Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona
My new book on the birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona is now available. The book has photographs, notes on seasonal abundance, and conservation status for the 127 species I’ve seen around my home on the Agua Fria River in the center of town. I designed the book to serve as a notebook and checklist to supplement any of the great bird field guides already available.
My place includes the core area of a 20-acre willow-cottonwood forest growing along the Agua Fria River. The forest is the dark green patch in the lower right-center of the header photograph. The river is perennial through the forest and there are large stock-watering ponds on my place that are now used only by wildlife. Without houses or trails in its core area, the forest is a safe zone for wildlife. Thousands of birds stop to rest and forage, and many spend their summers there. Rare birds such as the Southwest Willow Flycatcher, Common Black Hawk, and Gray Hawk build nests and raise families.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo by mdf
In August, 2016, Felipe Guerrero identified the calls of mature Yellow-billed Cuckoos near the edge of the forest and we photographed a fledgling. Western North American populations of the Cuckoo are in steep decline. The species is rare in central Arizona where I live, and rarer still to be producing fledglings here.
Preparing The Book
In 1997, I began making lists of the birds and other wildlife I saw around my 20-acre farm on the Agua Fria River in the town of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. After a few years, I gathered the lists together in one notebook. While doing this, I researched the various species groups (birds, grasshoppers, mammals, etc.) and compiled lists of all the species known to live in or to visit Arizona. The Arizona Wildlife Notebook, published in 2014, includes lists of all those species categorized in eleven groups (amphibians, ants, birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies and damselflies, fish, grasshoppers and other singing insects, lizards, mammals, snakes, and turtles). The book gives common and scientific names and estimates of species health and stability. It’s a handy tool for recording species anywhere in the State of Arizona.
Birds of Dewey-Humboldt Arizona, is a chapter from the full notebook with added details and photographs for observed bird species. The book is a report to my community that I hope will help others record their bird sightings.
I recommend uploading bird sightings to the online checklist program at http://ebird.org. Operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides basic information on bird abundance and distribution at various spatial and temporal scales. Placing sightings on the eBird website will help ornithologists and other naturalists working on bird conservation.
This book has common and scientific names alphabetized by common name, and it has an index. Finding a bird name can be tricky because the common name isn’t always what we think. For instance, the list gives Arizona’s two Robin species as “American Robin” and “Rufous-backed Robin.” The index is often more helpful. For Robins, it lists the species as “Robin, American” and “Robin, Rufous-backed.” It also gives page numbers for both species’ scientific names.
Caveat: My notes on dates of first sightings might reflect the date I learned to identify a species, not the date the species first appeared near my home.
The past decade’s droughts, storms, and spreading deserts show that humanity is changing the Earth. Research coming from many sources shows that worldwide animal extinctions are occurring 100 times faster than in Earth’s previous mass-extinction events recorded in the fossil record.
Extinction isn’t the only concern. Total loss of a species results after years of decline. The Living Planet Index, which measures abundance levels of 14,152 monitored populations of 3,706 vertebrate species, shows that a worldwide crash is occurring. On average, monitored species declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.
One of the oldest and most familiar citizen-participation activities is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Wildlife biologists have used the Bird Count to monitor bird species populations. A recent analysis of the Count’s results show that many U.S. bird species are declining. Some of our most familiar birds appear in current counts less than half as often as they did just 50 years ago. For example, over the past 50 years, sightings of Loggerhead Shrikes, a common Arizona species, declined by 72%. The Shrike in the photograph at left is the only one I have seen in 19 years of watching at my place.
Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) wildlife biologists conclude that at least 58% of Arizona’s native birds are definitely declining and . Another 20% are of possible long-term concern. The U.S. Endangered Species Act protects only 1% of Arizona bird species.
The reason for the declining numbers is not a mystery. Researchers have shown that the declines are due to the impact of human activities, chiefly:
- habitat destruction (building and farming)
- resource harvests (logging, livestock grazing, and water diversion)
- habitat deterioration caused by introduced invasive plants
- habitat poisoning with pesticides, toxic wastes, and in the case of the oceans, acidification due to CO2 increases and increases in organic runoff from the land.
The human impact is a direct result of human construction, land clearing, and resource consumption. Our total global population is nearing 7.5 billion and we are using the Earth’s renewable resources faster than natural processes replenish them.
Unless we control our population and consumption or unless drought, disease, pollution, and rising temperature control them for us, the environmental impacts of our growth will eventually eliminate upwards of 80% of our bird species.
I believe nature conservation was the great challenge of the 20th Century, and we failed the challenge. Human beings are imposing a mass extinction that now appears destined to wipe out most animals on Earth. I hope readers of this book will recognize the danger and help me find ways to stop the extinctions.
Bird Species Numbers
According to the information published by AZGFD, 551 bird species and subspecies occur in Arizona. Regular residents number 451.
- World estimate: 10,000
- U.S. estimate: 1,000
- Arizona total: 551
- Arizona birds regularly present: 451
- Arizona regulars of concern (S1 to S3): 260 (58%)
- Arizona regulars of possible long-term concern (S4): 95 (21%).
- ESA Arizona regulars listed endangered: 6 (1%)
- ESA Arizona regulars listed threatened: 1 (<1%)
- ESA Arizona regulars of concern: 26 (6%)
- Title: Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona
- Pages: 128
- Identifiers: ISBN 978-1539511786 | LCCN 2016918263
- Subjects: LCSH Dewey-Humboldt (Ariz.) | Agua Fria River Valley (Ariz.) | Birds–Arizona. | BISAC NATURE / Birdwatching Guides
- Classification: LCC QL684.A6 .R63 2016 | DDC 598.09791–dc23
- Download a FREE PDF copy.
- List Price: $24.95
- Description: This book describes the birds seen around the author’s home in the center of Dewey-Humboldt, a small Arizona town. A desert stream, the Agua Fria River, passes through the town and across land owned by the author. There, the river flood plain supports a 20-acre willow-cottonwood forest. Without houses or trails in its core area, the forest is a safe zone for wildlife. Thousands of birds belonging to more than 100 species stop to rest and forage in the small forest. The Southwest Willow Flycatcher (on the U. S. Endangered Species List) and several other rare bird species use the forest to build nests and raise families. The book lists 127 species observed in and around the forest. For each, the book includes seasonal abundance, conservation status, and a photograph.
- Purchase from:
- Independent bookstores with books in stock
- Gifts and Games, Humboldt Station, Humboldt, AZ, (928) 227-2775
- Other bookstores can order the book from their distributor.
November 11, 2016. Chicago Animals Book Festival. Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona announced the winner in the “Birds” category.
July 1, 2017: With entrants from around the globe, Literary Classics has announced its international and top honors book awards.
July 1, 2017. Literary Classics Gold Award.
This section could be titled “Some of The Birds.” The birds below are a sample of the 137 birds I and Felipe Guerrero have seen in Dewey-Humboldt. Note: The photos are copyrighted. Their Creative Commons Licenses allow you to use them for personal or educational purposes, but please do not use them for commercial purposes without permission.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) With their bright early morning songs and tolerance for human neighbors, Robins are familiar to everyone. They love moist ground and lawns without pesticides. There you will often see the classic tug-of-war between a stretching earthworm and a straining bird. Robins like berries and gather around pyracantha and other shrubs in fall and winter. Description: Eight to eleven inches long, male and female similar, but male breast is deeper red. Robins have average life spans of six years. Nest: Female with help from male builds the nest in spring and lays four blue eggs two or three times during the year. Conservation: Easily poisoned by heavy pesticide use, and preyed upon by cats, hawks, and large snakes, Robins remain numerous and safe under current conditions. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo: en:User:Mdf/CCSA).
Barn Owl (Tyto alba) Barn Owls are the most widely distributed of all owl species. They hunt small rodents, and never take anything as large as a house cat or dog. Barn Owls range from 10″ to 18″ in height. They can live for 25 years, but because of human impacts and natural predators, they rarely live more than two. If you have a Barn Owl living nearby, you have probably heard its “shreee” sound that’s nothing like the hoots of the Great Horned Owls or the toots of the Northern Pygmy Owls that we often hear in Dewey-Humboldt. Nest: Large tree cavity, barn loft, or house attic. Farmers often place nest boxes around their fields. Conservation: Cats and other owls prey upon barn Owls, and pesticides in the tissues of their prey poison them. Some farmers have stopped using pesticides, but most haven’t. The owls are endangered in seven stats, but not yet in Arizona. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo: Female by Tony Hisgett).
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) Black-headed Grosbeaks aren’t as large as Robins, but they are big enough to have trouble perching on bird feeders. Young birds flutter and flap as they learn to use the feeder. Grosbeaks eat berries and insects, but their large beaks are especially effective with seeds. The birds arrive in spring, build nests, and stay for the summer. They prefer a combination of large deciduous trees and lower shrubs. Their song is a rich warble similar to a robin’s but softer, sweeter, and faster. Nest: Female builds an open, loose nest in a shrub or tree and lays 2-5 eggs. Young birds leave the nest after 12-14 days but can’t fly for two weeks. They hang out on nearby branches and parents feed them. Conservation: Cats and hawks prey upon Grosbeaks, and pesticides in the tissues of their prey poison them. Wildlife biologists do not consider them endangered. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo: Male by GR.)
Bridled Titmouse (Baeolophus wollweberi) ”Tit” is Old English for something small. Bridled Titmice may be small, but they are outstanding in other ways. They have unique facial markings, and they are among the most loquacious and the most human-tolerant of all the birds. They will trustingly take seed from your hand then fly to a nearby branch where they may surprise you with their jackhammer-like pecking that sends hull fragments flying. Titmice do not migrate though they wander about a bit in winter. They travel in small flocks that may include other bird species. Nest: Titmice lay four to eight white unmarked eggs in tree cavities and nest boxes. They appear to have mystery helpers at their nest that we have not identified. The birds can live more than six years. Conservation: Wildlife biologists consider the Bridled Titmouse safe now, but because of habitat loss and pesticides, the species is of possible long-term concern. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo by Dominic Sherony.)
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) Cedar Waxwings are medium-sized with very smooth feathers. They have a crest that often droops over the back of the head. The wings are broad and pointed, like a starling’s. The short tail is square-tipped. These birds are uncommon in Dewey-Humboldt. Though they usually form large flocks, I’ve only seen two groups of three birds. Waxwings pick berries while perching in berry-laden shrubs or trees or while hovering in mid-air. A line of waxwings perched on a branch sometimes pass a berry from bill to bill, until one of them swallows it. They also cruise over water hunting insects, like abdominous swallows. Nest: Waxwings lay three to five pale gray to bluish gray finely speckled eggs in loose nests built in trees. Conservation: Wildlife biologists consider the Cedar Waxwing safe in some areas and vulnerable to extinction in others. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com.)
Common Raven (Corvus corax) Ravens are smart. They create and use simple tools, they mimic human words, and they call one another to a newly discovered food source. Acrobatic fliers, Ravens can roll, somersault, and fly upside down. I’ve seen a video of a Raven using a large can lid as a sled, repeatedly carrying the lid in its beak to the ridge of a snowy roof, and sliding down to the eve fluttering its wings to say balanced. A friend with a Raven family pet told me that their mischief can be wearying. Wild Ravens have lived more than 22 years. Nest: Females do most of the work building the nest. They begin with large sticks and construct a base up to five feet across and two feet high. In a small interior cup, they lay three to seven green or blue mottled eggs. Conservation: Ravens adapt well to human impacts and may be one of the species that survives the sixth mass extinction. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers.com. Photo: Peter Wallack)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) Juncos do not migrate, but in the fall, they often drift out of their mountain homes down to nearby valleys. They are especially common in D-H during fall and winter months. These small songbirds have black to light-gray hoods. Males tend to be darker and grayer, females tend to be lighter and browner. All have white bellies and white outer tail feathers that form a flickering V shape when they fly. Juncos eat seeds, insects, and fruit. They prefer to eat on the ground, so sprinkle a few seeds for them when you fill the feeder. Wild birds can live more than 11 years. Nest: Juncos nest in forested mountains. They build their grass and twig nests on the ground and occasionally in a tree. Conservation: Though Juncos are still numerous, the American Breeding Bird Survey reports that Junco populations declined by about 50% from 1966 to 2015. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers .com. Photo: Dave Menke)
Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) Gambel’s Quail live in D-H’s chaparral-covered hills. They form coveys of 12 or more birds that roost and nest in shrub thickets. Once, a family of mom, dad, and a line of seven chicks dashed across the road in front of my car. I stopped, and just as the last of the chicks made it to safety, another chick entered the road far behind the others. Dad popped onto road, ran back, and pecked the slowpoke’s fluffy bottom, speeding its dash to catch up. The first covey to move into my place near the center of town came in 2014. The birds roost in a woodpile I made with dead shrub and tree branches. Quail are too plump for standard feeder perches, so be sure to scatter a few seeds for them when you fill the feeder. Quail lives are short, usually less than 4 years. Nest: Grass and twigs on the ground in shrub thickets. Conservation: Gambel’s Quail numbers fluctuate along with winter rain and spring plant growth. As our global warming-imposed drought continues, the D-H quail population will shrink. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers .com. Photo: GR)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) The flying insects this brilliant sky predator takes must be near-sighted and insensitive to color. Other flycatchers are of subdued color, but not this little fellow. Despite brilliant plumage, however, the male Vermilion Flycatcher is not overconfident. He courts his chosen mate by hovering and singing to her high in the air and by offering her butterflies and other brilliant insects. Nest: The birds build loose nests of grass and twigs in trees. The male brings food to the female while she incubates two to four white or creamy eggs with bold dark blotches and small lighter spots. . Conservation: Vermilion Flycatchers are declining in Arizona and other parts of their range due to human destruction of the moist habitats they prefer. The birds are still abundant at many sites and are not an immediate conservation concern. However, without our attention and care, they will continue to decline. (Birds of Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. GarryRogers .com. Photo by Charles J. Sharp)