Flown the Coop

Leaves are gone, so too the birds that hatched here. An odd little nest, hung not straight up and down but inclined on an angle, its backside to the west wind.

Grass blades, a few plant stems, some thistle down, strands of hair and a single piece of blue baling twine for colour — home tweet home.

Bird nest

Curve-billed Thrasher

CBTs are aptly named. Their bills are definitely curved and they really do thrash about on the ground

They flip over small rocks, scatter leaf litter, toss sticks out of the way, even pound their bills into the dirt like jack hammers — all in search of food. Insects, spiders, seeds and fruits are fair game and few escape the sharp eyes and even sharper beaks.


One morning early this spring I heard the most beautiful music in a thick patch of desert brush. I discovered the sweet melody coming from a curve-billed thrasher. Quite at odds with the feeding frenzies I’ve witnessed. 🙂


Curve-billed thrasher   Toxostoma curvirostre
Saguaro   Carnegiea gigantea
Ironwood   Olneya tesota

Sapsucker Sap Wells


Okay, say that title 5 times without tripping over your tongue.

Sapsuckers do, indeed, suck sap. It’s their main food source, though they also dine on insects, especially ones attracted to sap.

Sap wells are the holes that yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill into live trees. Once you’ve seen sap wells, you can’t mistake the lines of organized holes for anything else.

In the spring sapsuckers drill deep round holes (into the tree’s xylem for the botanically inclined) to catch the sap rising from the roots up to the branches.

Later, after the tree has leafed out, they drill shallow, rectangular holes (into the phloem) to catch the sap being sent down the tree to be stored in the roots.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are frequent visitors to our yard. For years they have dined on the sap from lilac, saskatoon and mountain ash.

This year, for the first time, I caught a sapsucker family feeding on a large aspen.

Search YouTube if you’d like to see these suckers in action. 🙂

Yellow-bellied sapsucker   Sphyrapicus varius
Aspen   Populus tremuloides

Grey Day

The other morning I looked out the kitchen window and spotted a great grey owl sitting in the garden. A not uncommon sight but always a rush.

At first glance, he looks huge. However, thick feathered layers hide a deceptively small body weighing only about a kilo — not much more than a couple of pounds of butter.

I watch him as he hunts from his perch. No sound escapes him. Specialized feathers on the broad circular facial disc catch and focus each incoming sound. A raven overhead. A frog in the grass. Water running in the sink.

Despite their skill, they go hungry on occasion. One summer the rain never stopped. Everything was wet and soggy and miserable. A young, bedraggled grey appeared on our rail fence. To our utter amazement he flew down into the garden to eat worms.


While most owls are nocturnal, the great grey prefers hunting at dawn and dusk, its tiny eyes adapted to daylight. On overcast days you might see them any time.

The great grey has a higher tolerance for humans than many wild animals, sometimes to its detriment. Some people use them for target practice, leaving a broken body in the ditch. Just because they can.

Great grey owl   Strix nebulosa