Utah County Birders Newsletter


        October 2021

    Monthly Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    President's Message
    Bird of the Month 
    Special Articles 
    Field Trip Reports


    Date: Oct 21st at 7pm

Alison Williams is a biologist for one of the more remote wildlife refuges in the US, Izambek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay, Alaska. She’s passionate about birds and bird conservation and has worked with waterfowl and other species in Alaska for the last few years. I'm excited to have her talk to us about her experiences working in extremely remote and wild parts of Alaska and the projects she is currently working on.


Big Sit      Saturday, October 9th,  sunrise to sunset

Provo Airport dike at the southwest corner.  Sign up so they'll let you in, on the UCB Facebook page.

Bring yourself, bring your friends, bring a chair, and come join us!

The Big Sit is an annual, international, noncompetitive bird count that was started in 1992 by New Haven Birding Club in New Haven Connecticut. Our count circle will be registered and reported. Photos and updates from the day of the count are welcome to be posted on the Big Sit Facebook page.

The Big Sit rules are:
We will be counting birds from a 17 foot diameter count circle on the southwest corner of the Provo Airport Dike. You must be inside that circle to count birds for the count. All species seen from inside that circle from midnight to midnight on the count day may be counted. We will keep a running total of species observed from within the count circle and submit it at the end of the count. If you see a bird from inside the circle but need to move outside to get a better look to ID it, that is ok, as long as you can see it from inside the circle. However, all birds must be seen by a birder standing inside the circle for them to count.

Come out and join us! Feel free to stop by for an hour or stay all day- whatever you have time for, just sign up on our Google spreadsheet. Birders of all experience levels and ability are welcome!


President's Message - October 2021

                  by Machelle Johnson



      Owls of North America


A couple months ago I wrote about Raptors of the World. It really got me thinking about Owls. I like owls so much that my grandkids call me Grandma Hootie, or just Hootie. When they come to my house I always say "Hoooo's Here?", and they run to me yelling "Hootie!!!" True story.

Way back in the day I sketched a couple of owls, one is in pencil, the other is watercolor. Can't remember why I labeled the one a Dusky Horned Owl...the other one isn't labeled, but it looks like a Northern Hawk Owl to me. I know, I'm the one that did the sketch, but it was a really long time ago! I'm not a great artist, I know, but I like these.

Some things I love about owls are that because their eyes are fixed in their sockets they can't move them side to side, so to compensate they can turn their head so far to the back to either side. And that their seeing and hearing are so acute, they can hear the sound of prey scurrying in the brush or dirt, or under the snow, pinpoint the location and swoop in for the kill even if they don't see it. And that they fly silently! And can carry prey that is bigger and weighs more than they do! And their feathers act like an invisibility cloak when they are perched on a branch near the trunk of a tree, or in a cavity. They are really fantastic!

Anyhoo, I don't have an Owls of the World book, but that would be really cool. I've got one called Owls of California and the West and I have several different field guides. As in my other report about raptors, we find that several of the owls of North America can or have been seen here in Utah.

Per the Utah Checklist, there are 13 owl species that have been seen in Utah: The Barn, Western Screech, Great Horned, Northern Pygmy, Long Eared, Short Eared, Spotted, and Northern Saw-whet Owls are listed as permanent residences. The
Flammulated and Burrowing Owls are listed as summer residences, and the Boreal Owl is listed as Occasional. Snowy and Great Gray Owls are Accidental.

There are 23 owls listed on the ABA checklist, but Sibley only lists 19 in his 2nd Edition Field Guide:
In addition to those above, in the north, west and south we can find the Northern Hawk Owl, Whiskered Screech Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Elf Owl. In the east we can find the Eastern Screech Owl and the Barred Owl. The Oriental Scops-Owl, Mottled Owl, Stygian Owl, and Northern Boobook are accidental. (Boobook is fun to say...)

I've seen 9 of the 13 owls in Utah, plus a Barred Owl that I saw in Florida. Owls aren't really easy to find unless you know where to go and what to look for. It seems like you have to be in the right place at the right time and get really lucky. There are several members of our group that seem to be Owl Whisperers, you know who you are, and it is really awesome that they are willing to share their time with us on fieldtrips once in a while.

Utah is so amazing! The beauty this time of year is breathtaking. I love the cooler temperatures and the beautiful blue sky, I've missed that so much this summer with all the smoke. Birds are on the move! I hope you can all get some good birding in!


  Utah Bird Checklist, utahbirds.org
  ABA North America Checklist, aba.org
  Sibley Field Guide, 2nd Edition






     Brown-headed Cowbird

                (Molothrus ater)

               by Nichole Telford

Halloween is a fun time. We dress up and try to fool our friends, or maybe, if you’re a parent, you just try to survive the major sugar high your kids are on after a night of trick or treating. Birds are experts at fooling poor birders. You think that perhaps that white-faced ibis is really a glossy ibis, or maybe that song sparrow that won’t stop flitting around is something more exciting. Some birds try to fool other birds, and that fooling is a matter of life or death.

Male Brown-headed Cowbird
photo by the Telfords 

Take the Brown-headed Cowbird. This bird is a parasite, dependent upon the efforts of the more honest, hard working birds. Instead of building a nest, it will lay its egg in the nest of another bird, occasionally shoving one or two eggs out to make room. If the bird whose nest has been invaded recognizes the egg as one that is not it’s own, it can take measures. The Yellow Warbler, being a small bird, will build an entirely new nest above the old nest. Bigger birds will destroy the egg. The real problems begin when the bird doesn’t realize the new addition that’s been made to its family.

Brown headed cowbird chicks are super selfish. Their eggs are evolved to hatch quickly so they can have a monopoly on the food and grow a lot bigger than its foster siblings. Even after the other eggs hatch they will still eat all of the food, because birds have a habit of feeding whoever is cheeping the loudest, and cowbird chicks are like noisy teenagers that are always hungry. If the chick isn’t content with waiting for its siblings to slowly starve, it will “encourage” the other birds to get an early start with their flying. “Sorry Mom, I guess Jerry wasn’t ready, but he asked me to help.” Poor Jerry. You will be remembered by your parents for about three seconds before their adopted child asks what’s for dinner.

It is funny that brown-headed cowbird chicks can grow to be much bigger than their foster parents. It’s curious that they don’t notice. You’d think it would be obvious, but I guess they’re in a state of denial. Good thing cowbirds don’t live in Egypt. Feel free to groan.

Once the parasitic bird has grown up, it packs its bags and leaves its loving parents to pursue a life of crime. If it’s a male, it will have an iridescent blue body topped by a shiny brown head. The females are the typical boring brown birds that they always are. The male and female will meet, and the female will lay an egg in some other bird’s nest. Such a good mom.

Brown-headed cowbirds have been successful in increasing their numbers through decreasing the numbers of other birds. The Kirtland’s Warbler’s numbers were brought down severely partly because of brown-headed cowbirds and their violent tendencies towards their host families. At least the cowbirds are endemic. Can you imagine what sort of chaos they would cause if they were released in another country?

Brown-headed cowbirds have proven themselves to fool other bird species for years and years. Perhaps if you want to fool your friends this Halloween, you should dress as a brown-headed cowbird and claim to be a song sparrow or yellow warbler. You’ll be about as successful as a brown-headed cowbird in a yellow warbler nest. But it will be fun.




Field Trip Reports


 18 September 2021

River Lane / Sandy Beach Field Trip

by Suzi Holt

On Saturday we started our field trip to River Lane/Sandy Beach around 8:15 am. Just as we got to where the river meets the dirt road we jumped out of our cars and it started to rain. We first off saw a Great-horned Owl! The rain got worse so we decided to head to the beach. Shorebirds and waterfowl don't mind getting wet!   


It continued to rain cats and dogs. We saw 100's of American White Pelicans and 100's of Barn Swallows. We had a couple of Osprey flyover, a few Double-crested Cormorants, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal,, Killdeer, lots of California Gulls and a few Franklin's Gulls, two Snowy Egrets, two Great Blue Herons, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lincoln's, Song and White-crowned Sparrows, an American Kestrel and some peeps.

The rain continued to pour and before long everyone was soaked and decided to go home. As I was sitting in my car on River Lane putting in my checklist the rain stopped. I sat there with my window down and I started hearing the birdsong! In one tree I had Black-capped Chickadees, Nashville Warbler, Gray Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, House Wren and a couple Spotted Towhees.

Down the road I saw more Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Robins, Common Nighthawk, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Western Wood Pewee, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, more White-crowned Sparrows, a Orange-crowned Warbler, Tree and Cliff Swallows and a Black-billed Magpie I even heard a Western Meadowlark and California Quail.

Sometimes there is gold at the end of the rainbow. I am grateful for those who came and for the opportunity to get out.



     If you have had any interesting field trips on your own this month,
feel free to write a report for the newsletter!

(Send it to: ucbirders@utahbirds.org)