North America is home to many amazing bird species, including several which require a special effort to see and appreciate. These birds also invite one to sites that are unique within the United States – the climate, vegetation, and landscapes all add context and heighten the experience of seeing one’s first Elegant Trogon or Painted Bunting. So let’s look at this sampler, shall we?
Breeding only above treeline on windswept and desolate rock faces (or equally austere habitats on the Aleutians), the three American rosy-finches (Gray-crowned, Black, and Brown-capped) are extreme environment specialists that are endemic to North America. In the summer, they are the highest altitude breeding songbird in North America. Their nests often overlook snowfields in the highest mountains, gathering along the edges of melting snowbanks to feed on freshly uncovered seeds and insects. In autumn and winter, they descend these high ridges to avoid the worst of the high winds and blowing snow – sometimes to feeders such as Sandia Crest in New Mexico, where there is a long ongoing study on these fascinatingly tough songbirds.
There are few birds in the world with such a dramatic combination of blue, green, and red colors as the Painted Bunting. In fact, its French name nonpareil means “without an equal,” and its Cuban name mariposa means butterfly. Only in their second fall do the males achieve their spectacular plumage. These colorful songbirds occur in two populations, a western one which winters in Mexico and Central America and an eastern one which winters in South Florida and Cuba. In winter, they occur in rank thickets and woodland edges where they feed mostly on seeds. Due to their beauty and warbling song, poachers trap these buntings in South Florida for an illegal local cagebird trade.
Trogons and quetzals are an ancient, colorful bird family that occurs in forests and other wooded habitats from the American tropics to Africa to Southeast Asia. The word Trogon, from the Greek meaning “gnawer,” refers to their hooked, serrated bills used to eat large insects and fruit – as well as gnaw on the rotting wood of old woodpecker cavities to reuse as nesting sites. The exquisite Elegant Trogon, mostly a Mexican species of the Sierra Madre, is the only member of this tropical bird family to range north into Southeast Arizona – the only trogon species in the United States and often considered ‘the most sought after bird in Arizona.”
Bright and sociable, Green Jays are a joy to watch as they move around wooded habitats in tight family flocks in search of large insects, seed, and fruit. Occurring primarily in two disjunct populations (one in Mexico and the other in the Andes), these jays are common residents in South Texas where they are steadily spreading northward. These birds are unusual in that parents retain non-breeding jays fledged from the previous year to help with territorial defense but do not assist as helpers-at-the-nest.
Want to see Green Jay on a Naturalist Journeys tour?:
A native of southern Florida, Carlos Sanchez has had a fascination with wildlife as far back as he can remember combined with an unquenchable thirst to learn -- the first books he checked out of the library were Beehler's "Birds of New Guinea" and Stiles and Skutch's "Birds of Costa Rica." Despite his parent's belief that he would 'grow out of it,' Carlos's passion has never wavered, and he has dabbled in everything from bird art to taxonomy. His passion has interwoven with his interest in travel, having birded extensively throughout the United States, eastern Australia, Thailand and Ecuador along with shorter jaunts to other locales such as Puerto Rico and Jamaica. In 2013, Carlos was a resident naturalist and birding guide at Cristalino Lodge in Brazil. If you would like to make a trip to southern Florida in search of Caribbean specialties, exotics, or general birding, please visit www.ecoavian.com to inquire about his guiding services.