Wild Birds Unlimited Newsletter
~ For those passionate about birding and nature ~
June 1st, 2016                                                                                               Volume 06.16
Nature News

High Desert Bird of the Month

   

   

Common Name: Black Headed Grosbeak

Scientific name: Pheucticus melanocephalus 

 

How to identify:  

Breeding males are a rich orange-cinnamon with a black head and black and white wings.  Females and immatures are brown above with warm orange or buff on the breast.  In flight, look for the beautiful bright yellow under the wings. Their bills are large and conical like other grosbeaks. 


 

Habitat:

Habitat preferences are very diverse-they may be found from mixed woodlands, mountain forests, thickets along desert streams, to gardens and backyards.  Ideal habitat seems to be a combination of large trees and a rich understory. 

 

Where to find one:

Black-headed Grosbeak is a spring and summer visitor in our area, and winters in Mexico.  Preferred nesting sites are in the outer branches of small trees or a bush near a stream.  Oxbow Nature Study Area is a good place in Reno to look for them during nesting season.   

The song of the Black-headed Grosbeak is a real treat, sounding very robin-like.  Both male and female are loud songsters; the female's song is usually a simplified version of the males.  The male courts the female with singing and flight displays that involve fluttering up from a perch, singing and spreading his wings and tail, and settling back on the same perch.  Both parents sit on the eggs, feed the young and defend their nesting territory.  They will drive away predators like Scrub Jays and Steller's Jays. 

 

How to attract one to your yard:

Insects and spiders make up about 60% of their breeding season diet, supplemented by seeds and fruits.  They will visit backyard feeders for sunflower seed, and possibly even nectar feeders put out for orioles.  Check with the staff at Moana Nursery for tips on seed and feeders for both types of grosbeaks. 


 

Interesting fact:  

In central Mexico, where monarch butterflies and Black-headed Grosbeaks both spend the winter, the grosbeaks are one of the butterflies' few predators. Toxins in the monarch make them poisonous to most birds, but Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few others can eat them. They feed on monarchs in roughly 8-day cycles, apparently to give themselves time to eliminate the toxins.



Go to the WBU site for more Bird of the Month newsletters & articles. 
 
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Fun Facts About Grosbeaks


The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak shares incubation duties with the female and is known to even sing while sitting on the nest.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is beneficial to farmers, consuming many potato beetles and weed seeds.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak will breed with the Black-headed Grosbeak in areas where their ranges overlap.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are known for singing on moonlit nights, sometimes all night, but never very loudly.

The nests of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are commonly parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird, possibly due to the singing done by both the male and female as they construct the nest.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks' preferred feeder items are sunflower, safflower and peanuts.

The nests of the Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks are so thinly constructed that eggs often can be seen through the nest from below.

The males of both the Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeak share equally in incubating eggs and feeding young, despite having a much showier plumage than their respective females.

The Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeak have unusual diets for birds with such a big seed-eating beak. Throughout most of the year, over half of their diet is made up of insects. Their huge beaks allows them to eat large grasshoppers, crickets and other insects that have tough exoskeletons. 

By singing a "male" song, the female Black-headed Grosbeak can trick her mate into thinking a rival male is nearby, forcing him to stay closer to the nest.
 
Black-headed Grosbeaks eat insects, weed seeds and fruits. Sunflower seeds are their favorite feeder food.

Black-headed Grosbeaks are one of the few birds capable of eating toxic monarch butterflies. They discard the wings before eating the butterfly in an apparent attempt to reduce the amount of toxins they ingest.

Black-headed Grosbeaks and Black-backed Orioles are the two primary avian predators of the over-winter populations of Monarch Butterflies found in Mexico. Combined, they are responsible for more than 60% of Monarch mortality at many of the Mexican roosting sites.

These two species feed twice daily at the roosts in mixed flocks of five to at least 60 birds and annually consume several million Monarchs in the Mexican roosts.

At one 5 ½ acre Monarch butterfly colony, Black-headed Grosbeaks, along with the Black-backed Orioles ate an average of 15,000 butterflies a day. It is estimated that over 2 million butterflies were consumed during the entire winter resulting in almost a 10% reduction of the roost's entire population.

Evening Grosbeaks like to eat wild cherries, but unlike other birds, they only eat the pits. They manipulate cherries in their beak to remove the outer skin and flesh. The remaining slippery seeds are held firmly with special pads on the "gross beak" and are simply cracked open and then swallowed.
 
So favored are cherry pits that Evening Grosbeaks sometimes seek out the pits voided by American Robins.

Evening Grosbeaks can break open seeds that require up to 125 pounds of pressure to crush.

Black-headed Grosbeaks have been known to feed at oriole nectar feeders.

Evening Grosbeaks are often attracted to salt and other mineral sources.

The Evening Grosbeak is an irruptive migrant that makes irregular appearances at winter feeding stations throughout much of United States.
 
The Evening Grosbeak was not commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains before the 1850's. Winter irruptions now occur in all of the 48 contiguous states. This expansion may be attributed to widespread planting of box elder trees in landscapes across the east. Its seeds persist on the tree throughout the winter and provided flocks with a reliable source of food.

The Evening Grosbeak was named in 1825 based on erroneous accounts that they became vocal and active only "at the approach of night." This erroneous belief persisted for years, and the name is still a misnomer.

Evening Grosbeaks seem to delight in snipping off the twigs of Sugar Maple trees and sipping the sweet sap.

Father's Day Bird Fun Facts 

The Father-of-the-Year Award 
Goes to the Downy Woodpecker. Though they share daytime nest duties with their mate, only the fathers incubate and brood at night and they roost in the nest until their offspring fledge. 

Proud Provider 
Chickadee and nuthatch dads feed Mom while she incubates and broods the eggs. Dad also helps feed the young once they have hatched. 

Dad's Favorite Diner 
Downy Woodpecker and American Goldfinch dads like to take the family out to eat. When the young brood fledges from the nest, Dad leads them to great food sources as well as teaches them how to use his favorite backyard bird feeders.

Upcoming Events
 
Lahontan Audubon Society

Wednesday, June 1
6:00pm
 Birds of the Truckee Meadows - Mountain Birds
Saturday, June 4
7:00am
 Field Trip - South of the Border down Markleeville Way
Thursday, June 9
7:30pm
 LAS Screening of The Messenger
Saturday, June 11
 "Discover Nevada State Parks" Day
10:00am
 7th Annual Lake Tahoe Bird Festival
Tuesday, June 14
7:30am
 Field Trip - McCarran Ranch, Truckee River
Saturday, July 9
7:30am
 Field Trip - Wildflowers, Birds, and Falls (Mt Rose)

Animal Ark

CSI Animal Ark

June 11 @ 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Animal Ark
1265 Deerlodge Road 
Reno, NV 89508
Great Horned Owl

Bring the family and become Cat Science Investigators! Receive hands-on training in identifying wild feline characteristics and biology as you walk through the park, observe living specimens, and meet our wildlife caretakers. Admission: $12 for Adults, $11 for Seniors, $10 for Children (3-12 years old), Children 2 & under are free.





June Nature Happenings
 
June is Perennial Garden Month & National Rivers Month.
 
Beautiful Columbines (Colorado State Flower) will begin to bloom.
 
Some cavity-dwelling species may attempt to start a second brood. Be sure to check your nest boxes.
 
Add suet dough to your bird feeding station during the hot summer.
 
Bird migration is finished. Birds that are here now are summer residents that nest.
 
As the month progresses, feeders can become busy with visiting parents and fledglings.
 
Keep cats inside to help protect fledglings.
 
House Wrens are nesting.
 
Viceroy, Fritillary and Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly mating seasons.
 
Keep nectar feeders fresh and change sugar solutions every three days as the temperature rises.
 
Many summer birds are not frequent feeder visitors but will seek out fresh water to beat the summer heat.
 
In new open space, watch for Say's Phoebes, Western Kingbirds, shrikes and various flycatchers to search for flying insects and water to wash them down.

Celebrating 10 years in Reno, NV! 
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Moana Nursery | 1100 W. Moana Lane | 11301 S. Virginia St. | 7655 Pyramid Hwy. | Reno/Sparks | NV | 89509