After work I walked up Harvard Avenue arround 4:15.


The baby ladderback woodpecker was still in his hole-nest, awaiting another meal. 

Mom and Dad had been nervous this morning, as there were cats around, but there were no cats in evidence this afternoon.  Soon baby will be out flying on his own if he survives the ~20-foot fall out of the nest.


A male lesser goldfinch was looking cockeyed at the windy spring afternoon (or he had a crick in his neck):


A black-chinned hummingbird was high in a tree, surveying his domain (you know they own everything):


Then I heard a beautiful song, one new to me.  I thought the singing bird was in a certain very large pine in someone's backyard, but couldn't figure out how to approach as no one was home.  Finally I headed north, around the corner, around another corner, and there was a public alley, so I headed south on that, listening for that bird.  I didn' t hear again, but I did stand in the shade of huge trees, including that pine, looking up, watching. 


I finally saw a new bird and took a lot of pictures, most of which came out blurry due to the distance (wouldn't you know, the leaves were sharp and in focus, but rarely the bird).  It was at least 50 feet up from where I stood and no moving very much (which means, for example, it wasn't a giant kinglet, a bird that likes to flit around constantly).

Here are two of the in-focus pictures:

Look at the beak:

The beak tells me that this robin-sized bird may enjoy cracking open nuts or hard seeds.  A "gros beak" of some kind?  I wondered if this bird might be a Western Tanager (saw a dead one, run over, in the Peace Center parking lot, ironically), but this odd guy or gal above has a dark head, not an orange one.  I briefly thought it actually might be a robin with a muddled red breast, but of course robin beaks are sharp and yellow and their eyes are ringed with yellow.  I don' know that this is the bird I heard singing, either; it didn't make a sound as I watched it.  And it wasn't in my book, which lists birds by color -- I looked under orange, yellow and black but no luck.


So, any guesses?  I'll keep watching for him or her to reappear and let you see any pictures I get.




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Replies to This Discussion

It's almost like a clever edit of your description could reveal this bird's name! It's a black-headed grosbeak. I think they're migrating through right now - I've seen them in the bosque, at my house (near UNM) and at my work (Journal Center).

John has correctly identified the species. Some may be migrating through, but many will be here all summer. I have one that hangs out around here and sometimes comes into my yard. Once you learn their distinctive song (which is similar to a robin's, but different) you can hear them all up and down the river in the bosque.

Nice photo of baby Ladder-back, Debby. If you want to see my photo of a mom Ladder-back gathering peanut suet to take back to her brood today, check out

Thank you for the quick identification, John, as well as letting me know I have a good chance of seeing this bird again. I hope I see him/her again out in the sunshine, though, improving chances of a sharp picture!  Bill, I bet you're right, that's the song I heard.  It was charming and loud, like a Robin, but more musical. Your information about how long these birds can hang round also gives me hope.  That's an excellent picture on your site.  I've seen both parents feeding the little baby above; it seems the mom gathers a bigger mouthful of food though (I've got the pictures to prove it).  I wonder if they'll stay and have another chick in that same nest, maybe a female next time.

I just googled black-headed grosbeak, and found a very good website from Cornell University which includes the calls of birds.  Here's the link to the grosbeak.
A great find!  And that recording does sound like what I heard.  I heard it again yesterday (May 18) afternoon, but because it was dark and cloudy (a nice thing these days), I didn't go searching for the bird as I doubted I'd be able to see it. I note that the site you link to says about breeding males that they have a patch of lemon yellow on the belly, so I suspect now the one I saw was a breeding male. Hope he has or finds a mate!
To give Birds of New Mexico Field Guide its due, it does have two pictures of the black-headed grosbeak... neither of which look much like the picture I took.  The bird I saw may be a young one, though, and not as orange yet as the ones in the book, thus I didn't recognize it when I searched.  It is still a book I recommend to birdwatchers.
I'm sure the pictures in the book were not from underneath - that's got to make ID trickier. Again, though we all do it, relying too heavily on coloration and markings can lead us astray. Noting, as you did, shape, habitat and activity is a major component to bird identification. "Your" bird is not as orange, perhaps it is early in the year, but also there is great variation from bird to bird and the guides can only show a "typical" example.
It means I should be on the look out for really orange birds now and that's great!  Due to birds flitting around and often being at some distance, hiden among leaves, sometimes color is all we have to go on if we can't get a picture of them.  I'm glad to learn more details about them, glad you're teaching us.

Great photos!  Debby, can I borrow that photo of the baby ladderback for my FB page and credit you?


I hear a lovely, complicated song every morning and I can't see the bird.  It's in a distant tree.  It is repeats of different songs or trills - about 5 or 6 repeats and then a change.  I know starlings imitate others (I have a pet starling and sings Happy Birthday)... could it be a starling?

ps - I saw a black chinned hummingbird doing a "pendulum" courtship (or territorial?) dance over our hummingbird feeder yesterday.  That was interesting!


I've seen that, too.  Just saw it Monday afternoon and figured there was a female nearby, but didn't see her.  He was very enthusiastic.  He may have been the same black chinned I took a picture of a little earlier as he was enjoying the feeder.  I should upload that as I was very close and the picture quite sharp and detailed.

I'd be pleased for you to use the baby ladderback picture on your FB page!  How sweet :)  I took quite a few of him, and many of them turned out very good.  I didn't see him this morning (May 18), so maybe he's out now, following his folks around.  I"ll watch for a young one in the area.  Maybe he'll have a sister later this season.


Starlings are quite vocal, from sounding like they're playing come to trilling and whistling and having a good old time :)


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