Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Kinglets and Thrushes of Maricopa County


Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula

The song of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is unique, constantly changing pitch and tone through a loud and complex series of notes.  This tiny bird is heard singing in it's breeding ranch, which is throughout much of the west, Canada, and Alaska.  It migrates in very high numbers throughout North America, and winters throughout the south.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets are found breeding in high coniferous forests in their range, including much of Northern Arizona.  They are very active, nervously flicking their wings and giving chattering calls.  Insects are the main food source of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, as they feed from the tips of branches and swipe insects from the leaves.  Male Ruby-crowned Kinglets have a red patch on their crown (females don't), which is usually concealed.  When agitated, the male kinglet shows a lot of red on it's crown, which is very striking when observing this bird with it's crown concealed most of the time.  In Maricopa County, from fall migration through all of winter, and a lot of spring migration, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet becomes abundant in the county in a variety of different habitats.  It gives it's chattering call regularly, which sounds similar to a Broad-billed Hummingbird.  Look for kinglets in multiple habitats with tall trees-deserts, parks, riparian areas, and Transition Zones.


Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana

True to it's name, the Western Bluebird is found throughout much of the west, especially in the Lower 48.  This beautiful bird is very common in open forests and forest edges during it's breeding range, and in winter, it moves into lower elevations.  Western Bluebirds are most often observed perched on tree branches, fences, or telephone pole wires, where it hunts insects both on the ground and in the air.  Bluebirds nest in cavities, and at one time bluebird popluations of all three bluebird species declined rapidly due to competition from unnatural cavity nesters.  People made bluebird nesting boxes and spread them throughout much of North America, as the North American Bluebird Society was formed to help much of the bluebird numbers recover.  Western Bluebirds are common throughout much of Arizona, breeding in higher elevation forests, especially open ponderosa pine forests.  In Maricopa County, Western Bluebirds are very local breeders in the higher elevation pine and oak forests found in the Highway 87 Area (Area 1).  They are often found near the summit of Mount Ord, and sometimes at Slate Creek Divide.  In late fall through all of winter, Western Bluebirds move into Maricopa County and are found in abundant numbers in certain areas, as much of the population moves into the lowlands during winter.  Western Bluebirds are found during these timeframes in agricultural fields, open clearings in riparian habitats, desert, as well as juniper and chaparral covered hillsides, and Transition Zones.  Excellent places to see numbers of Western Bluebirds can be found in the county at hotspots including:  Area 1 (Sunflower, Sycamore Creek, and lower Mount Ord and Slate Creek Divide), Area 2 (Coon Bluff Recreation Site), Area 5 (Rousseau Sod Farms), Area 7 and 8 (agricultural fields), Area 10 (Hassayampa River Preserve), and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, Seven Springs Recreation Area).


Mountain Bluebird Sialia currucoides

This striking species is a spectacular sight in high mountain meadows of western North America, which includes much of northern Arizona.  It's range is widespread in the west, and continuing further north than Western Bluebird up to Alaska.  Mountain Bluebirds have similar feeding habits to Western Bluebirds, as they catch insects both in the air and on the ground.  Due to the Mountain Bluebird's more open habitat, they have to hover for prey more than other bluebirds due to the lack of perches.  Other than high mountain meadows, it is found in other open habiats in it's breeding range, especially above 7000'.  The Mountain Bluebird population moves south in the winter into lowland habitats that include open fields and deserts, and the time to see Mountain Bluebirds in Maricopa County start in fall and continue through winter.  They highly favor agricultural fields, sod farms, sometimes open desert, some open riparian habitats surrounded by juniper covered hills, and open areas up to 5000' in elevation.  Mountain Bluebirds can be anywhere from uncommon to common depending on the year as they are an irregular species that migrates further south based on food source.  Good places to look for Mountain Bluebirds in Maricopa County are Area 1 (Sunflower, lower Mount Ord and Slate Creek Divide), Area 5 (Rousseau Sod Farms),  Area 7 and 8 (found in agricultural fields-sometimes in very high numbers in good migration years), and Area 11 (Mount Humboldt, Seven Springs Recreation Area).


Townsend's Solitaire Myadestes townsendi

This thrush of high mountain conifer forests is quite the songster and is pleasant to listen to.  Townsend's Solitaires are found breeding in these habitats in much of western North America.  They are often seen hunting from a perch, where they feed on insects.  Berries are also an important part of this bird's diet.  Townsend's Solitaires are found in these high elevation forests in northern Arizona when breeding.  In winter, solitaires move into lower elevations during winter, especially in juniper covered hills.  In Maricopa County, Townsend's Solitaires can be uncommon to irruptive in juniper covered hillsides in late fall through all of winter into some of spring.  They feed off of juniper berries that grow on the juniper trees, where they can be very defensive of their food source, and are often heard singing during the winter as they defend their feeding territory.  In the county, look for Townsend's Solitaires in medium elevations with junipers as well as Transition Zones.  Good hotspots to see this bird at are:  Area 1 (Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks, Mount Ord) and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, Seven Springs Recreation Area).


Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus

The song of the Swainson's Thrush is one of North America's most beautiful bird songs, as it echoes through moist coniferous forests throughout western North America and most of Canada.  This thrush is an impressive migrant, migrating at night through both eastern and western North America from it's northern breeding grounds to where it spends it's winters in the tropics.  Swainson's Thrushes are very shy birds and tend to stay higher in trees than other similar thrushes, but does feed on the ground often.  It feeds highly on berries and insects.  In Arizona, Swainson's Thrushes are rare and local breeders in the state in moist mixed conifer forests in several parts of the state, especially the White Mountains in Apache County in the northeastern part of the state.  In Maricopa County, Swainson's Thrushes are spring and fall migrants, and are observed much more easily in spring in riparian forests dominated by willows and cottonwoods.  They are found especially during the month of May during spring and through early June.  The stages of late May/early June are the peak time throughout Arizona to see Swainson's Thrushes.  The best place in Maricopa County to find them at is the Hassayampa River Preserve (Area 10), where numbers of them migrate through the preserve annually.  In the preserve, the Palm Lake Loop (accessed by the visitor center) is a reliable place which has mulberry trees throughout the loop to provide the thrushes with food source.  In fall migration, Swainson's Thrushes are less numerous and harder to find. 


Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus

The Hermit Thrush is widespread in North America and breeds throughout the west, Canada, Alaska, and some of the east.  It is a common migrant in North America and winters throughout much of the southern states and along both coasts.  When breeding, Hermit Thrushes make their home in mixed coniferous forests.  Their song is one of North America's best: it is beautiful and peaceful and is heard throughout the day often when other birds aren't singing.  Hermit Thrushes feed on the ground and are often seen feeding or on very low perches that are close to the ground, and they are often very approachable and can be very easy to view.  They mainly feed on insects, as well as fruits and berries.  In Maricopa County, Hermit Thrushes are very local breeders in the Transition Zones found in the Highway 87 Area (Area 1).  They can be found breeding on Mount Ord sometimes and more often at Slate Creek Divide.  They are common migrants in fall and some of spring in Maricopa County, and winter throughout the county in common numbers especially in riparian areas, and are abundant in some locations with berry trees.  Any riparian or woodland area in the county is likely to be good for finding a Hermit Thrush in the winter, but places where they are often abundant at with excellent food sources are:  Area 1 (Sunflower),  Area 10 (Hassayampa River Preserve), and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Seven Springs Recreation Area).


American Robin Turdus migratorius

The American Robin is one of North America's most well known birds.  This bird is often one of the first creatures a child is introduced to when exploring nature for the first time.  American Robins are found almost everywhere in North America in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, plains, suburban areas, lawns, and wintering in lowland desert areas.  This large thrush eats worms for much of it's diet, as well as insects, fruits, and berries.  American Robins north of the Lower 48 migrate south for the winter, where flocks gather in abundance in many areas.  In Arizona, robins are found breeding mainly in higher elevation forests.  A majority of the population is non-migratory, but numbers of birds from the far north and some of Arizona's birds move south and winter in lower elevations.  In Maricopa County, American Robins may breed in the Transition Zones found in the Highway 87 Area (Area 1), as they are sometimes seen and heard during breeding time frames.  They are present in both migrations and through all of winter, where some winters host abundant numbers in specific areas.  Habitats prefered during winter include parks, riparian woodlands, trees and bushes harboring fruits, and juniper woodlands.  Locations with abundant numbers of American Robins in winter are:  Area 1 (Sunflower), Area 10 (Hassayampa River Preserve), and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, and Seven Springs Recreation Area). 


Also keep an eye out for...


Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulas satrapa

This tiny bird is found in mixed coniferous forests like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  It feeds on insects, seeds, and fruits, and it's high pitched song and calls are heard while hiking through the forest.  In North America, it breeds throughout the west and Canada and some of the northeast, and winters throughout much of the Lower 48.  Golden-crowned Kinglets breed in Arizona in the northern half of the state in favored forests.  In Maricopa County, this bird is usually rare but annual.  It often shows up with mixed flocks of other small birds.  If Golden-crowned Kinglets do move south, chances are decent for finding this species in Transition Zones on Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, or Four Peaks Wildnerness (Area 1) in pine forests.  They also come into the lowlands in numbers during some years, mainly in riparian woodlands. 


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