Foam Lake Birding No. 38

No. 38
Hello again from Texas, where the weather is very nice and the birding is terrific. Already we have seen seven “lifers” (birds that we have never seen before). Four of them, The Tropical Kingbird, the Crimson Collared Grosbeak, the Black Throated Magpie Jay and the Rose Throated Becard are rarities from Mexico. The jay is believed to be an escapee. Considering that we have spent two winters in this area before, seven lifers is a very good record.
For this week’s article, I will be reverting to a bird that is very common in the Rio Grande Valley and nowhere else. (Actually, the word “valley” is a bit of a misnomer as the area is as flat as a pancake – like the Regina Plains). The brash and noisy Great Kiskadee is this week’s featured bird. A quick glance at a range map shows that the Kiskadee occurs only in the extreme southern end of Texas – where we are. Here, it is as common as the Robin back home in the summer time.
The Kiskadee is a Robin-sized bird with a large head and beak. It actually looks more like a Belted Kingfisher than anything else. The colour patterns are quite striking. The back, wings and tail are a rusty brown colour that is very noticeable when the bird is in flight; the belly is a bright yellow; the head is boldly striped in black and white; the cap is black with a bright yellow median stripe. In the picture, the head looks white with a bold black mask across the eyes much like a raccoon. In real life the head looks more “stripy” than the picture indicates.
As colourful as it is, it hides in trees extremely well and is very difficult to spot – except that it makes its presence known with its noisy nature. It almost seems to say, “here I am”. When one starts to vocalize others nearby join in. In some ways, they remind me of the habits of the Chachalacas. The Kiskadee makes several sounds, but the one that gives the bird its name is a nasal, but clearly enunciated kiss-kah-dee. In this respect, it is very much like our Chickadee which also is named after its call.
The Kiskadee is a member of the flycatcher family, and as such, flies out to snatch insects out of the air. However, it is much more opportunistic than that. It eats berries, and on occasion, dives into water to catch small minnows much like a kingfisher!
There is one other very common bird that is restricted in range to the Rio Grande Valley that I hope to write about nest week – the Green Jay. Meanwhile, adios from the deep south.