The Birds of Summer

The spring migrants are long gone and this year’s batch of fledglings are fighting for survival.  There seem to be three birds which accompany me on every hike.  Bold, beautiful and never bashful these three are the soundtrack for my perambulations.

This is the first local bird beyond scrub jays and crows that I could positively identify.

Spotted towhee

Spotted towhee

It was back on an Audubon walk back in the late aughts on the tiny loop trail just north of Wheeler Gorge.  His distinct metallic trill  (click to hear& see) filled the canyon as I finally espied his handsome black and rust plumage.  This is one of the few birds that you’d be as likely to see perched atop a tree as scratching in the leaves underneath.  According to the good folks over at Cornell, a spotted towhee male will spend 70-90% if his day in the early breeding season singing to attract a mate.  Spotted towhees are essentially sparrows, which is evident in its size and shape.  They are omnivores who will eat anything from crickets, beetles and grubs to acorns, nightshade berries and seeds.  Unlike the next two birds, they generally stick around all year long, though they are most visible and audible in spring and summer.

Next up is the silky black beauty.



After a long winter in Mexico they arrive in late spring.  Once again it is the call that is the first indicator that one of these fellows is about.  A short, steady rising note, over and over again.  Same exact note, same exact duration every time.  I often will see small flocks of four to eight inhabiting the same tree.  The handsome crest, long tail and flash of white as they fly off are all calling cards of this bird.  Females are gray rather than the lustrous black.  Phainopepla actually means “shining robe” in Greek.  Their diet consists mostly of misteltoe berries and they rarely drink water.  They are one of the few birds to breed twice a year, once in each of their yearly habitats.

Finally my favorite new bird who is literally with me for every single hike.

Ash-throated flycatcher

I just love his handsome little crest, gray throat and dashing reddish splash along the bottom of the wing.  These friendly fellows are seen in low bushes, often at eye-level.  The most common call I hear is the pit-pit-pit wheeeer…. or sometimes it’s just the pit-pit-pit over and over again.  They make nests in hollow trees, posts or even metal fence poles if the cavity is large enough.  They will be around for another few weeks before heading south.

Sorry for the bi-weekly treatment, I’ll never survive until fall if I’m posting every week.  Thanks for reading.



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5 Responses to The Birds of Summer

  1. Thanks for sharing. The Ash-throated Flycatcher was one I had not ID’ed before. Coincidentally, my wife and I watched a Netflix film online last night called “The Big Year,” about 3 fanatical birders played by Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. If you haven’t seen it, you may enjoy it.

  2. ojairambler says:

    Fun movie, didn’t realize it was now on demand, I will have to watch it again.

  3. john pavelko says:

    Rambler, nice article on birds. If you listen closley the Ash-throated actually says “two beers, two beers”…keep up the good work…johnp

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