The Ubiquitous Mallard—A Cautionary Tale, by Tina Mitchell

Mallard Batiquitos  Hardly in need of an introduction, the Mallard is our most familiar, common, and widespread duck, residing almost everywhere in North America at some point during the year.  Tamed since antiquity, Mallards are the progenitors of all races of domestic ducks except the Muscovy.  In fact, while hybridization is common among many waterfowl…

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On Display—The Western Tanager, by Tina Mitchell

An amazing variety of birds in the western hemisphere are called “tanagers”—estimates range from 300 to 400 species in all.  During breeding season, the U.S. routinely hosts only four tanager species, all closely related congenerics:  Western, Summer, Hepatic, and Scarlet. Westerns are by far the most common in this county; the San Diego County Birding…

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This Neighborhood Jukebox Plays for Free — The Northern Mockingbird

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word.  Pappa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.  If that mockingbird won’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”  Northern Mockingbirds pretty much do nothing but sing.  So you can kiss that diamond ring goodbye.  A loud and indefatigable songster and consummate mimic, a Northern Mockingbird structures his song…

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Buena Vista’s Charming Symbol, The Ruddy Duck

Sporting a dapper black cap, a sky-blue bill accentuating a chestnut-brown body, a gleaming white cheek patch, and black perky tail feathers, a male Ruddy Duck in breeding season assumes an entirely different bearing from his nondescript winter alter ego. All in all, with its small size, broad flattened bill, disproportionately large head, and distinct,…

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The Cuckoo in the Coal Mine

Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) are fairly common in the eastern U.S. But in the last half-century, they have become rare in the West. Over the past 10 years in San Diego County, eBird shows unique sightings only 15 times—almost always a single bird in June or July, at Lake Henshaw, Lake Hodges, the Anza Borrego…

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Under the Mistletoe—Phainopepla

A member of the silky-flycatcher family, the Phainopepla inhabits the Southwest and Mexico. The male has a thin frame; shiny black plumage; piercing crimson eyes; and a sparse, cow-lick crest. In contrast to the male’s shimmering plumage, the similarly shaped female sports sooty gray feathers with the same crimson eyes and wispy crest. In flight,…

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Doing Just Fine, Thank You—The Black Phoebe

“Hey—grab the scope! What’s that bird?” I pointed to a small, dark bird with a distinctly dipping tail, sitting upright on a distant branch overhanging the river. For the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, we were surveying our block of pinyon/juniper, high-altitude conifers, and a short stretch of the Arkansas River in central Colorado, to document…

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The Greater Roadrunner Beep! Beep!

A “tall, thin tramp in a swallow-tailed coat.” A “long striped snake on two legs.” A lanky, blue and purple cartoon character with a flopping crest, constantly foiling Wile E. Coyote. What do these descriptions have in common?  They all belong to the Greater Roadrunner. A large, loping, ground-loving member of the cuckoo family, this…

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A Wren for All Seasons

Walking past the sage-scrub open space in the pre-dawn winter twilight, I heard a number of birds singing loudly.  Some sounded like Song Sparrows improvising a different intro and jazzier closing notes—maybe a different song for winter than summer?  Others made me think of extremely musical Spotted Towhees, although Spotteds (and most songbirds) don’t sing…

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In Living Color: Black-headed Grosbeaks are Back in Town

Just before my shift started, I walked into the baby bird room at the wildlife rehabilitation center. A distinctive sound ringing through the room—”WEE-urrr, WEE-urrr”—transported me back more than five years and 1,000 miles. The soundtrack of late summer in the pinyon-juniper habitat of our previous home in the Colorado mountains—baby Black-headed Grosbeaks were in…

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