Friday, December 7, 2012


Hermit Warbler                      photo by Richard Halliburton

Every year, the human population of the valley dramatically increases with the annual migration of "snowbirds" to southern Arizona, flocks of retirees who winter down here where it is warm and sunny and head back north between May and October to escape the insanely hot summer. Or is it that they are residents in the north during the balmy summers, and flee south to escape the blistering cold winters? Either way you look at it, they are in plenty of good company, because dozens of bird species use the same strategy of seasonal migration to up their chances of finding abundant food year round and good nesting sites when the urge to mate urge arises.
As opposed to the northern or high-altitude bioregions, where avian life is much more diverse during the summers, the Sonoran desert region hosts more winter residents. We are the south that many birds migrate to during the winter, but there are also some heat-loving summer residents that hang around here during the searing hot summer months and migrate further south during our ever so slightly chilly winters.
Some of the most common snowbirds, those that migrate to the desert for the winter, are American goldfinch, Western bluebird, and white-crowned sparrow. Waterfowl are the most abundant migratory species, seeking open water to feed in and be safe from predators, bringing us cormorants, egrets, ibis’s, and all kinds of ducks.
Quail Eggs      photo R. Halliburton
Although the best places to see birds are natural areas and open water, you need not go further than your own backyard to see dozens of species, both migratory and year-round residents. Over the years I’ve logged over thirty species that have stopped by for a visit. Local resident Richard Halliburton has been backyard birding in Stetson Hill for ten years, and has logged over 50 species, including a green heron and a hermit warbler that were migrating through. Quails love his yard so much that they laid a dozen eggs in his hedge. Richard’s secret? Homemade suet, made from a combination of lard, peanut butter, corn meal, flour and fruit.
What visits your backyard is of great interest to scientists who monitor the abundance and distribution of bird species. The 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be collecting data from citizens all over North America between February 15-18th, and will be expanding to the entire globe for the first time this year. Like the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which has been going on for over 100 years, the GBBC is an important tool to help understand what is going on with bird populations, both urban and wild. All you need to do is pay attention to the birds in your yard, or anywhere else you like, for fifteen minutes and log in your results to the GBBC website at
You might be surprised what you see!

Green Heron                        photo by R. Halliburton

Make your own suet
In a large bowl, blend together 2 cups flour, 2 cups corn meal, 2 cups quick oats and 2 cups wild bird seed mix. In a medium pot, melt together 1 pound of lard and half cup chunky peanut butter over medium heat. Stir in 2 heaping tablespoons of berry preserves and a cup of raisens or dried cranberries. Remove from stove and blend with the dry ingredients. Press the mixture into a greased 9x9 pan and let it cool. Cut the suet into blocks and store in the frig until use.

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