I knew a man who referred to those black and white, long-tailed birds as “Holstein Pheasants.”
He used to say, you can shoot pheasants, can’t you? Magpies are loved or hated. Few are without opinions when it comes to these protected, I remind you protected, birds.
In Asia, they are revered for good luck; while their relatives, the crows, are omens of bad luck.
The black-billed magpie of Utah is related to the yellow-billed magpies in California and more distantly to the European magpie and the Korean magpie.
They all have a similar general appearance, black and white with a long black tail.
Our Black-billed magpies mate for life and stay together until one dies. Then the other may find a new mate.
Their home-building skills will not produce awards for neatness on the outside. But are marvels of architecture.
Nests are collections of loose sticks, mud, bark and other available materials, often built on older nests. A hood of loose sticks covers the nest with multiple entrances.
And the inside is lined with soft grasses and other materials.
Once the nest is built, the female lays six or seven eggs. While she sets on the eggs, the male feeds her for up to 18 days. The parents feed their young about two months, even though the young fledge in about a month. Upon independence from their parents, the young flock with other young magpies.
Magpies can be seen harassing hawks, eagles and owls as they perch in trees.
But despite the begrudging landlords, owls and hawks often take up residence in old magpie nests.
Bold and gregarious, magpies are well adapted to man. They are the bane of back yard bird feeders, driving songbirds away and eating everything in sight.
I know at least one local birder, however, who enjoys magpies and attracts them with Cheetos and soft cat food, but on the other side of the house from her regular bird feeders.
Magpies are opportunists and nest raiders. They are despised by hunters because they clean out unprotected and abandoned nests.
And fruit growers fight them with netting, flags and pyrotechnics. But don’t hold that against them.
These Holsteins clean up roadkill, tent caterpillars, grasshoppers and many other things that we’d rather not see or smell.
For Wild About Utah, I’m Dick Hurren.
Photos: Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Image Files
Text: Lyle Bingham and Dick Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Utah’s state bird is is commemorated as the seagull, more accurately the the California Gull. Known in Utah for having saved the pioneers from the Mormon cricket invasion of 1848 and subsequent years, gulls hold a hallowed place in local history.
Seagull is a generic term referring to gulls of all types. Gulls we are familiar with range from the small 11-inch Bonaparte’s gull with a 32-inch wingspan to the 20-inch Herring gull with a 55-inch wingspan. They are white, grey and some have black heads. Young go through phases giving them different appearances as they mature over two to four years depending upon the species.
Many Gulls migrate to parts of Utah and some pass through in their migration to more northern regions. Ring-billed gulls are here during the fall, winter, and spring. The occasional Herring or Thayer’s gull may visit us in winter. A few black-headed Bonaparte’s gulls pass through reliably in spring and fall during migration. Upon rare occasions, we are even visited by Herrman’s, Western, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, yellow-footed , Sabine’s, Iceland, and lesser black-backed gulls.
In spring, the California gulls and the much smaller and black-headed Franklin’s gulls return to nest. They migrate from southern states or the pacific coast and raise their young locally on islands in fresh and salt water.
Gulls clean up. They frequent garbage dumps, and irrigated, plowed or manure-covered fields. These carnivores eat insects, worms, crustaceans, fish and the occasional french fry in a parking lot. Opportunistic, they watch and raid unprotected nests of other birds, eating eggs and young. Sometimes flying singly, they are more often found in flocks. In flocks they defend against predators by harassment and intimidation.
Thayer’s and Herring gulls have been known to use tools. They have been seen dropping shellfish on asphalt or concrete roads to crack them open and eat the contents.
At the store, take a moment to think about our state bird. In the dump, and in waterways, gulls can become entrapped in six-pack rings. Do your part to prevent this by cutting up these plastic rings before disposing of them. Or better yet, buy cans loose or in boxes instead of rings.
Roadrunner on Joshua Tree Geococcyx californianus
Beaver Dam Slope, Washington County, UT
Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Jeff Cooper
Neovistabirding.blogspot.com “A roadrunner up in a tree? Couldn’t be!” was the comment I got upon describing this unusual sighting to some BLM employees in St. George, Utah. But sure enough, there it was, most likely a juvenile trying out it’s new wings as it’s lesser siblings scrambled through the desert scrub near a wet hollow. I too was amazed to see this quirky bird in a tree, but then stories I had accumulated from those who have lived in roadrunner territory bore testimony to its strange ways.
Their ungainly and rather comical appearance, combined with their eccentricities, have endeared them to many, and find myself no exception. And yes, as you have heard, they are very quick on their feet attaining sustained ground speeds of 17 MPH, not quite as fast as Canis Latrans, the wily coyote. Another peculiarity- for whatever reason, they have a propensity for running into buildings, perhaps hoping to corner their prey.
A member of the cuckoo family, the Roadrunner is uniquely suited to the hot desert environment found in southern Utah. This is because of a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations. Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food. It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion. A nasal gland eliminates excess salt instead of using the urinary tract like most birds. An it reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday.
Its extreme quickness allows the roadrunner to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair. Snakes, including rattlers, are another favorite food. Using its wings like a matador’s cape, a roadrunner snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground until lifeless. It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the Roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.
I can scarcely wait for my next encounter with the roadrunner!
Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from the Bridgerland Audubon Society in Cache Valley.
Isn’t it interesting how shopping centers and housing developments are named after things that used to be: Fair Meadows Court, Rustic Drive, White Pines Lane, Riverwoods, Apple blossom Circle. There is one place that is named for its current occupants: Robin Street.
The American Robin is one of the most adapted birds to human development. It is also one of the most recognized. Robin redbreast is found not only by the stream, but in back yards, and city parks. We see them hopping across lawns, cocking their heads to see close up and picking out juicy worms. They also feast on cherries and other fruits. They can be seen and heard high in trees or on house peaks identifying their territory. Think about how they were in the past, pulling worms from a meadow and eating native berries. They actually have it better now.
They interact near us most often during breeding season. Robins build nests in trees or on sheltered ledges and platforms on buildings.
Both parents work to build the nest from sticks, thread, mud, and other available materials. The grass inner lining is soft against a woven-mud-covered bowl. Nest building is completed about 10 days before eggs are laid. The eggs are laid, one per day until a clutch of 3 or 4 fill the nest. The eggs define the pale blue-green color “Robin’s egg blue”.
The female sets on the eggs about two weeks until the young hatch blind and featherless. Mother and more often the father feeds the young. In another two weeks they are fully feathered and trying their wings. While the male feeds the young the female can be building another nest. Robins can produce 2 or 3 broods a year.
The robin’s size and shape is so well known that they are used as a standard to compare other birds.
But its a rough life being a robin. Only 40 percent of the nests built successfully rear a brood. Of the young hatched, 25 percent live through November. Although a robin may live up to 14 years, in any given year, only about half of the robins alive will live until the next year. Lawn chemicals and uncontrolled pets are part of the robin’s equation of life and death. The population of robins turns over on average every 6 years.
Robins roost in groups, except during the season when the females are setting on the nest. Males always roost in groups. After breeding, the nestlings and females join the male flock. Flocks of robins don’t frequent backyards as much in winter as they do in the nesting season. Some robins migrate, but some also live year-round in the same location. Robins remain in flocks until the spring nesting season when they again divide up into pairs and return to parks, back yards and Robin street.