Birds, birds and more birds
The birds of the American Southwest are as numerous and diverse as the multiple environments and landscapes upon which they carry on their daily life cycles. The National Parks Service documents over 300 bird species that live for some period of each year in and around the Mohave Desert’s Death Valley. Here a male Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is seen hanging onto a ponderosa pine tree which is common in this region’s mountainous areas, while checking out just who is taking his picture.
A patient little one
In the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona over 400 species of birds carry on their daily activities in an area where the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts as well as the Rocky and Sierra Madre Mountains all come together to create one of the most rich and diverse ecosystems found anywhere on earth. A young Great Horned owl, Bubo virginianus, patiently sits in a nest in a saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea, waiting for the return of its parents.
Great expanses of open space without human development are also common throughout the American Southwest. This results in adequate nesting environments and niches for a wide variety of species. And even though much of the region is covered with a variety of deserts, major rivers such as the Colorado, Gila and Rio Grande and their tributaries do flow through the land, bringing life-sustaining water. A banded California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, is shown gliding above the Colorado River at Marble Canyon in northern Arizona.
A moment to rest
Part of the American Southwest landscape is made up of mountains covered with lush coniferous forests. These mountainous environments are home to a wide variety of bird species, including three species of jays. The Mexican Jay, Aphelocoma wollweberi, shown here, is a New World jay native to the Sierra Madre and Central Plateau of Mexico. They were once known as Gray-breasted jays.
Mexican Jays live in social groups that usually include multiple breeding pairs. So strong is the social group bound of this species of jays that the adults will feed the young found in any of the groups' nests. The photo shows a Mexican Jay taking flight from a ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa, tree.
In the forest
The Pinyon Jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, is found in the ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forest of the Southwest. Their primary food source is pine nuts which they actively store then consume during the winter and early spring months. Like all jays, Pinyon Jays are highly social and are usually found in a social group.
A stunning specimen
The Stellar Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri, is usually found in the lower mountain elevations (6,000 – 8,000 feet) of the American Southwest. A lover of the coniferous forests, this common jay is recognized by its distinctive black crest with white stripes. Stellar Jays mate for life and usually breed and raise their own young within 10 miles of their place of birth.
The Black-headed Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus, is another common songbird found in the forests of the Southwest. With a large, thick conical bill, these birds feed on the many seeds and nuts found throughout the local forests. Both sexes take time to incubate the eggs and feed their young. These are feisty birds that will aggressively defend their nesting territory.
A brilliant red
The Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, is a common resident of the mountain regions of Southwest. Since these brilliant red birds do not migrate, they make a striking appearance against the white, blanket of winter snow. The female, Northern Cardinal is one of just a few female songbirds that sings and she will do so even while sitting on her nest. A most popular bird, the Northern Cardinal is the official bird of seven different states.
On the treetops
Western Bluebirds, Sialia mexicana, are one of the common small thrushes of the mountain forests of the Southwest. They are stocky birds with small, straight bills and short tails. These are highly social birds that usually feed in small flocks for insects and berries. They nest in the wild in holes found in the trees of the forest. They can be enticed to nest close to humans through the use of nesting boxes. Many Western Bluebirds overwinter in the central mountains of Mexico.
Hummingbirds are a very common bird throughout all the deserts, mountains and high plateaus of the Southwest. They can be seen during the warm months at the summits of the highest mountains and are common in all seasons in the desert region. So many hummingbirds overwinter in southern Arizona’s Ramsey Canyon that the area is known as the "Hummingbird Capital of the World." A female Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna, is shown here.