Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Tue, May 21

Verde Valley Birding Festival is just around the corner

As spring progresses, migration activity continues to pick up. Already I am receiving reports from customers here in Prescott who are seeing orioles at their feeders. During the month of April black-chinned hummingbirds, rufous hummingbirds, and broad-tailed hummingbirds start showing up as well.

In early spring I usually have only one or two hummingbird feeders out. I gradually put more and more feeders out as more and more hummingbirds show up. Eventually, by summer, I will have at least six hummingbird feeders up in my yard.

The arrival of migratory birds is a key factor in deciding when birding and nature festivals are held each year. The closest festival to Prescott is the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival later this month. The festival is scheduled to occur at the same time as peak migration activity for that elevation.

The festival is held each year at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood. The elevation is close to 3,300 feet, favoring birds that migrate earlier in the season. The festival boast an impressive number of species observed each year — usually anywhere between 180 and 200 species will be seen during the four-day festival.

The number of species observed during the festival is bolstered by the many destinations visited, with field trips to numerous different habitats throughout central and northern Arizona. In addition to field trips, there are workshops, seminars, vendors, and you can do bird watching on your own in the armchair birding area. Just a short walk from the festival headquarters is a seating area with seed and nectar feeders.

Most years the armchair birding area produces an incredible variety of birds including lazuli and indigo buntings, Bullock’s orioles, summer tanagers, Bewick’s wrens, lark and chipping sparrows, goldfinches, and hummingbirds. It is a shaded area where you can just sit and relax and enjoy the variety of birds as they come and go.

The principle of migratory birds showing up at different times at different elevations is an interesting topic to explore. Several weeks ago, when I was bird watching in the Wickenburg area, hooded orioles had already arrived. The weather in Wickenburg, at an elevation of approximately 2,000 feet, was much warmer and flowering plants and insects were readily available.

Orioles are just one example of bird species that arrive in the Sonoran Desert several weeks before they start showing up in the Central Highlands of Arizona. Here in Prescott, with an elevation over 5,300 feet, migratory birds show up later, timing their arrival with available food sources.

Orioles feed primarily on insects and nectar — if they show up at the higher elevations too early, when freezing temperatures are still occurring on a regular basis, it will be too early for insects and flowering plants. Somehow birds instinctively know how to coincide their arrival with the availability of the food sources they need for their survival.

As you might imagine, songbird migration is fraught with significant challenges — contrary winds, late winter storms, predators, and development poses a significant threat if the area when they use to stop over to feed and rest is now a housing development.

Loss of habitat is one of the greatest risks to birds all across the globe. When you consider the diet migratory song birds rely on — seeds, fruit, nectar, insects, they all revolve around plants. If the plants are no longer there, they have to find food elsewhere.

Creating a bird-friendly yard with native trees and shrubs and supplementing with different food sources is the best way to help migratory birds.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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