Check Out Some Chicks

... right outside your window

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It's summer. The back yard is full of sweet-smelling flowers and the air is filled with birdsong.

Bird watching has been ranked the second most popular passive sport, second only to gardening, which may explain the prevalence of birdhouses throughout the United States. While most birds prefer to build their own dwellings, either on the ground or in the branches of trees, there are more than 87 species that are called "cavity nesters." Some of these have been known to occupy man-made birdhouses. However, birds place stringent requirements on potential home sites and will quickly vacate a birdhouse that is not "up to standard."

Some birds build or attach their nests to an existing wasp's nest. It seems a truce exists between the stinging insects and the birds. The arrangement is beneficial to the birds because the wasps actively attack strangers to the neighborhood.

In June, birds have completed their mating and nest-building, and are patiently setting on their eggs. Feeders are of great importance as a stable food source. Some birds, such as the cedar waxwing, are not feeder birds, but flocks come readily to back yards planted with fruit trees and berry bushes. Lines of these birds are often seen passing a berry from one to the next. Eventually one of the birds along the way will gobble the offering and the process will start anew.

By July the breeding season has peaked and the birds are winding down their domestic chores. There are young birds everywhere. Orioles will bring their babies to the nectar feeders, as will the hummingbirds. Each hummingbird requires the nectar from 1,000 fuchsia blossoms to maintain its metabolism for a single day. A hummingbird consumes its weight in nectar daily, feeding every 10 to 15 minutes from sunrise till sunset.

Feeders are a busy place this month. Watch for the bullish Steller's Jay which announces its arrival at each new location. They are known for raiding the caches of other birds and even digging up nuts buried by squirrels.

Territorial mockingbirds are a "good news/bad news" type of bird. The good news is they can learn and imitate the songs and calls of a number of other birds as well as sounds such as a dog's bark, a cat's meow, a human whistle and even a telephone ringing. The bad news is that one of the primary times it chooses to display this talent is in the middle of the night. Or just outside your window where it can "call" to your indoor pet.

Water areas play a central role in the lives of water-loving birds during the summer. Streams such as Christopher and Horton creeks, along with the East Verde River, are important for certain species, for pleasure and practical reasons. Some fledglings enter the water simply to "play." Running water also is a valuable food source. Dipper birds bob up and down on the shore before "dipping" into the water to overturn rocks in a scavenger hunt for tasty insects. Belted kingfishers are cavity nesters who choose the banks of cliffs instead of hollowed out trees to nest in. Parent kingfishers teach their young to fish by dropping dead meals into the water for their youngster's retrieval.

Larger bodies of water attract sky fishers and waders. Green Valley Lake has lured many types of ducks, including the red headed duck and Canada geese, which mate for life and remain equally faithful to the same nesting site year after year. White ibis have been spotted in the spring on their way to the great plains to nest. Herons also have been seen there, along with a nesting pair of bald eagles heading to its feeding grounds.

It was reported that Roosevelt Lake was a stopover point for a brown pelican. Their dive is spectacular. From as high as 60 feet, the bird plummets and resurfaces moments later with, if it's lucky, a catch intact. A white pelican, generally from southeastern Europe, Africa and Asia, also was reported at Roosevelt Lake.

Birds are a large part of many people's lives. They have the capacity to make us feel happy, sad, sympathetic and perplexed.

By late May, breeding season for most birds is over. However, a second brood of wrens, chickadees and titmice will fill the birdhouses. As summer draws to an end in September, the old summer residents will disappear and new species will be passing through.

Birds to watch for

The Tonto National Forest ranges in elevation from 1,300 feet near the Salt River to more than 7,700 feet at Aztec Peak. The forest is the permanent home of 126 species of birds in a variety of habitats.

Permanent residents of the forest are: Great blue herons, Mallard ducks, Harris' hawks, Red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, Gambel's quails, Common moorhens, American coots, Killdeers, Mourning and common ground doves, Western screech and great horned owls, White-throated swift. Of the woodpeckers, only the northern flicker is common to the Tonto National Forest and makes his permanent home here.

Source: "Mogollon Rim Visitors Guide."

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