Birds of Whitfield

Pied-billed GrebePodilymbus podiceps, Pied-billed, for black and white bill of both sexes in breeding colors (‘Pied’ means two or more colors in blotches.). This duck-like bird is a familiar visitor in the large Whitfield pond. It differs from a duck in several ways; however, the easiest way to tell the difference is by the pointed beak of the grebe as opposed to bill of a duck. They do not have webbed feet, seldom fly and dive to escape predators.

Green-winged TealAnas crecca, Anas is Latin for duck; crecca from Greek, to sound like a crow. Teal is from the Dutch, telen, to have a brood. Small duck, pale grey-barred sides and buff breast with white bar down the side. Has a chestnut-brown head and green ear patch – dabbles in shallow water.

MallardAnas platyrhynchos, platyrhynchos means having a broad beak or snout, from Greek. Mallard, in Old English was maslard, a wild drake. Most abundant waterfowl, shallow-water dabbling duck; male has a grey body, chestnut-brown breast, and green head with white neck ring. The tail is dark with two curled black feathers – male has yellow-green bill; the female is mottled brown.

American Kestrel–Falco sparverius, New Latin for sparrow hawks. Kestrel is derived from the bird the French call crecelle, which translates into noisy bell. Dove-sized falcon with swept-back wings and quick flight; often hovers in place when hunting. Bobs tail when perched. Two distinct black stripes on side of head – rust-brown tail and back. Male’s wings are slate blue with spotted underwings. Female has narrow tail bands, rust-brown wings with rust-brown streaked underwings. Likes open country.

Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus, Circus from Greek kirkos, (ring or circle) meaning the hawk with circling flight and cyaneus for the dark blue or bluish grey of the male harrier’s back. A harrier will fly close to the ground and catch prey by harrying. Large hawk. Male is grey underneath, white band at rump; long wings are grey above, white below with black tips. Female is dark brown, white band at rump. Glides in a ‘V’, often low to the ground. Nest in wet sites in tall, dense vegetation. 

Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, belonging to Jamaica, from Latin, where it was collected. Buteo means a species of hawk in Latin. Common large raptor in our area that is usually seen soaring/circling. Often seen perching in the large cottonwoods at Whitfield. Reddish-tail hard to see (upper side only). Found year round. Highly variable coloration; eats small mammals, birds and reptiles. Distinct “keer-keer” call – can spot a mouse from height of 100 ft.

Swainson’s HawkButeo swainsoni, named for William Swainson (1789-1855) British artist and naturalist. Large hawk-adult soars and glides alternating with deep wing beats; note pointed wings. Have white throat, rufous upper breast, pale under parts, buff-grey banded tail with dark terminal band. Diet consists of snakes, insects, and mammals. Fall brings the long migration to wintering grounds in Argentina.

Turkey VultureCathartes aura, Cathartes is a cleanser or purifier in Latin, auraura, is bird name to Mexican Indians. Head and feathers resemble a turkey; vulture in Latin is vulturus or a tearer. Large black raptor; wings two-toned grayish and black. Summer visitor. Wing held in shallow ‘V’ while soaring; feeds on dead animals, keen smell sense. Can live 17 years or more. 

American CootFulica americana, Fulica is waterfowl in Latin, coote in Middle English was the name for coot. Not a duck but a swimming bird, chicken-like, short white bill, black overall lobed feet; legs green-yellow, prefers open ponds and lakes; kleptoparasitic (at times steals food from other birds).

KilldeerCharadrius vociferous, Charadrius was Latin for cleft or ravine dweller, vociferous, a loud cry from vociferatus in Latin. In plover family; banded with brown upper parts, white under, upper breast has two black bands; wings have white stripes in flight-has wounded-bird display to detract predators from nest-lays eggs on ground.

Sandhill CraneGrus canadensis, Grus is large bird; crane, in Latin, canadensis, the Latin for belonging to Canada. Courtship dances are often on small sandhills. Large crane, long legs for wading, grey body, adults have red cap-often have rust-brown on feathers. Late fall migrant. Many live up to 25 years. 

Black-necked StiltHimantopus mexicanus, Himantopus, Greek for spindle-shanked or thong-foot, as legs resemble a long, slender thong, mexicanus, where the specimen was collected. Black-necked for black stripe on back of neck, stilt for the long legs. Black and white wading bird; long red-pink legs, bill curves upward; spring and summer visitor; winters on coasts in salt water marshes.

Greater RoadrunnerGeococcyx californianus, Geococcyx, Greek for earth cuckoo; californianus specimen from province of Alta California, Mexico. Has a habit of running across roads. Often seen scooting after prey-lizards, snakes, and insects; in cuckoo family-brown, white and buff-streaked appearance. Shaggy crest on head, long tail, blue and orange bare-patch of skin behind eye. 

Mourning DoveZenaida macroura, from Greek, long-tailed. Mourning for the mournful calling. Common in open fields-grey brown upper, pink-brown under long pointed tail, rounded wings. Drawn to water at dusk.

Black-chinned HummingbirdArchilochus alexandri, named for the Greek poet who wrote lampoons of his contemporaries. Also, Archilochus was thought to mean “chief ambusher”, as in the military. Our most common hummingbird; black head, throat iridescent violet; white spot behind eye and long bill. Female is less showy. Nests made of fluffy material and spider webs.

Northern FlickerColaptes auratus, Colaptes, Greek for bird-pecking or chiseling, auranthus in Latin, being overlaid with gold, gilded. (Yellow-shafted eastern species, red-shafted common here). Flicker is derived from the Anglo-Saxon flicerian, a fluttering of birds. Tan with black speckles and hatch-marks; reddish wings in flight. Year round resident, medium-sized woodpecker; nests in tree cavities; often in cottonwoods.

Western KingbirdTyrannus verticalis, Tyrannus from Greek, turannos, a tyrant or ruler; verticalis, from Latin vertex, crown or top of head. Migrant flycatcher of spring when insects are plentiful. Yellow breast, grey upper, white throat, brown wings-tail is black, white edges. Likes open country-catches insects mid-air.

Barn SwallowHirundo rustica, Hirundo, Latin name for swallows; rustica, Latin word for suited to farm or country. In constant flight, chases flying insects on the wing. Look around pond area in the summer months. Blue-black upper parts, red-brown forehead; forked long tail. Builds mud cup nests under rafters; male and female can build a nest after up to 1000 trips carrying mud.

Say’s PhoebeSayornis saya, Say’s bird; phoebe, two interpretations: a Greek goddess of the moon or the sound of the call. Year round flycatcher; grey brown upper, buffy under; fan-shaped tail, wings and tail are dark grey-numbers are declining. Nests at Whitfield.

White-breasted NuthatchSitta carolinensis, Sitta, Greek for bird who pecks on trees, used by Aristotle originally; carolinensis, Latin, belonging to the Carolinas of SE US, where first found and named. Often seen at Whitfield in western area and Owl Tree; clings to tree bark upside down, blue-grey with black crown, white on face and under parts-year round resident.

Yellow WarblerDendroica petechia, from petecchia, Italian for spot on face, in English petechiae refers to small red or purple skin spots, for the warbler it is the reddish breast streaks on the male. Dendroica, from Greek, means tree dwelling. The month of May brings warblers to willows near la Lagunita. Active males are bright yellow with rust-colored stripes on sides and breasts-fairly small, wingspan 7.75 in.-not to be confused with American Goldfinch. Eats caterpillars and insects.

Spotted TowheePiplio maculatus, Piplio, from Latin pipo, to chirp, peep or twitter; maculatus, Latin for spotted, referring to white spots on wings. Is a seed-eating sparrow formerly called Rufous-sided Towhee, is orange-brown with black back and white spots. Note red eyes and black wings. Long black tail with white corners. Mostly found under Russian olives along western fence line and drain. Likes forest edges.

Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta, Sturnella, from Latin sturnus, a little starling; neglecta, neglected. John James Audubon noted the difference between Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, which had been overlooked. Seen throughout Whitfield in all areas, flies low and hides in the grass or perches in open to sing. Dark-streaked brown above, bright yellow under with black ‘V’, or necklace, on breast. Diet consists of insects and seeds on ground. Distinct song.

Red-winged BlackbirdAgelaius phoeniceus, Agelaius is from the Greek meaning belonging to a flock; phoeniceus, is Latin for dull scarlet. The voice of spring-shiny black males with red ‘epaulets’-arrive first to seek nesting territory. Females are plain brown-streaked with dark eyes. Found in wet areas with cattails. Song is familiar “o-ka-lee”. Most numerous bird in North America.  

House FinchCarpodacus mexicanus, Carpodacus is Greek for fruit-biter, mexicanus, Latin for belonging to Mexico, the region for this specimen. Found in Russian Olives and sunflowers, very common, brown-streaked back and under parts. Note pink-red on head, rump and tail. Called House Finch for its habit of being near houses.

White-crowned SparrowZonotrichia leucophrys, Zonotrichia, Greek for banded thrush; leucophrys, from Greek, meaning white eyebrow for the white band above and behind eyes. Arrives in fall, eats seeds on bushes and forages on ground. Easily identified by white crown with two distinct black lines. Often in flocks feeding together. Juvenile has buff and brown head stripes.

Lesser GoldfinchCarduelis psaltria, Carduelis, Latin for goldfinch derived from Latin carduus, thistle, whose seeds goldfinches prefer; psaltria, Greek for female harp player, which the call resembles. ‘Lesser’ is for size, being the smallest goldfinch in America. Year round resident, dark back (black or green), black crown, bright yellow under parts. The black cap is missing on the duller-colored female. Forages in the sunflower patches in food plot area and chocolate flowers around Visitors’ Center.

(Information compiled by Linda Heinze from Dictionary of Birds of the United States by Joel Ellis Holloway, 2003, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon and various field guides.)