Our patch of desert paradise is a super highway for migratory birds. You can pretty much tell the season from the kind of birds you see. Snow geese pass through by the thousands in the spring. Red-wing black birds and tanagers brighten up the landscape as well. Night hawks are abundant in the summer as well as great blue herons and snowy white egrets. Our year-round residents include ducks, coots, grebes and owls.
Each spring, our town celebrates with the annual migratory bird festival, which boasts tours, an art show and dinner with keynote speaker. Birders come from all over to see the great variety of water fowl that we have a front row seat to each spring.
So I thought I’d highlight some of our winged visitors with “bird of the moment” posts.
Name: Yellow-headed blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Notable physical features: Bright yellow head (obviously)
Call: According to the Audubon Field Guide “it may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping.” I wouldn’t go that far, but its call isn’t exactly melodic.
Behavior: These birds are aggressive. They might be the bullies of the bird world, ganging up to overwhelm bird feeders and scaring off other birds with flapping and squawking. To put a more positive spin on it, when they want something, they go after it.
Habitat: They seem to like the tules and cattails in our creek, and I often seem them perched in the tules, their yellow heads standing out in the brown landscape.
Nesting and young: They nest in marshes in colonies, with males staking out territory and defending it. A male can have as many as 5 mates. The nest is built by the female, who lays 3 to 5 eggs. Both parents feed the nestlings, and the young leave the nest in 9 to 12 days.
The yellow-headed blackbird is definitely a harbinger of spring around here, and I always look forward to the arrival of these pushy, striking birds full of personality.
What birds herald the onset of spring in your area? Let me know in the comments.