By Gail Cochrane
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
I saw my first Vermilion flycatcher in Southeast Arizona recently. Wow! This is a bird with pizzazz, sparkling like a ruby against the blue sky. The flycatcher was gleaning insects from the flowers of an ocotillo – red on red, one stationary and one in flight. The Vermilion flycatcher really shows up his near relatives, the Ash-throated flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe and Brown-crested flycatcher in the color department. But all are flashy and efficient insect hunters, sailing out to snatch bugs from the air or from the leafy interior of a shrub or tree. Each of these flycatchers occupies a niche in the desert and grasslands of Arizona.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is often found near streams or wetlands but also inhabits grasslands and desert habitats that offer scattered trees. I’ve never seen this crimson beauty here in the Phoenix area, but not three days after my ‘lifer’ sighting near Sunsites, a Vermilion Flycatcher showed up at the neighborhood park where I walk my pup. He was actually perching on the poop bag dispenser! So yes, you too can keep your eyes peeled for these flashy flycatchers in the low desert and even suburban parks.
Who else is red? When I first caught sight of that bright red bird, I thought it might be a Northern Cardinal. Cardinals are so widespread and so beloved as to be the state bird in seven different states in the east. They can also be found in the Sonoran Desert, whistling their beautiful song and wooing their calmer colored females. The Cardinal is closely related to and very similar in appearance and song to the Pyrrhuloxia. Pyrrhuloxias wear their red feathers as accent points rather than dominate plumage. These birds are seed eaters, as is evident in their thick strong bills. During nesting season, they also eat insects and feed them to their young.
The male House Finch sports cherry red feathers on forehead and bib, and is conspicuous during breeding season. This songbird is a vegetarian, eating mostly seeds, buds, and greens and only occasionally insects. Flocks are common in suburban areas as well as desert canyons and washes. An attentive mate, the male faithfully feeds the female as she sits on their eggs.
A rosy red species that can be found seasonally in the desert is the Summer Tanager. Look for this handsome bird along rivers in the summer months, high in the branches of cottonwood, mesquite or sycamore trees. Summer Tanagers eat insects and small fruits found in these trees. Colorful Western Tanagers migrate through the Valley in late summer, heading back towards the tropics. Red hoods adorn their bright yellow and black plumage.
There are certainly other red feathered species in wetter and forested areas, but just a few brave birds throw caution to the wind and wear the brightest color against the muted backdrop of the desert.
By: Carol Suits
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
The Superhero Club has ended for the season! Watch for information over the summer on our enhanced programming for the fall.
Leslie and Sonia, Liberty Education handlers, surprised us by bringing a barn owl and a great horned owl to our meeting. Everyone asked questions and drew their favorite owl with most of us using “starter” owl sheets because we didn’t think we could do it! There were some awesome drawings, but those barn owls can be tricky to draw!
If you decide to draw one, you can send it to me, and I will hang it on the big classroom wall with all the others done by the Superhero team!
Great Horned Owl Barn Owl A Hawk
Drawing a bird of prey is easier than you think!
Grab a marker and paper and draw one with this dad and his son.
Superhero drawings in the large classroom.
We’re right in the middle of the spring migration. So, we know birds migrate and maybe you’ve read about Monarch butterflies flying huge distances, too. Other animals migrate. Can you think of any?
If you had to guess, how many birds do you think are migrating over your town each day and night? If you live in Phoenix Metro like I do, you’d be amazed at the number. This map shows bird migration activity across the United States.
On Wednesday night, May 24, 2023, there were 24.3 million birds in flight in the United States as shown on radar.
24.3 million birds!
Next, I went to the BirdCast dashboard to see how many of all those millions of birds flew over Maricopa County. Take a look!
2,359,100 Birds crossed Maricopa County this night (est.)
Starting: Tue, May 23, 2023, 7:30 PM MST
Ending: Wed, May 24, 2023, 5:20 AM MST
Why don’t we see many birds migrating?
A big thank you to Barbara Borden for providing each Superhero with all they needed to plant flower seeds in pots and decorate them while discussing the value of pollinators!
Send in your drawings or anything you want to share in Kid Stuff!
2600 E Elwood St
Phoenix, AZ 85040
The Saguaro Cactus and Gila Woodpecker
By Diana Rodriguez
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
A common sight in Arizona, Saguaro Cacti stand stall against the desert landscape, but did you know these cacti giants have an important relationship with the Gila Woodpecker that also benefits other species in their ecosystem?
In nature, there are a variety of unique interactions and relationships that occur between different species, many of which we may not even notice unless we take a closer look. The Saguaro Cactus and Gila Woodpecker have a mutualistic relationship. This is a type of symbiotic relationship in which both species benefit from their shared interactions.
To start, the Gila Woodpecker uses its specially adapted beak to excavate cavities into the thick stems of a Saguaro cactus. Once a cavity is created, they use it to nest, seek protection from predators,and the cactus tissue serves as insulation to escape extreme temperatures. From the outside, it may seem like only the Gila Woodpecker is benefiting while the Saguaro is being negatively affected; the Gila Woodpecker receives shelter while the Saguaro is left with holes in its flesh. Despite this perception, their relationship is much more complex than what it seems.
How does the Saguaro benefit from this interaction? First off, the cactus is not negatively impacted from the cavities that Gila Woodpeckers create. This is due to the fact that they make the holes in between the woody ribs and epidermis in older parts of the stem, so no damage is done. Furthermore, the Saguaro cactus seals off the hole from the rest of the plant by making a layer of scar tissue called callus. The Gila Woodpecker benefits the Saguaro by eating insects that could harm the plant and eating diseased plant tissue.
There are many positive effects that are produced beyond the scope of this mutualistic relationship. Because Gila Woodpeckers abandon their old nesting sites and create a new one each year, they allow other Saguaro Cacti to benefit from their interactions while also opening up a new nesting site for other birds such as elf owls, sparrows, and kestrels. Since these secondary tenants cannot create the cavities themselves, many rely on the abandoned nests of Gila Woodpeckers for shelter. This mutualistic relationship between the Saguaro and the Gila Woodpecker proves to be a great example of how interactions between species not only benefits those involved, but the ecosystem as a whole.
Original publication June 2022.