Friday, September 21, 2018

Who's Been Drinking My Hummingbird Food at Night?

Guest post by Dan Weisz

Bats, that’s who- specifically Lesser Long-nosed Bats. Arizona is home to 28 species of bats. Twenty six of those species are insect eaters. Two are nectar feeders. During the fall, from August through October, hummingbird feeders in Tucson provide one source of food for these special creatures.

The Lesser Long-nosed Bat undergoes a long distance migration to get to the Tucson area (and they are one of only a few species that migrate such a distance). They come up every spring from Mexico, following the flowering or fruiting cycle of their food sources: saguaro, organ pipe cactus, carton, and agave- their primary food sources. The pregnant females roost in neighboring mountains in large groups and have their babies in the summer after a six month gestation period. Bats give birth to one pup per year. 

In the photos below, I have removed the red tops to the hummingbird feeders to allow for a better view of the bats. Please don’t do what I do. Leave the red tops on the feeders and the bats and the hummingbirds will still be able to feed without spilling the nectar all over your porch Thanks.

Bats are mammals, so they nurse their young as all mammals do. After a month or so, the pups will leave the maternity roosts and begin flying and feeding on their own. The bats are the only mammal that can fly and they come out at night to feed.

Bats cannot hover to drink nectar like hummingbirds do. Their technique is to fly up to food and right at the moment they are at the top of their flight, before they begin falling, they “stop” midair to slurp up some nectar.

And then after taking a quick slurp, they fall away, splashing droplets of hummingbird food around them. Many of my photos are of this type as the bats appear quickly, out of the dark to feed and my reflexes are not as fast as they are. In the photo below you can see another feature of the Lesser Long-nosed Bat. It does not have a tail, and is described as “wearing pants”. Most bats have a membrane between their legs. For Lesser Long-nosed Bats who migrate long distances, the membrane would produce more drag in the air, making it more difficult to fly long distances. So there is no membrane and that allows the bats to expend less energy when they migrate.

Bats wings are made up of a thin membrane stretched over the bats arm and fingers. Bats have a thumb and four fingers. The tiny thumb is at the bend atop their wings and is visible in some of the other photos. It has been said that bats fly through the power of “jazz hands”!

You may have noticed that “belly button” thing sticking out on each bat. I asked Scott Richardson, the local US Fish and Wildlife Bat expert, about that and sent him several photos. His response was: "Both sexes have an appendage. In females, like your photo, it is a small appendage. In males, it is the penis and it is obviously larger than the female appendage. You just have to see a bunch and it becomes obvious. Most of the bats at feeders are female and most are juveniles (young born this year or last). It can be harder to tell male from female in juveniles, but it is still pretty obvious. If you get a male, I am guessing it will be obvious to you that it is a male. It is most likely all you are seeing is females.”

I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide.

Doesn’t this bat look cute? It appears so happy to be close to a tasty drink. Notice the pointy thing sticking up on its snout? That is called a noseleaf and Lesser Long-nosed Bats are part of the leaf-nosed bat family.

You can see this bat's thumbs sticking up above the wings.

Bat Man!

On this bat, you can see the thumb and all four fingers, and you can see the “pants” it is wearing.

The tongue of a Lesser Long-nosed bat has adaptations for lapping up nectar. Their tongue is actually almost as long as their body to allow them to probe deeply into the big flowers they feed from.

Now look at the legs of this bat. You can see a membrane stretched between the legs, letting us know this is the other nectar feeding species found locally- a Mexican Long-tongued Bat.

One last look at the lack of a tail membrane on this Lesser Long-nosed before we look again at the other bat, our Mexican Long-nosed Bat.

You can see the membrane or skirt between this bat’s legs. You can also see that this bat has a much longer snout than the Lesser Long-nosed one.

Here is one last look at that tail membrane and the snout of the Mexican Long-tongued Bat.

The town of Marana has been studying these bats for years now. For information on the study and how you can participate, see

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Very Elegant Bird

Guest post by Dan Weisz

Elegant Trogons are another one of those birds who count southern Arizona as their only home in the United States. Upon seeing one in the wild, your first, immediate thoughts are “Wow, this is a tropical bird”. A Trogon's rose-red belly and metallic green back are vivid. Trogons are found during the summers in the canyon forests of southern Arizona’s Sky Islands among oak and sycamore trees.

Check out this range map to see where Elegant Trogons can be found in the United States:

A week ago, a friend told me about a nest she had been following in Madera Canyon and invited me along for a look. We waited for over a very long hour-and-a-half by the tree with the nest cavity. A female appeared suddenly and fed the chicks in the nest but flew off as soon as she was finished. We waited another half hour or so until the male Trogon finally showed up. The male’s behavior was very different. He sat on a perch holding a very fat caterpillar and waited and waited while facing the nest cavity. The male bird below could be molting, as the feathers on its belly appear a bit scruffy.

Meanwhile, the two chicks in the nest were eager to be fed. The chicks seemed to be old enough to fledge and leave the nest very soon. Trogons are cavity nesters, but they are unable to ‘dig’ their own cavities. They are largely dependent on woodpeckers to first create the holes which they then use in following years.

One baby seems to be much more hungry and assertive than its sibling.

Finally, the father Trogon approached the nest after waiting for five minutes or more. In the photo below, his wings are blurred due to the camera's slow shutter speed, but seeing the bird’s posture and the young Trogon’s reactions makes this shot. So who gets the juicy snack? The belly colors of the Elegant Trogon stand out here as does the red eye-ring against the dark green/black face.

Apparently, the bird on the right was left empty handed, or empty beaked. The adult Trogon’s metallic green back and square-tipped tail are evident as is the bird’s gray, finely barred side feathers.

Papa Trogon left to continue hunting while one baby was chowing down and the second bird looked perplexed.

Within minutes, the adult Elegant Trogon reappeared with a cicada in its yellow beak. Note the bird’s white chest band.

The cicada is carefully but firmly held in the Trogon’s beak

.And then papa delivers to the second hungry bird in the nest. This is another, closer look at the feathers on his back.

The female Elegant Trogon is colored very differently from the male. This photo was taken when we first saw her before the male arrived. I was shooting into the bright sky and the angle isn’t the best, but you can see that the female does not have the bright green back that the male does. She has more of a gray head, chest and back and a belly lightly washed in red. She also has a white teardrop behind her eye. The female Elegant Trogon does have a square-tipped tail like her mate’s and but it is more coppery colored.

I feel very fortunate to have witnessed these birds that day. I learned that the babies were no longer in the nest just two days later and I believe that they had fledged and were being fed and taken care of out of the nest somewhere in the Canyon. I know I will look for them again next spring.

Here is a nice, short story on Elegant Trogons by the podcast Birdnote. You can hear the Trogon's unique ‘barking’ sound here:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Intern Spotlight: Fernando Diaz

          Tucson Audubon has been a proud supporter of youth in conservation since the very beginning of our organization. Be it classes, field trips, internships or other special events!
         Every once in a while we like to put a little spotlight on our hardworking interns and volunteers to recognize their hard work and encourage others to volunteer in conservation. Today’s spotlight is on Fernando Diaz, a sophomore at University of Arizona pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. 

Fernando is being recognized today for his "can-do" spirit, hard work and fast learning! 
Great job!

        He started as an intern at Tucson Audubon Society after asking his adviser for help finding ornithology-related experience. What better place than Tucson Audubon? By contacting our Volunteer Coordinator, Luke Safford, Fernando was set up with opportunities that our multifaceted organization offers: bird surveys, habitat restoration, nestbox installation/monitoring, and data entry.

When asked why ornithology interests him, Fernando said:
I’ve always been fascinated with biology, ever since I was a kid who took interest in dinosaurs. When I learned that birds are the only living clade of dinosaurs (and funnily enough, after reading/watching Jurassic Park’s constant references to birds) I couldn’t help but get interested in them. They became my favorite groups of animals, as birds are just so diverse and diverged, that I can spend countless hours finding out about new species I never heard of or even believe could exist (such as the birds of paradise.)
After taking a few classes related with my major, I realize that I do feel I have what it takes to be a biologist, and Professor Robichaux (who taught my ECOL 182 class) really did inspire that passion I had to be a biologist. I learned in his class that one of the world’s leading ornithologists, Ed Scholes, is conducting extraordinary research on the birds of paradise and took the exact same class I did with the exact same professor (Dr. Rob), and it was at that moment I realized “Maybe I could become a great ornithologist!” To be straightforward, Dr. Rob’s lectures and motivational speeches for us really did inspire me to pursue my interests in biology (ornithology specifically, of course) and I became determined to do something about it over the summer. So far, I feel I’m on the right path and hope to become a great ornithologist.”

So far this summer Fernando has put up Elf Owl nestboxes, gone on Elegant Trogon surveys, and done multiple habitat restoration projects in Patagonia, Arizona. Something new on a weekly basis!

Here we see TAS restoration crew and Fernando (first from the right) working on building a weir to prevent erosion in Corral Canyon of Patagonia Mountains. Tucson Audubon is unique in the fact that there is a restoration department in addition to conservation. They go hand in hand!

Some of the benefits of interning at Tucson Audubon Society include, but are not limited to:
  •        College credit
  •        Resume-worthy experience
  •        In-field knowledge and skill acquisition
  •        Networking with professionals in your field
  •        Discovering the hidden nature gems of Southeast Arizona
  •        Volunteer hours that translate into discounts in our Nature Shop

Tucson Audubon Society offers opportunities to get involved with outreach, media, habitat restoration, bird conservation, and other elements of a non-profit conservation organization. 

If you know someone who may be interested in an internship, please refer them to Luke Safford at

Friday, May 18, 2018

Western Screech Owl: Season 2, Chapter 3

Guest Post by Dan Weisz

Now that it is very hot each day, the female Western Screech Owl leaves the nest box shortly after sunset and spends up to ten minutes quenching her thirst.  She’ll get a drink, then look around for a while, then get another drink, and repeat.  The owls will lap later into her bill, then tip her head back to let it run down her throat.

On this night, after filling up with water, she found a nearby perch and relieved herself.  She squats down in order to do this.

This was a lucky shot.  The owl is “casting a pellet”.  Owls usually swallow their prey whole and break it down in their gizzard. The bones, teeth, fur and other indigestible material is compressed into a pellet shaped mass that is then disgorged by regurgitation. 

Later, she flew to the water dishes on the ground to take a bath.

A few night’s later, she was back on a perch and scratching herself.

Although this photo is blurry, it gives you a sense of what the owl looks like when she returns to her nest box.

I know that the eggs have hatched by the method the owl uses to drop down into the box.  Several weeks ago, when the owl dropped into the box after looking out of the opening, she just dropped down and disappeared quickly. For the past two weeks, she turns and looks down before descending. I am sure she is looking at the owlets so she doesn’t just step on their heads.

And then she slowly descends into the nest box.

The male leaves his daytime perch in our neighbor’s porch pillar around the same time the female leaves the box to take a drink.  I never see him drinking and usually he is out in the desert nearby hunting.  I rarely see him but often hear his calling from the desert.  One night this week he perched in my backyard.  When I moved, he straightened up and erected the feather tufts on his head.  That’s his disguise mode used to blend into the trees that are often behind him.  He has not spent as much time near me as his partner has.

A few night’s later, I saw the male again.  This time, he had caught some food.  He’s holding a Western Banded Gecko in his beak.  You can see a fresh wound in the gecko’s belly where the owl probably first caught him. Now, the owl is carefully holding the gecko by its skull and awaiting a call from the female to make the delivery to the nest.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Birding Trip to Botswana: Part 4

Guest column by Alan & Albert Adler
Read Part 1
and Part 2
and Part 3

The Road to Savuti

On the way to the Savuti camp, which is located in the Savuti Marsh, we saw among many other birds the Yellow-billed Kite (with its bill and wedge-shaped tail) and the shy Swainson’s Spurfowl (which should be renamed the Red-masked Spurfowl), and two unusual birds: Burchell’s Sandgrouse (with perfect camouflage) and the Black- crowned Tchagra (with a black eye stripe and a striking, white supercilium). We also saw the very distinctive White-browed Sparrow-weaver with its conspicuous white eyebrow and white wing bars. We saw an entire Common Ostrich family – parents with about 20 chicks stretched between them. At one point the female did a strange wing-flapping dance – perhaps just letting off steam from the stress of trying to keep so many chicks alive in a land of predators. Just before we arrived at Savuti camp, we saw the remains of “a tooth and claw” event: in the middle of the road a dead African Cape Buffalo was feasted upon by two kinds of vultures (the Lappet-faced and the White-backed and a couple of hyenas. We were looking for the African Hoopoe but Richard found the Green Wood Hoopoe (with its long decurved red-orange bill, iridescent green plumage and long tail and wings - both with beautiful, large white patches) and another absolutely unmistakable gorgeous bird, the Crimson-breasted Shrike (with a jet black back and wings with a big white wingbar).

Burchell’s Sandgrouse
Green Wood Hoopoe
Crimson-breasted Shrike

Savuti Marsh

We spent two days doing both morning and evening trips in order to explore the huge dry savannah area around the Savuti camp. Each morning on our trip we would awake to a cacophony of bird calls, but the Southern Pied Babbler (a white & black robin-sized bird with black wings, but not variegated enough to be named with the word “pied”) and/or the Arrowmarked Babbler seemed to be causing most of the noise, along with spurfowl. We saw two of the largest and arguably most famous birds in Africa: a pair of Secretarybirds (41 inches tall weighing as much as 11 pounds; with head plumes reminiscent of teenagers with spiky hairstyles and tail feathers which protrude beyond its legs while in flight; it catches its prey only while striding.)We could barely keep up with them as they paced their elegant way across the grassland. Then we got great views of the Kori Bustard (they weigh as much as 40 pounds - the heaviest flying African bird; the male displays by inflating its throat, drooping his wings, cocking his short tail, and strutting about. No wonder this is the official national bird of Botswana.) One was in the company of a dwarf mongoose and looked for all the world like he was taking his pet for a stroll. Distant views caught the Pallid Harrier and the Montagu’s Harrier, which being harriers, quickly glided away. All of these birds were wonderful to see through our spotting scope. But we got the most wonderful photo of a pale-morph Tawny Eagle, with its heavily feathered legs, looking unusually blonde.

Southern Pied Babbler
Kori Bustard
Tawny Eagle

Other marsh birds that we liked were: the Northern Black Korhaan (the male with a black head, neck, and belly, red bill, and brown, barred back and wings), the Crested Francolin (with its black crest and white eyebrow), the Rufous-naped Lark (with its very distinctive call of tseep-tseeoo that was much admired by Richard), and the Double-banded Courser (besides its obvious bands it has chestnut color on the trailing edge of its wings when it flies.). We saw the knob on Knob-billed Duck, which only appears during breeding season.

Crested Francolin
Double-banded Courser

One morning in a hilly area not too far from camp, Richard cleverly spotted a Pearl-spotted Owlet (only 7-1/2 inches, with its two false black eye patches in the back of its head, it reminded us of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (6-3/4 inches) from the front and especially because of the facial expression and the brown color of its body. Later in the day as the sun was rapidly going down, we saw the most exciting owl of the trip: the huge (24-1/2 inches) Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, which we spotted across from our tent cabin just before a big rain storm, and then again early in the morning the next day, we saw him elsewhere looking rather comical because he was so wet and bedraggled. In both instances his pink eyelids were striking.

Pearl-spotted Owlet

Alan and Albert Adler have been residing in Tucson since 1998. Alan has been a lifelong birder, and from June 1999 through August 2002, he served as a writer and the volunteer editor of Tucson Audubon's Vermilion Flycatcher. In the spring of 2000, he was very pleased to report that the 32-page “newsletter”, as it was known then, was ranked 1st among those from 10 other “very large” chapters, beating Seattle, Greater Denver, and Fairfax, Virginia in the competition held by the National Audubon Society.  For the past seven years, Alan has volunteered with the Lend A Hand Senior Assistance, Inc., twice serving as its co-President. Albert began birding as an adult and has worked as a pediatrician with the Tohono O’odahm tribe since August 1998. The photos that accompany the article were taken almost entirely by Albert.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Elf Owls in Saguaro National Park

Guest post by Dan Weisz

I participated in an Elf Owl survey conducted by Tucson Audubon this weekend in the Saguaro National Park. This survey is part of the IBA (Important Bird Area) Program at Tucson Audubon monitoring birds of greatest conservation concern (

Elf Owl by Jeremy Hayes

We walked one of the trails in Saguaro National Park East stopping every 200 feet, listening for owls and documenting what we heard. Elf Owls are the smallest owls in the world and we did hear a few and also got a glimpse of one. Here is one of the sounds we were listening for: and here is information on Elf Owls: 

In addition, we also heard many coyotes and quite a few Western Screech Owls.

Below are some of the evening’s highlights. All of the owls pictured are Western Screech Owls. I got shots of two different owls but we saw and heard many.

This second owl sat for the longest time for us.

And here is a nice video of a Western Screech Owl, sitting in mesquite tree and calling. in the Tucson area, you can hear this sound at night:

On the way back to the cars, we did a bit of backlighting and found a few smaller friends:

This scorpion is called a stripe-tailed scorpion.  You can see the black stripes on the underside of his tail.  This is the most common scorpion in our area.