Utah County Birders Newsletter
November 2005

    November Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Feather Talk
    Field Trip Report - The Big Sit, Provo Airport Dike - 9 October 2005
    Field Trip Report - East Canyon Reservoir, Morgan County - 22 October 2005
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    October Hotline Highlights


Wednesday, November 9th.

Sparrow Identification - Milton Moody & Merrill Webb have a power point presentation they put together for the UOS Conference with added material for our meeting - Bring your Field Guide, Pen and Paper.

Meet at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.

December Meeting:

December 14th (Wed): Christmas Bird Count Preparation - Meet at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.


November 12th (Sat): Let's explore some of the less known local city parks for closer to home winter birding places.  Meet at the Paul Ream Wilderness Park parking lot at the west end of 500 North in Provo at 8:00 am. 

Feather Talk
By Alton Thygerson

Table Manners

Boardinghouse reach: reaching across those near you for food instead of asking them to pass it. The first time I heard that idiom was at scout camp where we all sat at large tables, and scouts would simply reach across others to help themselves. This tendency among some scouts may be partially explained by the 13th Scout Law that “a scout is hungry.” This boardinghouse reach behavior is still associated with many scouts.

You can identify people by how they walk, their posture, and even by how they eat. When you have five sons as I have, you observe their differences. Just as they have different names and different looks, they also have different eating styles.

While my sons were growing up, one son was a very slow, deliberate eater—the last to finish a meal. Another son ate slowly because he did a lot of talking at the table, while another son consumed hamburgers and tacos in about four bites. Still another sometimes talked with food in his mouth—a dangerous practice. The fifth one must have had undistinguishable eating behavior because I can’t recall any particular behavior to label him as I do his brothers.

As any birder or probably anyone over four or five years of age knows, different species of birds eat differently. In fact how a bird eats can provide a clue for identifying it. Birds spend a lot of time looking for food and eating it. Therefore, a birder looks at a lot of birds either while they are looking for food or eating it.

A great resource for learning the behaviors of birds is The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (printed in 2001). It contains a section on “food and foraging” for each of the bird families of North American (e.g., pelicans, ducks, vireos, thrushes, etc.). It serves as the major source from which the below information was adapted.

Here’s my attempt to classify birds according to their foraging and feasting characteristics. Probably not all birds fit into these categories, and there may be categories which I should have included. Nevertheless, it can be a jump-start for identification.

Pecking – picking up food from the ground is probably the most common method of eating by birds.

Plucking – refers to eating berries and seeds directly from a plant. Cedar Waxwings are an example.

Probing – sticking bills into sand or mud identifies shorebirds. These can be further divided by how they probe. Dowitchers rapidly probe (called “stitching”) while plovers and willets slowly and deliberately probe. Other probers include the woodpeckers and the brown creeper who stick their bills into tree bark crevices.

Plunging – suddenly dropping or diving into water from the air to catch fish. Examples are kingfishers, terns, and ospreys.

Hawking – Flycatchers sit and wait from a perch, then will suddenly dart out, grab a flying insect, and return to usually the same branch or one nearby. Hummingbirds also “hawk” insects. What is interesting is that not all hawk species use this “hawking” technique of sit-and-wait hunting. Some buteo species hunt on the wing. Another method of some is hovering while actively flapping their wings (e.g., Red-tailed an Rough-legged hawks). Northern Harriers hunt by cruising close to the ground over flat terrain. Eagles and Ospreys hunt both from perches and from high in the air. Many species make a steep dive with wings folded known as a “stoop” to capture prey.

Flying – catching insects while flying is found among swallows, swifts, and nighthawks. Other aerialists are the raptors that capture their prey while it is on the ground or perched in a tree. The Peregrine Falcon is noted for its aerial pursuit in which it strikes its prey in mid-flight.

Scavenging – these are common around road kill, garbage dumps, and landfills. They are part of nature’s clean-up crew. Scavengers include: vultures, crows, gulls, and the Black-billed Magpie. Bald Eagles also feed on carrion.

Dependency – refers to birds finding food as the result of another. Examples are Cattle Egrets following cows that stir up insects, and California Gulls following a tractor plowing a field.

Generalists – look for food anywhere and everywhere. Examples include European Starlings, Ring-Billed and California Gulls.

Unique feeding behaviors of birds found in or on water:

Dabbling – these feed with heads and necks underwater and rumps in the air. They include ducks (e.g., Mallards, teals, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Wigeons).

Diving – these dive completely under water to get food. Examples are ducks (e.g., scaups, buffleheads, mergansers), loons, grebes, and cormorants.

Stalking – standing in shallow water, these birds move slowly and silently stalking food. Examples are herons and egrets.

Surface feeding – these birds eat from the water’s surface. Gulls are an example. Phalaropes spin in tight circles to bring prey to the surface. American White Pelicans thrust their bills into the water and scoops up prey.

Birds seeking food can be fascinating to watch. The Scrub Jay coming to a peanut feeder, flies off with the peanut and buries it for another day. Gray Jays (nicknamed “camp-robbers”) boldly come to a campground and steal food. Naturalists and ornithologists may have explanations for these behaviors just as a psychologist may have an explanation for why my five Eagle scout sons have different eating behaviors. While Eagles in the wild have the same feeding behaviors, my five Eagle sons don’t.


Field Trip Report
The Big Sit, Provo Airport Dike
- 9 October 2005

by Eric Huish

A Merlin,  Milt, Tuula and KC, and the view of the mud flats from our sit circle - 9 October 2005
photos by Eric Huish

The Big Sit is like a Big Day in that the object is to tally as many bird species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours. The difference lies in the area limitation (inside a 17-foot circle) from which you can observe.

Sit Participants: Eric Huish, KC Childs, Milt Moody, Tuula Rose, Deb Thornton and Cheryl Peterson.

The TV weather reporters had us all believing we would be sitting in the rain and wind all day but to our relief we had beautiful weather. Due to this year’s higher water levels we moved our circle from where we had it the last two years to take advantage of some mudflats which were loaded with shorebirds. The move gave us no practical views of the open lake so we were unable to get the Diving Ducks and Grebes we’ve seen in past years but the number of shorebirds on the mudflats (12) made up for our missing species. We beat our record big sit total of 53 by 2 ½ species. We saw a couple Western/Clark’s Grebes we couldn’t ID in the very distant lake I’m counting as half a species.

KC Childs and I started the sit before dawn at 6:00 A.M. We tried for owls and rails with no luck. While it was still dark we were able to get a Black-crowned Night-Heron silhouetted against the water croaking in the dark, Wilson’s Snipe flying around overhead and a few calling Killdeer. As it got light we quickly began adding species to our list. Milton Moody and Tuula Rose showed up and helped us add several birds. We had 50 species by noon when Deb Thornton came by and joined the sit for a while. The wind picked up in the afternoon but Tuula and I stayed to 1:30. The last species added before our afternoon break was a Greater Yellowlegs (#53). I returned to the circle at 5:00 and was joined by KC and Cheryl Peterson. We added two more species to the list. After KC and Cheryl left I sat until dark (8:00) watching the sunset and all the birds on the mudflat.

We had a great time and there was plenty of bird activity to keep us entertained. Especially entertaining were the two Merlins which would frequently zoom across the mudflat sending the thousand or so shorebirds up into two swirling flocks, one flock of dowitchers and one flock of peeps. Once the two merlins even chased each other. During one exciting chase the merlin raced after a single peep that was separated from the flock. In the end, with some high-speed maneuvering, the peep managed to barely escape the merlin and it wasn’t until dusk that I finally saw one of the merlins with a kill.

Our Big Sit list total was 55 ½ species; Gadwall, Mallard, GW Teal, RN Pheasant, PB Grebe, W/C Grebe, AW Pelican, GB Heron, Sn Egret, BCN Heron, WF Ibis, No Harrier, SS Hawk, RT Hawk, Am Kestrel, Merlin, SH Crane, SP Plover, Killdeer, Am Avocet, Gr Yellowlegs, Le Yellowlegs, Ma Godwit, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, LB Dowitcher, Wi Snipe, Wi Phalarope, Fr Gull, RB Gull, Cal Gull, For Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mo Dove, B Kingfisher, Do Woodpecker, No Flicker, BB Magpie, Barn Swallow, BC Chickadee, Ma Wren, Am Robin, Eu Starling, Am Pipit, YR Warbler, Song Sparrow, WC Sparrow, DE Junco, RW Blackbird, We Meadowlark, YH Blackbird, Br Blackbird, Ho Finch, Am Goldfinch, House Sparrow.


Field Trip Report
East Canyon Reservoir and Morgan County
- 22 October 2005
by Tuula Rose

Utah County Birders at East Canyon Reservoir - 22 October 2005
photo by Eric Huish

A beautiful fall day and six UC Birders heading north through Provo Canyon. A good start for a day that turned out perfect. East Canyon Reservoir gave more than it had promised, even though we did not find the Pacific loon that had been spotted earlier. But there were COMMON LOONS all over the place to look through and more winter ducks than expected, the best being BARROWS GOLDENEYES and HOODED and COMMON mergansers.

We met with Aaron Smith and he took us on a tour around Morgan County,
his home stomping grounds. He took us on Morgan Valley Road on the west side of Weber River all the way to the town named after one of our own, Milton, where we checked on a few famous feeder places. We crossed the river and visited Stoddard Slough WMA to call for soras and rails. No show, just a couple of answers from an elusive SORA in the thick reeds.

A quick stop at Aaron's brothers place in hopes of seeing chukars and gray partridge that come to his feeders unfortunately did not produce any this time. On the way home we stopped at Croydon, where we had good luck at some feeders on a previous county hunt. No luck again but the time of year in between summer and winter seasons for birding can be blamed for the scarcity of species. All and all a good trip in good company (and Eric added 15 species to his Morgan County list, which made it even more worthwhile).


Backyard Bird of the Month
October 2005

Glenn Barlow - Fruit Heights
Sandhill Cranes - Flock of 16 flew over.

Steve Carr - Holladay
Mountain Chickadee - Early for my yard; the first of October.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Black-headed Grosbeak - A horribly injured bird remained well into October.

Milt Moody - Provo
Red-breasted Nuthatch - looking very bright and colorful.

LeIla Ogden - Provo
California Quail (Or what was left of it). A pile of feathers in one place and about 10' away was the complete skeleton. Picked absolutely clean.

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Dark-eyed Juncos - Montane birds are coming down.

Reed Stone - Provo
California Quail - Alpha Male on alert, covey feeding in the dirt.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
White-throated Sparrow - New for my yard list.

We would like you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite bird at the end of the month to newsletter@utahbirds.org or call 360-8777. If you would like a reminder at the end of the month e-mail the above address.