Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Topnotch Topknots

There is not a jauntier little bird than the Black-crested Titmouse. Crests always tidy, never having a "bad-hair day," they look especially bright-eyed and well-groomed.  Their black eyes looking like shiny buttons,  they dart quickly to the feeders, grab a morsel, and  fly quickly away to eat the black sunflower seed in a nearby tree.  Grasping the seed with tiny feet against the branch, they peck determinedly once or twice, deftly cracking the shell, and eating it posthaste.

We have a pair this year that apparently have chosen to nest in a dead cottonwood tree, a more conventional nesting cavity  than some they have had in the past.  One summer they raised two broods inside the metal railing on a boat trailer parked at the side of our yard.  It was a hot summer (of course) and I feared the metal pipe would be too hot--or within reach of marauding stray cats, but baby titmice fledged successfully both times.  Another summer they built a nest inside the metal arm of a large satellite disk about five feet off the ground.  Every time the dish moved when we changed channels (this was before  Dish Network satellites when we had one of those big awkward moving dishes), the arm would move too--but that didn't bother the birds either! 
Among my favorite summer days are those when just-fledged titmice are noisily following their parents around the yard.

I finally got a photograph of a Pyrrhuloxia at the feeder on the edge of the house.  A pair have been coming to the second floor feeder for the last couple of days along with several Northern Cardinals.  I like to see the two species together.  Superficially the Pyrrhuloxia looks like a female cardinal, but side by side there's  quite a difference.  I  think the Pyrrhuloxia looks like a caricature  of a Cardinal with its big yellow beak and exaggerated crest.  Looking at it makes me smile--which is why I have been trying to get a photo.  (Typically  it eats seed sprinkled on the ground at the end of the driveway,  too far away from the deck to get a clear photo, and it usually flies away when I walk outside with my camera.  So I was happy to have the pair start coming to the window.)

The female Cardinal in this photo demonstrates the strength of her beak:  those are bits of a just-crushed sunflower seed flying around the lower mandible.  At first when I looked at the photo, I thought there was something wrong with the beak, but I examined the photos taken just before and just after that one was, and realized those were splinters of the seed heart and shell that a split-second before had been shattered by that beak so well-adapted to her diet. 

Here's a close-up. Can't you just hear the crack of that seed exploding? 

I began this post with a Black-crested Titmouse; I'll end with a much larger crested bird:  the Crested Caracara (Northern Caracara) that posed in a mesquite tree while we were boating along the river yesterday.  People around here call them the "Mexican Eagle," but they are actually falcons.  When I see one of these on the ground, there's usually something dead nearby.  They are carrion-eaters like vultures (and often hang around with them, especially Black Vultures), but they also eat living snakes,  lizards, turtles, etc.

I like to see Caracaras flying.  Something about the way they fly, very purposefully, reminds me of kamikazes. They look helmeted to me, and other falcons do, too--- an impression I have that, it occurs to me as I write, others may not have.  But even from too far away to see clearly, I can spot these large crested birds and know just what they are.

Maybe it's the crest.  Whatever it is, these four birds--from the dapper little Black-crested Titmouse -- to the seed-cracking Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias -- to the imposing Crested Caracara--are among my favorite yard birds. Yesterday was  a topnotch day for watching topknots.


Jain said...

I've seen these birds only in field guides but was always drawn to them. Good to know real people are enjoying them in real places!

KaHolly said...

Oh, Kay, that is a WONDERFUL photo of the Caracara!!!! I am SO impressed. This was a fun post - humbling for me as I read along, enjoying the storytelling part of your informative text. ~karen

Kay said...

Thank you for the encouraging posts, Jain and Karen! I have fun writing because I know somebody out there is listening and enjoying our birds with us!--Kay

Joy K. said...

The tufted titmice around the house are some of my favorite birds. They've been the chief raiders of the unshelled peanuts that I put out for the blue jays. The nuts are as big as their heads: I'm amazed they can fly away with them.

Inverness Daily Photo said...

What lovely birds.

eileeninmd said...

I love all your bird shots, I hope to see them someday too.

Kay said...

I hope you can! (Right now I hear a turkey gobbling across the road--I'm on my way to investigate. Thanks for stopping by, eileeninmd!