A studio for bird study

Tag: western

Western Scrub Jay with Bill Deformity

by Bryce W. Robinson


My friend Mitch Tall sent me this image today of a Western Scrub Jay that he photographed in Salt Lake City, Utah. He wanted to know if I had any insight into what was wrong with this bald bird. I don’t have a lot of knowledge when it comes to bird maladies, however, I quickly noticed the elongated growth in the bill. Some birds have a disorder where their bills grow continuously throughout their lives. My friend Ron Dudley has documented several birds with related issues (See photos here). I’d be confident stating that stress related to the deformity is why the Scrub Jay is lacking feathers on its head. Still, I wonder if something such as mange is to blame, compounded by the health issues caused by the bill deformity. 


I’d love to hear some ideas from those who have more knowledge on this issue than I. In the meantime, I’ll be researching some possibilities in hopes of having an answer for Mitch. Thanks again for sharing these Mitch, and kudos on the great photography.



Wild Boise: Western Screech Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson


The other night, a bird flew in front of my car as I drove through the Boise State University Campus. I immediately pulled the car over, grabbed my camera, found the bird, and recorded. It was too dark, so I did what I could with the camera, cranked the ISO, dropped the aperture, and lowered the shutter speed. This video shows the abilities of the Canon 7D at its absolute limits, in the dark. Not the best, but I’ll take it.

We’ve entered a very active time for owls. These birds are in the midst of pair bonding, preparing for the breeding season. They are very active and vocal, so take the time just after sunset, and you’re sure to find an owl or two.

by Bryce W. Robinson

Dark Morph Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis

The past few months have been full of incredible encounters with the winged world. Recently I found a young Red-tailed Hawk perched atop a fence post along the roadside. I stopped to photograph the bird, as is my custom. I took notice of the dark coloration of the bird, which always excites me. As is possible in winter, I always get excited about dark Red-tailed Hawks and the possibility that they might be Harlan’s. I recently posted about how to distinguish between dark juvenile Westerns and Harlan’s. As I described, it is easy to see that this is a dark Western, not a Harlan’s. Still, I love the chance to see all of the diversity in the species.

What struck me about this particular bird was not anything dealing with plumage. I noticed a large clump of grass in the birds talons. Chuckling, I passed it off as a missed attempt at some prey, coming away with only a healthy talon full of weeds. I didn’t even raise my binoculars to check. Luckily, the photo tells the story. This young bird was successful in obtaining a morning meal.

It tickles me to find myself with a photo of a bird clutching its prey. The story continues, however. The bird lit off of the pole, headed away from the highway to a more secretive feeding spot. I was taken aback as a large tumbleweed flew with the hawk. I couldn’t help but laugh. In the desperate attempt to glean a morning meal, the youthful raptor grabbed more than its target, and couldn’t risk releasing the extras until it began consuming the meal.

I’ve seen some peculiar and comical behavior from young birds in the past. At the beginning of the migration season, I observed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk grab a pine cone from a tree. It soared about for some time, regularly checking the object in its talons. One can only speculate as to what this bird was doing, but it was quite the sight, to be sure. These special instances display the character that birds possess, only becoming apparent with detailed observation, too often overlooked.


Owls In the Desert Night

by Bryce W. Robinson

Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii

This evening I joined some friends on an owling adventure into the evening heat which still hovered near 100 degrees farenheit. We were in search of the world’s smallest owl, the Elf Owl. The desert of southern California is not the normal range of this tiny creature, but for whatever reason, there has been a bird living in one canyon for some time.

We watched some palm snags with nice cavities as the sun light began to fade. At one point, a small head poked from a cavity. We thought we had our owl, but soon after an American Kestrel flew from the hole. We were disappointed, even though a nesting kestrel is quite the prize.

The sun fell, and darkness ensued. No owl. After a while we realized we would no longer be able to see the owl, even if it was around. We listened for any calls, but none came. Before we left we decided to check for other owls. We knew there were probably screech owls in the area. They had been heard before. We whistled a few calls and listened. Sure enough two birds responded. Interestingly, the birds were perched ten feet in front of us on some limbs. We had some great looks at them.

The two birds called, and each bird had an obvious difference in pitch. One bird was noticeably lower. I know that in many species of owls the vocalizations differ, with the male being a lower pitch. I’ve heard this many times in the Great Horned Owl as they hoot back and forth at the inception of nightfall. I’m not certain if there is a difference between male and female voices in the screech owl, but it certainly seems so. I plan to do some reading to find out.

Although we were unsuccessful in finding the Elf Owl, I was very happy with the night. An owling adventure is surely successful when any owl is found.

Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii