Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Oklahoma Migratory Species Profile: Nashville Warbler

A small plain, short-tailed warbler, with complete eyering, the Nashville Warbler is generally uncommon.  It  breeds in both the northern and western parts of the US, as well as southern Canada.  It does not migrate far, still enjoying a small part of the US in California and Texas, as well as Mexico and northern Central America.  They do not migrate across the Gulf of Mexico as many warblers do.

This bird was found by ornithologist Alexander Wilson near Nashville, Tennessee in 1881, and was aptly named as a bird of the eastern part of the country at that time.  It's climatic range is sending it north.

This common summer resident of the eastern US is closely related to the Orange-crowned Warbler.
Occasionally, one may be so lucky to see the red crown patch in both sexes, but it is even more rarely seen in the female of the species.

                                                                  Nashville Warbler
                                                        Boomer Lake Park, Spring 2017

They will be found in mixed species flocks during migration, as many warblers tend to be observed.  During fall migration, they can be found low as opposed to the spring and summer, when they are found higher in hardwood trees.  They are insectivores, enjoying caterpillars, beetles, flies, etc.

There are two distinct populations, which include the Western breeding subspecies (or Calaveras Warbler, which is duller colored) that wags its tail, and the Eastern, which does not.  The species commonly migrates through Oklahoma in both the spring and fall, including the Panhandle.

They are seldom parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird, and are threatened by climate change.

This warbler is a ground nester, found under brushy vegetation or small trees.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oklahoma Vagrants: Black-billed Cuckoo

More uncommon than local in woods with willows or alder and dense undergrowth, the Black-billed Cuckoo is believed to inhabit more of Oklahoma in the dense woods than originally thought.  While migrating in both spring and fall, the species can be found occasionally in the southern states.  Generally found east of the Rocky Mountains, they can also be observed in Canada.  Winter ranges are in the southwestern part of South America in humid tropical forests.

This is a slender cuckoo with a dark and decurved thin bill with small white spots on the gray-brown tail.  It is just as large as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and much shyer.

This elusive bird can be heard both day and night, skulking around concentrated forests and thickets.  They actually favor a wide range of habitat, most commonly located around edges of mixed or mature deciduous forests.  Abandoned farmland or parks can even be appealing to them as long as they can be well hidden and along the outskirts of these locations with a source of water.

            Black-billed Cuckoo
         High Island, Texas 2015

As many cuckoos are obligate brood parasites, this cuckoo incubates its own.  Chicks have sparse white down contrasting with dark skin.  They also have wart-like protuberances on the tongue and in the mouth, but that is normal for the species.

First seen at Rose Lake in 1976, the Black-billed Cuckoo made an appearance most recently at the Illinois River east of Tahlequah in May of 2018.  There have been several other sightings between the first and last notation.

During outbreaks of the gypsy moth, the Black-billed Cuckoo seems more abundant, as they tend to flock toward these areas, especially during breeding bird surveys.  They also show a predisposition for webworms, cicadas, and tent caterpillars.

During a tent caterpillar outbreak, they lay eggs earlier, could produce larger clutches, and may even behave more in an obligate parasite manner.  Not only will females lay eggs in the nests of other Black-billed Cuckoos, but they will also lay eggs as interspecific parasites, by choosing other species of songbirds.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Oklahoma Vagrants: Anna's Hummingbird

Larger than many hummingbirds, Anna's males' red throat and crown (and female's red central throat patch) are good distinguishing characteristics.  Not seen in many places, this is the most common hummingbird within oak/chapparal habitat of the Pacific coast and it is native.

Range expansion is sending this delightful bird north to British Columbia, where it is becoming common.  As a medium sized hummingbird, the broad tail extends beyond the wingtips while seated, and the bill is short and straight.

As collectors of nectar, these hummingbirds are excellent pollinators of an assortment of plants, most notably tubular flowers.  Early in the twentieth century, this bird was only found in Baja California as well as California.   Exotic plants brought it north, and due to range expansion for the simplest of reasons, it was found to do well in other climates and take nectar from introduced species of plants..

Found in 2010 in Oklahoma at both a private residence in Cherokee County, as well as proven at another residence in the fall in Comanche County, these are the only two instances known on eBird.

                                                           Male Anna's Hummingbird
                                                               Pima County, AZ 2018

Anna's frequently hybridizes with Costa's Hummingbird.  In the 1860s or thereabouts in Mexico, a hybrid was located in Mexico and was named Floresi's Hummingbird.  After a number of years, this extremely rare bird was discovered in California and was learned to be a hybrid of Anna's and Allen's Hummingbirds.  Nearly three decades later, also in California, the rare Violet-throated Hummingbird was noted as a mix between the Black-chinned Hummingbird and Anna's. Perhaps there will be more to add to this saga at a later date.

The Anna's is believed to consume more insects than any other hummingbird, which most likely adds something to its strong constitution, especially during the winter.  It can stay in some areas that no other hummingbirds will go during that season.  This fact could also lend to why this bird is so far reaching in hybridization for survival and its sometimes unlikely appearances in other climate zones.

092318 Muskogee Edition, Birding Today


Oklahoma Vagrants: Black-throated Sparrow

The Black-throated Sparrow is known for arid desert scrubland, and that is where such areas on the Oklahoma Panhandle give one exactly what asked for since 1974.  They are frequently seen in the open upon the ground or on twiggy shrubs in canyons.  2018 has been the year of sightings in Oklahoma in both spring and fall at Easter Pageant, as well as a few other sparse observations in Cimarron County.  They are still not often seen here.

A small sparrow with striking marks that include the black throat and bib, the singing male has a notable call in the spring.  The species feeds on seeds and insects, and can occur up to 7,000 feet elevation.  They are often under cacti and shrubs, and if proper habitat can be cultivated, they will come to feeders.  Insects are usually only consumed during the breeding season and seeds for the remainder of the year.

                                               Black-throated Sparrow (Texas subspecies)
                                                           Rio Grande Valley, Texas 2017

Frequent hosts to the Brown-headed Cowbird, some of the young sparrows will not survive.  Other  problems include excessive heat, fire suppression, and loss of habitat due to urbanization.

The desert sparrow can withstand a great deal of heat, obtaining necessary water from food sources.  Resident birds remain in the southern US, while northern breeders tend to join them there, as well as in Mexico.

See the Western Subspecies of this bird with others in Arizona:


092318 SNP Edition, Life at Boomer Lake


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Oklahoma Vagrants: Vermilion Flycatcher

pete-pete or  pete-a-weet

Uncommon and local in diverse mixes of brush, trees, riparian woodlands, agricultural areas, savannah, grassy openings near water, and in desert habitat, the Vermilion Flycatcher will enamor you.  The usually solitary bird will sally for small flying insects like a typical flycatcher from an open perch.

This spectacular red passerine of the south and southwest is a star in its own right.  The species is dimorphic, and the female is very similar to the Say's Flycatcher with her peach colored belly.

From Alaska to central South America, the wide range is enjoyed by this neotropical migrant, which encompasses over seven million square miles globally.

Males will bound across the high canopy while fluttering and singing a solicitous song in the spring to a chosen female.  They will fluff out the feathers, perform aerial acrobatics, and then swoop down to the perch from where they came.  The male will offer the female a butterfly to seal the deal.

                                                            Male Vermilion Flycatcher
                                               Patagonia Lake SP, Santa Cruz County, AZ

First found in Oklahoma in the twenty-first century, Darwin's flycatcher has visited the panhandle quite often, and has even made guest appearances in other parts of the state.  It has even been as far as the state of Maine.

A species of least concern and one not to be easily forgotten, the Galapagos flycatcher will bring a smile to one's face with its friendly nature.  Both parents care for the young, and the male will handle parental duties while the female begins a second clutch.  These small flycatchers are insectivores.

Land development and water redirection caused a serious problem in the lower Colorado River Valley for this bird.  It has rebounded and is spreading its wings as can be seen with its diverse range in other locales.

Other Birds Seen with the Vermilion Flycatcher: