Utah County Birders Newsletter
April 2007

    April Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Merrill's Musings
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report - Box Elder County Big Day - 31 March 2007
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    March Hotline Highlights


Wed, April 11th.

Keeli Marvel, a BYU graduate student, will discuss her research on the nesting habitat of the Northern Goshawk. Much of Keeli’s research was done in Dixie National Forest.

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


Saturday, April 14th
Fish Springs and Callao, west desert birds
- Day trip; Leave Payson Walmart 6:00 a.m. (I-15 exit #249?)

Friday - Saturday, April 27th & 28th
Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park
- Friday: overnight in Torrey; Best Western Capitol Reef Resort Torrey* - UCB group rate $65, call Beth or Chris to reserve your room at 435.425.3761 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group. More details TBA.

Saturday, May 12th
Utah county desert birds
- the great Utah county - day trip; leave Payson WalMart 7:00 a.m.
More details TBA.

* (People who attend the overnight trips are not obligated to stay in the hotels in which Lu has made accommodations. They are, for any reason, welcome to stay where ever they like and to simply meet up with us in the morning at the departure time.)

UCB Field Trips 2007

We are actively recruiting people to lead local half-day field trips, any time, any place.  Call Lu Giddings if you would like to help.

departure place and time
Apr. 14 Fish Springs and Callao, west desert birds day trip; Leave Payson Walmart 6:00 a.m. (I-15 exit #249?)
Apr. 27 & 28 Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park Friday: overnight in Torrey; Best Western Capitol Reef Resort Torrey - UCB group rate $65, call Beth or Chris to reserve your room at 435.425.3761 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group.

More details TBA
May 12 Utah county desert birds - the great Utah County day trip; leave Payson WalMart 7:00 a.m.

More details TBA
May Utah county Big Day with Dennis Shirley trip is still being arranged and is not set; details TBA
May 17-22 Great Salt Lake Bird Festival please make your own arrangements
June 9 (to be confirmed) Oquirrh Mountains with Ann Neville day trip; details TBA
June 22 & 23 Grouse Creek mountains, NW Utah overnight in Brigham City Friday night; details TBA
July 13 & 14 Bryce National Park details TBA
Aug. 11 Uintah Mountains North Slope road day trip; details TBA
August UOS conference; date and location pending  
September Kennecott's Island Sea preserve with Ann Neville day trip; date and details TBA
September Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge, NE Utah overnight stay in Vernal
Oct. 13 & 14 Zion's National Park details TBA
Nov. 3 & 4 Moab and Canyonlands National Park details TBA
December local Christmas bird counts, Provo CBC details TBA
Dec. 29 Bluff Christmas bird count details TBA


Merrill's Musings
By Merrill Webb


Each year in North America nearly 350 different species of birds migrate, or move from one area to another and the eventual return to the same area of departure.  It is associated with the departure from and return to a particular breeding area.  Most migrations result from seasonal changes that lead birds and other animals to move to areas where the food supply is more abundant, climates are warmer and more favorable for survival, and hours of sunlight are longer.
Some species of birds move only a short distance within their geographical area throughout most of their lives.  Other species travel thousands of miles, crossing oceans and, in some cases, continents during their annual migratory journeys.  Migrating long distances requires a tremendous amount of energy.  Before a major migratory trip, birds accumulate a reserve of fat to fuel their journey.  They need food and clean water to nourish them along their way--they also need a clean environment.  Alteration or loss of habitats along their migration paths and breeding and wintering grounds pose serious challenges.  Many other hazards facing migratory bird populations include collisions with skyscrapers, windows, radio and communication towers, and predators, including cats.  Exposures to pesticides, such as DDT, and diseases such as the West Nile Virus, have had devastating effects on many bird populations.
As scientists continue to study and learn more about migratory birds--why birds migrate, where they migrate, and the many challenges they face along their journeys--it becomes clear that birds' survival is in great part dependent on human actions.  Thanks to the hard work of many dedicated individuals, resource agencies, and environmental groups, more people are taking action to ease the plight of migratory birds.  Understanding more about migratory birds and their conservation needs is the first step in helping them survive.  The actions we take to help them along in their journeys can and will make a difference. 1
They slice through the skies by the billions on yearly migrations in search of endless summer.  And it seems these lands were meant for the birds: The north promises springs of plenty; fall routes south are clearly marked by food-rich coastlines, rivers, and north-south mountain ranges whose buoying updrafts give birds a lift.  In ribbons and waves, from hummingbirds to hawks, they travel transient skyways up to 25,000 miles long on wings woven of delicate feather and hollow bone.  It is surely one of nature's most moving performances. 2
Though banding and tracking studies suggest basic, mappable flyways, most birds fly in broad fronts rather than narrow bands, while routes may loop, wander, dogleg, or leapfrog, and can change under environmental strain.  Take global warming.  Its effects on local environmental conditions are already influencing when and where some birds go.  But general migratory patterns are deeply ingrained, and change takes time.  Just how quickly migration routes will evolve to meet the future is still up in the air. 3
The Blackpoll Warbler, an eastern species, migrates in the autumn from the northeastern U.S. across the western Atlantic Ocean to South America.  Studies over a number of years, mainly utilizing radar, has shown that this species covers 2,200 miles in a nonstop flight over the ocean in about 82 to 88 hours.  It travels at a ground speed of about 27 mph and an altitude of between 3,500 to 7000 feet.  And its lean weight is between 9 and 11 grams (about the weight of a ballpoint pen!). 4
Songbirds in the Southeastern United States initiate long flights over water with passing cold fronts.  Ken Able, then of the University of Georgia, used radars in Athens, Georgia, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, to study songbird migrants in the late 1960s.  He recorded "traffic rates" of songbirds as high as 50,000 to 200,000 birds per hour per mile of front.  During five hours of nocturnal migration, up to a million songbirds passed through a one-mile-wide corridor.  Able found that migrations were greatest with northerly winds, with falling temperatures, and after the passing of a cold front.  At such times the radar was often saturated with migrants arriving on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico following a nonstop flight from the Yucatan region of Central America.  Almost without exception, these songbirds were flying downwind to the south of west.  5
Evidence from banding studies (Ruddy Turnstone) and experimentally displaced seabirds such as the Manx Shearwater and the Leach's Storm-Petrel shows that birds have a remarkable ability to navigate for long distances at relatively high speeds.  A Ruddy Turnstone banded and released in late August at St. George Island in the Pribilofs of the Bering Sea was shot four days later in the Hawaiian Islands after migrating 2,300 miles, an average of 575 miles per day. 6
And finally, have you ever wondered why the Goshute Mountains just over the Utah border in Nevada and the Wellsville Range in Cache Valley are such good vantage points to monitor fall raptor migration?  Soaring birds frequently fly around, rather than over, a body of water because the thermal updrafts on which they depend for energy-efficient travel are weak and widely dispersed over water.  Soaring flight over water is therefore difficult and dangerous.  For these birds, passage over water (such as the Great Salt Lake) would require powered flight, for which some species do not have enough energy. 
To avoid strenuous and dangerous water crossings, most hawks, pelicans, and other soaring migrants fly around the western end of the Gulf of Mexico.  That is why the autumn and spring migrations through south and east Texas provide such good opportunities for birders....During autumn, more than a hundred thousand Broad-winged Hawks have been seen in a single day in Texas and Louisiana.  7
So, as the birds return this spring think of the marvel of migration.  The Swainson's Hawk you see here in Utah Valley probably spent our winter on the pampas of Argentina; and the Bobolink you observe in Heber Valley was probably in Brazil 2-3 months ago, both of them basking in the warm South American summer.  Birds are wonderful examples of the influence of natural selection and adaption to a grueling, hazardous roundtrip flight to take advantage of feeding and reproductive possibilities.

1. "The Great Migration Challenge"; Flying WILD: An Educator's Guide to Celebrating Birds, 2004, Council For Environmental Education, Houston, Texas.
2. "Bird Migration--Western Hemisphere Map"; National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., February, 2004.
3. Ibid.
4. "The Epic Autumn Flight of the Blackpoll Warbler," Birding Magazine, February 1999, pp. 66-70.
5. How Birds Migrate, Paul Kerlinger, Stackpole Books, 1995, page 61.
6. Home Study Course in Bird Biology, 2nd ed., 2001; Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, pg. 5.82.
7. How Birds Migrate.


Bird of the Month

photo by Cheryl Peterson

Greater Roadrunner
by LeIla Ogden

THE ROADRUNNER. (Geococcyx Californianus)
(Taken mostly from “The Roadrunner“ by A.R. Royo at DesertUSA.com)

Roadrunners range throughout the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Southern Great Basin deserts. They are in all the Southwestern states.

Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat rattlesnakes.
Roadrunners prefer walking or running and attain speeds up to 17 mph..
The roadrunner is also called the Chaparral Cock.
The Roadrunner reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
The Roadrunner’s nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.
The Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico

The two species of roadrunners include the Lesser Roadrunner (G. velox) a slightly smaller, buffier and less streaky bird, of Mexico and Central America, which grows to a length of 18 inches and the Greater Roadrunner which is famous for its distinctive appearance, its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in Warner Bros. cartoons.

The roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill. It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind.

When the roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short, rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers walking or running (up to 17 miles per hour) usually with a clownish gait. The roadrunner has a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle, and has long stout legs. The roadrunner makes a series of 6-8 low, dovelike coos dropping in pitch as well as a clattering sound by rolling mandibles together.

The roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations:
Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist foot.
It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
A nasal gland eliminates excess salt.
It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday.
Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair.

The roadrunner inhabits open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry brush, chaparral or other desert scrub. It feeds almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and others birds. Up to 10% of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of year.

Because of its lightning quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that prey upon rattlesnakes. Using its wings like a matador’s cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground till dead. It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.

When spring arrives, the male roadrunner, in addition to acquiring food for himself, offers choice morsels to a female as an inducement to mating. He usually dances around her while she begs for food, then gives her the morsel after breeding briefly.

Both parents collect the small sticks used for building a shallow, saucer-like nest, but the female actually constructs it in a bush, cactus or small tree. She then lays from 2 to 12 white eggs over a period of 3 days, which results in staggered hatching. Incubation is from 18-20 days and is done by either parent, though preferably the male because the nocturnally incubating males maintain normal body temperature. The first to hatch often crowd out the late-arriving runts, which are sometimes eaten by the parents. Usually only 3 or 4 young are finally fledged from the nest after about 18 days. These remain near the adults for up to 2 more weeks before dispersing to the surrounding desert.

Roadrunners are occasionally preyed upon by hawks, house cats, raccoons, rat snakes, bull snakes, skunks, and coyotes eat nestlings and eggs. During the winter months, many succumb to freezing, icy weather.

[ The Bird of the Month is a new monthly column in our newsletter. We will ask a club member (that’s you) to write about a bird each month. Tuula Rose has agreed to coordinate the Bird of the Month column. If you have a bird you want to write about let Tuula know before your bird is taken by someone else. ]

Field Trip Report
Box Elder County Big Day
- 31 March 2007
by Lu Gidddings

Yesterday what began as a trip to a sharp-tailed grouse lek evolved into a Box Elder county big day. We left Brigham City at 5:15 a.m. and made stops in Middle Canyon, Pocatello Valley, White Valley, Johnson Canyon, Plymouth, Tremonton, Salt Creek WMA, and finished the day at 7 p.m. after checking the Bear River MBR auto-tour loop. I observed 56 species and know that several other group members observed species that I did not. Notable personal sightings include:

- great and entertaining views of the grouse
- season's first observations of snowy plover (BRMBR), black-necked stilts (BRMBR), long-billed curlew (BRMBR, White Valley), Franklin's gulls (BRMBR), Vesper's sparrows (PV), and hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds (BRMBR)
- straggling tundra swans at Salt Creek and BRMBR
- western grebes engaged in courtship rituals at BRMBR

Strutting Sharp-tailed Grouse - 31 March 2007

photo by Lu Giddings

Sharp-tailed Grouse - 31 March 2007

photo by Lu Giddings

Dancing Sandhill Cranes - 31 March 2007

photo by Lu Giddings

Trip participants included Esther and Flora Duncan, LeIla Ogden, Ned Bixler, Landon Jones, and Mike and Willie Monson. We enjoyed the company of Angie Branch and Beth Jewkes during the morning potion of the trip. We also had the pleasure of meeting up with Kris Purdy and Richard Pontius at the lek. Any of you whose names I have misspelled, please forgive me!

Finally. I have posted a few photos from yesterday's trip at


for anyone interested. Thanks to everyone for a very good time yesterday, and thanks once again to Kris Purdy for all of her help.

Trip List (mine only)
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
American Wigeon
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Snowy Plover
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Franklin's Gull
Californian Gull
Rock Pigeon
Great Horned Owl
Loggerhead Shrike
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Vesper Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
House Sparrow

Backyard Bird of the Month
March 2007

Steve Carr - Holladay
American Goldfinch - 30 individuals per day for the last 2 weeks.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
As I was watching my first Turkey Vulture of the year I noticed a very high soaring Bald Eagle. Vulture coming Eagle going.

Milt Moody - Provo
The Lincoln's Sparrow that has been in by yard for over a week.

LeIla Ogden - Orem
One poor House Finch flew into my bedroom window with a loud crash. It didn't survive.

Alton Thygerson - Provo
California Quail - not seen for most of the month, then some of reappeared.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Lincoln's Sparrow - Showed up about same time as last year.

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.