Some even hang overripe melons and bananas near a feeder to attract extra insects.  Obviously using a product that kills insects will also harm the birds. Let the hummingbirds control the insects!

Don’t Forget the Water:  A constant source of water will complete your hummingbird haven.  If you have a bird bath, add a couple of rocks to give the tiny birds a shallow place to bathe.  You can also add a drip fountain attachment or a simple sprinkler for them to fly through.

These Jewels in Flight known in Spanish as Joyas Voladores are beautiful to view and they help control our mosquitoes as they feed on insects!  If you are interested in designing a wilderness in your yard consider taking the Backyard Habitat Steward Program at Quinta Mazatlan.

I Spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Written by Ouina Rutledge

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Buff-bellied Hummingbird John Brush

As I sit here by my breakfast nook window sipping tea I spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird swooping in to sip nectar from a Red Sage flower. Hummingbirds love to flit, hover, and zoom around in my garden as I have planted a number of hummingbird attractant plants. I receive many questions from Valley residents wanting to know how they too can attract these colorful birds to their back yards.

Bringing these visitors up close and personal does require a little bit of knowledge of native plants and some gardening space, whether containers, small beds or large. Knowing what kinds of plants will do well in our Valley environment and what kinds of hummingbirds those plants will attract will improve your chances of seeing these beautiful, diminutive birds!

Turk's Cap

Two plants that are the very best natives that will attract hummingbirds and are readily available at local nurseries are the Tropical or Red Sage (Salvia coccinea) and Dwarf Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii). Both these plants are attractive additions to any garden. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to flower, are very drought tolerant, and are low-maintenance. Water to establish and then water only infrequently but deeply to maintain flowering. Both have deep red flowers and will flower nearly continuously all year. Prune back occasionally to maintain shape. But don’t prune all the plants at once as you want some plants to always be in flower so that you can attract the hummers!

Allow both plant species to seed and you will be pleasantly surprised to find other birds coming to your garden as I have seen Chachalacas, Northern Cardinals, Kiskadees, and Painted Buntings among the number of birds that fly in and devour the seeds. These birds are hungry – especially the migratory birds flying through on their way south.

Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen promotes and encourages use of native plants in the urban landscape. If you want to learn more about landscaping with natives – the how-to’s – join us every Wednesday 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m at Quinta Mazatlan for volunteer mornings.  By planting Rio Grande Valley native plants, you not only enjoy seeing nature out your window up close and personal, you are conserving native plants and the birds that need these plants to survive. Hummingbirds are vulnerable to habitat loss and pesticides. Their chances of survival increase every time one zips over to a tasty meal provided by your small container garden or back yard habitat!