2016 Faves—Passerines, part 6: M–N

Trying hard to stick to the plan of highlighting only a very select number of shots of specific species is a challenge for me. So far, so good, I hope…. (Well, I know the writer of this blog, and he’s about to fail big time in this section!) Down alterego, down!

Some species you might expect to find here you won’t—because meadowlarks, out here, are actually Western Meadowlarks, and magpies are Black-billed Magpies. Both are dealt with in the sections featuring the first letters of their names: W and B.

So what have I got for you? Well, how about a species that I covered in some detail in an earlier post about bluebirds, namely the Mountain Bluebird? One of my all time favourites, it’s another western bird that I have seen in various parts of the BC Interior and as far east as Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I love the various shades of blue in the males and blue and grey in the females. As with many birds, their brightness varies with the season and location, the age of the bird and whether or not it’s a dominant member of flock or mix of species in its area.


I like the way Cornell’s website describes the MOBL:

“Male Mountain Bluebirds lend a bit of cerulean sparkle to open habitats across much of western North America. You may spot these cavity-nesters flitting between perches in mountain meadows, in burned or cut-over areas, or where prairie meets forest—especially in places where people have provided nest boxes. Unlike many thrushes, Mountain Bluebirds hunt insects from perches or while on the wing, at times resembling a tiny American Kestrel with their long wings, hovering flight, and quick dives.”


So here they are, a reprise of a male in two poses and a female featured in the earlier post.

The larger image is my favourite MOBL ever. I was so blessed to have his undivided attention for several minutes. The female bird, at a different location and time was equally patient.

NOTE: ALTHOUGH DOVES ARE NOT CONSIDERED PASSERINES, I have included one here because it doesn’t fit into the other broad categories that I’m using. This is NOT intended to be a scientific blog; it’s a highly personal one. Please don’t get too bent out of shape by this issue.

Another “M” bird, though very common up here and throughout the country, is one I’ve come to enjoy since me moved up here. I love their delicate tones, and at various times of the year their friendly interaction. In 2016 I was lucky twice to stumble over a nest brimming with about-to-fledge chicks. The bird is the Mourning Dove:

Some interesting facts about MODOs from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“During the breeding season, [we] might see three Mourning Doves flying in tight formation, one after another. This is a form of social display. Typically the bird in the lead is the male of a mated pair. The second bird is an unmated male chasing his rival from the area where he hopes to nest. The third is the female of the mated pair, which seems to go along for the ride.

Mourning Doves tend to feed busily on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop. Once they’ve filled it (the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop!), they can fly to a safe perch to digest the meal.

Mourning Doves eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day, or 71 calories on average.

Perhaps one reason why Mourning Doves survive in the desert: they can drink brackish spring water (up to almost half the salinity of sea water) without becoming dehydrated the way humans would.

The Mourning Dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. Every year hunters harvest more than 20 million, but the Mourning Dove remains one of our most abundant birds with a U.S. population estimated at 350 million.

The oldest known Mourning Dove was a male, and at least 30 years, 4 months old when he was shot in Florida in 1998. He had been banded in Georgia in 1968.”

The next group, the “N” birds, both have a name in common, yet they’re not at all related. That name is “Northern.” There are some ‘Northern’ birds in other categories besides passerines.

Northern Cardinal male.jpg
Northern Cardinal, a special find far from home in 2016. Click to enlarge.

In autumn 2016 Nana and I flew east and drove from Ottawa to the three western Atlantic provinces and then back to Ottawa via Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. While birding was not a priority, we did hope to photograph two species, Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. I covered the Blue Jay in Part 1 of this series. The NOCAs didn’t show up until we were departing Vermont, and I didn’t get the photos I wanted until our final day back to Ottawa, the afternoon before we returned home. Having done some homework and I was ecstatic to find a male and a juvenile right where I expected. And while I came down with a definite case of “buck fever,” I was able to claim this shot at least for my year’s favourites!

NOTE: ALTHOUGH WOODPECKERS ARE NOT CONSIDERED PASSERINES, I have included one here because it doesn’t fit into the other broad categories that I’m using. This is NOT intended to be a scientific blog; it’s a highly personal one. Please don’t get too bent out of shape by this issue.

The second Northern bird is one that, while found across our continent is particularly abundant at home. The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) was once thought to be two different species because it looks different depending upon which part of the country you find them in. Again, from Cornell, “Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with a gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage. On walks, don’t be surprised if you scare one up from the ground. It’s not where you’d expect to find a woodpecker, but flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill. When they fly you’ll see a flash of color in the wings – yellow if you’re in the East, red if you’re in the West – and a bright white flash on the rump.” In addition, the red-shafted variety we see mainly west of the Rockies has a different face and back of the head from his eastern counterpart. Adding to the curiosity is the frequent occurrence, especially here, of Intergrade species with characteristics of both birds; ours still are most likely to have red-shafts. What marks them as Intergrades is the red flash on the back of the head which is characteristic of yellow-shafted birds but not red-shafts.

“Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.”


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