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Birds Up Close And Personal

Updated on August 20, 2014

This One is for Steve Kaye

because he is a wonderful bird photographer who has graciously shared his work with us, and because he did a lens like this, and I wanted to show my own bird portraits. So without further ado, I dedicate this article to him.

I must say this has been very educational. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. If you can't get sharp portraits of birds, there is room for improvement. I have LOTS of room for improvement! Although I have way too many candidates among photos, for this article, it is fascinating to me how my perspective on my own work changed, just going through my photos, looking for the good ones to show!

I don't have extremely high end equipment. Perhaps later. This limits me, but what limits me more is my inability to focus sharply in so many instances. (The image in the viewfinder is too small and lacking in detail, really, and the focus detector seems to be too crude.) I also follow the practice of throwing out 97% of the photos I take. Digital cameras have been a real boon because it doesn't cost anything to take lots of photos.

I didn't always crop as closely as Steve Kaye did. A major reason why is that I feel that some of the front part of the bird is a beautiful part and should be shown. The head isn't always as interesting without it. In other cases, I wanted to include the beak, because I couldn't fathom presenting a picture of a face without the mouth. :)

All the birds in this article were photographed by me, in the wild unless otherwise stated. I included just a few in captivity, usually when the photos I got in the wild weren't quite as sharp.

Early Photos

The following photos were mostly taken with a film camera, and mostly in captivity. Exceptions will be noted. These are from several years ago, or even as much as a decade. Most of these are native species, but I include a few from elsewhere because they are interesting and I got good pictures.

You will notice that although properly a portrait might include only the head, there are times when I include more of the bird. This is because the head is either not the most interesting part, or the upper body is also beautiful, may include field marks, or for some other reason. For the most part, this is just faces.

Mandarin Wood Duck - Aix galericulata

This bird was free to leave, but chose to remain in the pond where I found him. It is not a species native to this area, although there appears to be a feral colony close to Phoenix. These are usually escaped pets. This is classified in the same genus as the more native Wood Duck (shown at the end of this article).

Harris's Hawk - Parabuteo unicinctus

This bird lived at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is a native species.

Western Tanager - Piranga ludoviciana

Gambel's Quail - Callipepla gambelii

When I first got my pictures back from the developer, I was looking at them, and I felt very satisfied with this one in particular. A woman sitting in the next booth at the restaurant wanted to know how much I would sell the picture for. I said, "$100". I didn't get any takers.

Peacock - Pavo cristatus

This is my peacock, Noisy. Their call, during breeding season and when alarmed, sounds very much like a very loud house cat. They make good watch birds in the spring. Peacocks are native to India, but are widely kept as pets.

Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus

I see these frequently in the wild. This one was in captivity, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is one of my better pictures of the species. These are shore birds, and have a loud call. I often hear them before I see them. "Vociferus" means "talkative". I think some birds are named after their songs or calls. This is apparently one of them.

Lilac-crowned Parrot - Amazona finschi

This bird is native to the Sonoran Desert, but not in Arizona.

Thick-billed Parrot - Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha

This bird is said to be endangered.


I have literally been looking for years for the exact identity of this bird. He was at the Desert Museum, but apparently free to leave. It could be a juvenile.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck - Dendrocygna autumnalis

I have seen this bird in the wild, but the pictures I got of them in captivity turned out much better. They have a very loud call. These were apparently younger birds (there were four of them) and they like shoes! They kept bugging people's shoes. The entire bird is quite pretty, so there will be a photograph of the entire bird in another article. This is a recent photo.

Black-headed Grosbeak - Pheucticus melanocephalus

These birds are common in Madera Canyon, but they prefer to rest in the shade, so getting a picture of one doesn't give the best results.

Nicobar Pigeon - Caloenas nicobarica

One of my favorite tropical birds. They have iridescent feathers, and are very pretty. This is the second largest pigeon, and is native only to the Nicobar Islands. It is endangered. This one lives at the Reid Park Zoo.

Yellow-knobbed Curassow - Crax daubentoni

This one is a real dandy, I think. It prefers shade, but came out into the open long enough for me to get this picture of its marvelous hairdo. Native of Colombia and Venezuela. It lives at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona.

Birds Caught in the Wild

Just about every species I present below was in the wild and is native to the Sonoran Desert. Exceptions will be noted. These are all recent photos, taken with a digital camera.

Black-crowned Night Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax

These birds tend to be easy to approach at Reid Park. For one thing, I think sometimes people feed them with fish caught in the lake. I saw two children fishing and feeding a flock of 15 on one occasion.

This is a juvenile. They're fun to watch. They will hunker down on the edge and reach way down trying to catch a fish. Of course, it doesn't work, but that doesn't stop them from trying.

American Wigeon - Anas americana

This is a male in breeding plumage. The green is iridescence. As with some butterflies, some birds have a structure that will capture and process sunlight to produce brilliant color. The feathers themselves are usually black.

Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus

Since these birds eat fish, but don't have oil on their feathers to repel water, they often spend a lot of time standing with wings spread to dry them in the sun. This is the only time I have ever seen the ear tuft.

Yellow-eyed Junco - Junco phaeonotus

Commonly found in the mountains. This bird was unusually cooperative. He was about six feet away, and stayed for at least fifteen minutes, digging around in the dirt with his beak.

Mexican Jay - Aphelocoma ultramarina

I am sure this bird is named after his raucous call. These are common in the Santa Rita Mountains and have been seen elsewhere. I got all my photos of this species either there or south of Sierra Vista. Some people don't like these birds, but I do.

Wild Turkey - Meleagris gallopavo

Sometimes you don't get the end you want, but that's OK. :)

These birds had been depleted by hunting, but are making a comeback. There are quite a few in Madera Canyon.

Domestic Duck

This variety of duck was originally bred from Mallards. Some of them are very pretty in their own right. People get these as pets, and when they can no longer care for them, they dump them at a local lake or pond in a park somewhere.

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis

There are many different colorings for this bird. Sibley has something like 45 drawings. This is the most common hawk in southern Arizona. If you don't know what kind of hawk it is, if you guess "Red-tailed" you have a 50% chance of being right. I got good photos of just the head of this bird, but I don't think the most interesting coloring is in the head, so I give you the upper body as well.

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris

These birds are so common in the UK and some other countries that millions of them will flock and fly together. This is called a "murmuration". For this reason, and because they strip fields in such great numbers, many people don't like them. Again, this is a bird I like. They are beautiful, especially when they are NOT in breeding plumage. This bird was singing. He has a beautiful song. I found him at Santa Cruz Flats, northwest of Picacho Peak. The word "vulgaris" means "common".

Western Kingbird - Tyrannus verticalis

Yes, these birds rest VERY upright, hence "verticalis". Here you can see the soft yellow on the body.

Hey, How Did This Bobcat Get In Here? - Lynx rufus

Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto

This is a youngster. He doesn't have his collar yet. The collar is a thick black line on the back half of the neck. Because they are so white with so few features, it is hard to get sharp pictures.

Snowy Egret - Egretta thula

Having lunch.

Plumes blowing in the wind.

Green Heron - Butorides virescens

They're called "green" because of the green iridescence in the head and wings. I don't think they have a green feather on their bodies anywhere.

Now For Some Hummingbirds...

All but one of these, the first one, were captured in the wild. Arizona has 16 species of hummingbirds on record. Two of them are rare. I have photos of the other 14.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - Cynanthus latirostris

This is a common hummingbird, and I think one of the prettiest. But I got this photo at the Desert Museum.

I got this one in the wild.

Berylline Hummingbird - Amazilia beryllina, Saucerottia beryllina

Hummingbirds are really natives of the tropics. We get a few in extreme southern Arizona. This is one rarely seen in the United States. The only place I have seen them has been at Beatty's Guest Ranch in the Huachuca Mountains.

Blue-throated Hummingbird - Lampornis clemenciae

Another rare bird for the United States. Also found at Beatty's Guest Ranch. He doesn't have one every year.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Selasphorus platycercus

White-eared Hummingbird - Hyocharis leucotis

Another rare hummer in the United States. Found in the same place as the other rarities.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna

This is a common species.


One day when I was photographing hummingbirds, I heard a rustling really close, and I looked, and there she was! Not even six feet away. She stayed long enough for a handful of shots.

On to other birds...

Brewer's Blackbird - Euphagus cyanocephalus

Eying a tasty morsel in the water...



Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura

This is a good example of good design. The lack of feathers on the face means feathers don't interfere with eating, and don't have to be cleaned afterward.

Western Bluebird? - Sialia mexicana

Possibly a youngster. There were several Western Bluebirds there, but it was the wrong season for the bright plumage.

I wish all my images were this sharp! Often I have to settle for "soft focus".

Domesticated Moscovy Duck - Cairina moschata

Wild ones are black. They are also not native to this part of the country. This was obviously someone's pet, which got dumped at Fort Lowell Park.

Elegant Trogon - Trogon elegans

The bird every serious birder wants to get. I hunted for well over a year before I saw this one, and in this photo, he was so close I couldn't even get his entire body in the picture. I was using my big lens. I heard a Trogon on several occasions before, including one at Patagonia Lake, but didn't see them. I had to hike nearly a mile to find this one. They tend to be shy.

This is a tropical bird, the only one in this group that shows up in the United States. They are now showing up all over extreme southern Arizona, though at one time I think the only place you could find them was in Madera Canyon, where I found this one.


The Beattys keep a flock of free-ranging chickens, and sell their eggs. I took pictures of some of them.

Chickens were originally an African species.

Another one of the Beattys' chickens.

House Finch - Carpodacus mexicanus

A common bird, seen at different altitudes.

Lesser Goldfinch - Spinus psaltria

Female. Recently renamed. It used to be Carduelis psaltria.

American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana

Breeding colors, male. This is a shore bird. It wades in search of food.

Crested Duck

These were bred from Mallards. This is a genetic defect. If the bird inherits one gene for the trait, there will be a hole in the skull, and a little fat will grow through the hole and produce feathers. If the bird inherits two genes, one from each parent, it will not live long enough to hatch.

Rock Pigeon - Columba livia

These are the common city pigeons. Their native habitat is cliffs. The colors are iridescence. They can be quite brilliant in the right light.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Dendroica coronata

Possibly the most common warbler in this part of the country.

Warblers often interbreed, and I get reports of hybrids, but I have yet to see one.

Gila Woodpecker - Melanerpes uropygialis

Male. The females lack the red spot on the crown. These are the most common woodpeckers. They nest in holes in saguaro cacti. The hollowed out area forms a scar, and when the cactus dies, the scarred part is left over and called a cactus boot.

White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys

A youngster.

Scott's Oriole - Icterus parisorum


Bullock's Oriole - Icterus bullockii


Neotropic Cormorant - Phalacrocorax brasilianus

He got his neck twisted into a pretzel!

Gadwall - Anas strepera

A duck in gold and silver. Very pretty and elegant in spite of lack of bright colors.

Great Egret - Ardea alba

A very tall bird, one of the tallest we have.

Rock Wren - Salpinctes obsoletus

If it can find a hole in the wall that will contain at least part of its body, it might sleep there, head inside. We had one that did that. Rock Wrens and Canyon Wrens have sometimes gotten into the house. People didn't believe we had Canyon Wrens, because there are no canyons nearby. I imagine the "canyon" behind the house, which is just a few feet deep, with a canyonlike wall on the house, and eaves to get into, were all that was needed.

Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris


You have to catch this duck in the right light to see the maroon-colored iridescent ring around its neck.

Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus


These birds are very vocal. This one is sounding off. Sometimes you can hear a whole chorus of them in the reeds. Very impressive. They also fly around in flocks, and sometimes sleep on electric wires. I have seen hundreds on an electric wire in the evening.

Mallards - Anas platyrhynchos

Two for the price of one. They're an item! They stayed there quite awhile, snoozing off and on.


Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata



Sometimes other parts of the bird are interesting, too. These are wing feathers on a male, a little bit rumpled.

Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps

These guys are little, but tend to be aggressive. I rarely see them together, or with other ducks.

This mother had a baby with her, but the picture of the baby wasn't as sharp. I have the two together in another article.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus


This is another bird that talks a lot, but not as much as the Red-winged Blackbirds. Their usual sound reminds me of a rusty gate hinge. They also like to fly in large flocks and sleep lined up on electric wires. That's where I found this one.

Redhead - Aythya americana

If you know where to go, you can get quite close to these ducks. They hang out on one end of the lake at Kennedy Park.

Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria

These wading birds are loners with a vengeance! This particular bird hung out a good part of the winter at Sweetwater Wetlands, only the second time one had been seen there in ages, and finally left when they brought in some big equipment to work on the ponds. He's back this year.

House Sparrow - Passer domesticus



American Coot - Fulica americana

These water birds are exceptionally common. They hang out in ponds and lakes much of the year. They're also hard to focus on because of the black body. This is a species I think is named after its call, which sounds like "coot, coot" to me.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia

I have had this sparrow singing outside my kitchen window. It has a beautiful song.

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus

This owl likes to sleep in the pole barn at Whitewater Draw. The pole barn is a roof on poles, formerly used to store hay. Nowadays, it is used for meetings.

The owl doesn't really mind people. It's far enough away from them. But I have gotten a peek or two.

A pair of Great Horned Owls raised two youngsters last spring. This is one of them.

Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca

This is a larger bird than the Solitary Sandpiper, but they resemble each other quite a bit in the head area. In spite of the fact this species is somewhat easy to identify, a lot of shorebirds are not easy to distinguish. Even experienced birders will refer to unidentified wading birds as "peeps". This is more likely if you're not close enough to them to see some of the fine differences in characteristics.

Say's Phoebe - Sayornis saya

This wonderful bird posed beautifully for me in the perfect setting.

Vermilion Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubinus

The day I photographed this bird, it was cold, and he was all fluffed up. One of the fishermen at the lake asked me what kind of bird it was. It is a striking bird! This is a male, of course. The scientific name means "fiery head red".

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

This bird was only a few feet away, and posed for me for awhile. With the lens I was using, it was too close to get his body, too.

Canada Goose - Branta canadensis

This bird has an unusually short neck, but not quite short enough to mean he is a cackling goose. He hangs out by himself at Kennedy Park, the only one of his species, for a good part of the year. I think of him as a friend, he's been around so long.

Pacific Loon - Gavia pacifica

Betcha thought we don't get loons in Arizona. Actually, I know of two species. The other is Common Loon. I have photographed that one as well. This is a youngster.

Brown Pelican - Pelicanus occidentalis

Betcha thought we didn't get pelicans here, either. We have both brown and white pelicans. This one was so unconcerned about people that he didn't budge when a 6 year old girl was standing about 3 feet away from him. I could kick myself for not taking their picture together.

Acorn Woodpecker - Melanerpes formicivorus

I love these little guys! At times, they let their presence be known. These are a mountain species. I think he looks like he is wearing a skullcap on his head.

Eared Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis

Imagine getting Eared Grebes in Arizona, with BREEDING plumage! There was a small flock of nine birds, eight of them with the bright plumage, and one youngster. They were very cooperative. They hung out together in a tight group, dove together, and flew together.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa

As promised, I end with a Wood Duck. Although I have photographed these several times in the wild, this is a better picture to show the iridescence. For some unexplained reason, it was living in the zoo. Male, of course.


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