American Robin ( Turdus migratorius )

The American Robin (Turdus migratorius), a member of the thrush family is a migratory songbird commonly found across North America. Recognized for its bright orange-red breast, this species is a member of the thrush family, Turdidae. It is often considered a harbinger of spring due to its early arrival from migration and its prominent presence in backyards and gardens.

An American Robin ( Turdus migratorius ) pearched high in the branches of a pine tree.
An American Robin ( Turdus migratorius ) pearched high in the branches of a pine tree.

Physical Description

The American Robin measures about 9-11 inches (23-28 cm) in length with a wingspan of 12-16 inches (31-41 cm). Adults display a striking coloration: a reddish-orange breast, a dark gray to black head, back, wings, and tail, and a white lower belly and undertail. Their bill is yellow with a slight curve, and their eyes are surrounded by white rings, giving them a distinctive appearance.

Habitat and Distribution

More details
Approximate range/distribution map of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius). - Ken Thomas
More details Approximate range/distribution map of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius). – Ken Thomas

American Robins are highly adaptable birds that inhabit a wide range of environments. They are found in woodlands, farmlands, urban areas, and suburban gardens. Their distribution extends from the northern parts of Canada to Central America. During breeding season, they prefer habitats with abundant trees and shrubs, while in the winter, they may flock to areas with ample fruit-bearing trees.

Behavior and Diet

American Robins are known for their characteristic behaviors, such as running and stopping on lawns while foraging for food. Their diet is omnivorous, consisting mainly of insects, earthworms, and fruits. In the spring and summer, they predominantly feed on invertebrates, switching to a fruit-heavy diet in the fall and winter. Robins play a significant role in controlling insect populations and seed dispersal.


Breeding season for American Robins starts in early spring and can continue through late summer. They typically have two to three broods per year. Nests are built by the female using grass, twigs, and mud, and are often located in trees, shrubs, or on man-made structures. The female lays 3-5 blue eggs, which she incubates for about two weeks. Both parents are involved in feeding the nestlings, which fledge approximately two weeks after hatching.


American Robins are partial migrants. Northern populations migrate southward in the fall to escape harsh winter conditions, while southern populations tend to be more sedentary. Migration patterns are influenced by food availability and weather conditions. Robins migrate in flocks and can travel considerable distances, often returning to the same breeding grounds each year.


The American Robin is known for its melodious song, which consists of a series of clear whistles and phrases. Their song is often described as “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.” Males sing to establish and defend their territories and to attract mates. Robins are also known for their “tut-tut-tut” alarm calls when threatened.

Conservation Status

The American Robin is currently listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their population is stable and widespread, benefitting from their adaptability to human-modified environments. However, they face threats from pesticide use, habitat loss, and window collisions.

Cultural Significance

American Robins hold a significant place in North American culture, often symbolizing renewal and the arrival of spring. They appear in various folklore and literature, celebrated for their vibrant appearance and cheerful song. The robin is also the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin, reflecting its widespread recognition and admiration.

The American Robin is a resilient and versatile bird that plays an important role in ecosystems across North America. Its striking appearance, melodious song, and adaptability have made it a beloved bird among birdwatchers and the general public. Ongoing conservation efforts ensure that this iconic species continues to thrive in its natural habitats.


White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

The fast flying White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)
The fast flying White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

The White-throated Swift is a medium-sized bird known for its swift and agile flight, sleek body, and distinctive white throat patch. Adults typically measure around 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) in length, with a wingspan of approximately 15 inches (38 cm). They have a dark, glossy plumage that aids in camouflage against the rocky cliffs where they often dwell. Their wings are long and slender, adapted for rapid and maneuverable flight, while their short bills are perfect for catching insects mid-air. Juveniles resemble adults but may have less contrast in their plumage.

Habitat and Distribution

White-throated Swifts are primarily found in the western regions of North America, ranging from the southwestern United States through parts of Mexico. They inhabit rugged, rocky terrain such as canyons, cliffs, and gorges, where they nest in crevices and on ledges. These birds are particularly well adapted to arid environments and are often seen in desert landscapes, although they may also occur in mountainous regions.

Behavior and Ecology

White-throated Swifts are highly adapted for aerial foraging, feeding primarily on flying insects such as flies, beetles, and mosquitoes. They are renowned for their impressive flight abilities, performing intricate maneuvers as they hunt on the wing. Their swift and agile movements enable them to navigate through narrow passages and steep cliffs with ease. Breeding pairs typically construct cup-shaped nests made of twigs, feathers, and saliva, which they attach to vertical rock faces. During the breeding season, males perform aerial courtship displays to attract females.

Conservation Status

The White-throated Swift is not currently considered globally threatened, although local populations may be impacted by habitat loss and disturbance. Conservation efforts are focused on protecting nesting sites, particularly in areas where cliffs are subject to human development or recreational activities. As an insectivorous species, White-throated Swifts may also be vulnerable to pesticide use, which can reduce their prey availability.

The White-throated Swift is a fascinating species well adapted to its rugged habitat and aerial lifestyle. Its graceful flight and striking appearance make it a favorite among birdwatchers and enthusiasts. By understanding the ecology and behavior of the White-throated Swift, we can better appreciate the importance of conserving its unique habitat and ensuring the long-term survival of this remarkable bird.

Field Guide Description

“Black above, black and white below, with long, forked tail. Distinguished from Violet-green swallow, (page 322) by longer narrower wings, bicolored underparts. In poor light, may be mistaken for Black Swift but smaller, with faster wingbeats. Common in mountains, canyons, cliffs. Nests in crevices.”

Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Edition, pg 262




Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized woodpecker found across North America. It belongs to the family Picidae, which includes woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers. This species is known for its distinctive sharp bill, behavior, and widespread distribution.

Northern Flicker nesting in the cedar siding of a Big Bear mountain cabin.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Edition, pg 318


The Northern Flicker exhibits sexual dimorphism, with males and females displaying different coloration. They have a length ranging from 28 to 36 centimeters (11 to 14 inches) and a wingspan of approximately 42 to 54 centimeters (16.5 to 21.3 inches).

  • Plumage: The upperparts of the Northern Flicker are brown with black barring, while the underparts are beige or tan with black spots. They have a black bib on their chest and a prominent black crescent on the breast. The undersides of their wings and tails are a vibrant yellow or red, depending on the subspecies.
  • Head: Their head is distinctive, with a gray face, a long, slightly curved bill, and a black malar stripe extending from the base of the bill to the neck.
  • Behavior: Northern Flickers are primarily ground foragers, often seen hopping on lawns or probing the soil for insects with their long, barbed tongues. They also feed on ants, beetles, termites, and fruits.


Northern Flickers inhabit a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, forest edges, parks, suburban areas, and occasionally urban environments. They prefer areas with scattered trees and ample open ground for foraging.

Breeding and Nesting

Breeding season for Northern Flickers typically begins in late April and extends into August. They are cavity nesters and will excavate their own nest holes in dead or decaying trees, fence posts, or even buildings.

  • Eggs: Clutch sizes usually range from 3 to 8 eggs, which are white and elongated.
  • Incubation: Both parents participate in incubating the eggs, which lasts for about 11 to 14 days.
  • Fledging: The young birds fledge after approximately 25 to 28 days and remain dependent on their parents for several weeks after leaving the nest.


Approximate range/distribution map of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). In keeping with WikiProject: Birds guidelines, yellow indicates the summer-only range, blue indicates the winter-only range, and green indicates the year-round range of the species.
Approximate range/distribution map of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). In keeping with WikiProject: Birds guidelines, yellow indicates the summer-only range, blue indicates the winter-only range, and green indicates the year-round range of the species.

While some Northern Flicker populations are migratory, others are year-round residents. Migratory populations breed in northern regions and winter in southern areas, while non-migratory populations may remain in the same area throughout the year.

Conservation Status

The Northern Flicker is widespread and generally considered to be of least concern in terms of conservation status, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as competition for nest sites with invasive species such as European Starlings, pose localized threats.

The Northern Flicker is a fascinating species with its distinctive appearance, behavior, and adaptability to various habitats. Understanding its ecology and conservation needs is crucial for ensuring the continued well-being of this iconic woodpecker across its range. Further research into its nesting habits, population dynamics, and response to environmental changes can aid in effective conservation strategies.

Field Guide Description

“Two distinct groups occur: “Yellow-shafted Flicker” in the east and far north, and the “Red-shafted Flicker” in the west. These flickers have brown, barred back; spotted underparts, with black crescent bib. White rump is conspicuous in flight; no white wing patches. Intergrades are regularly seen in the Great Plains. “Yellow-shafted Flicker” has yellow wing lining and undertail color, gray crown, and tan face with a red crescent on nape. “Red-shafter Flicker” has brown crown and gray face, with no red crescent.”

Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Edition, pg 318




Western Gray Squirrel  (Sciurus griseus)

The Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) is a tree squirrel species native to the western United States. Known for its striking appearance and arboreal lifestyle, this species plays a significant ecological role in its habitat.

Western Gray Squirrel  (Sciurus griseus) enjoying a peanut in the San Bernardino Mountains, California
Western Gray Squirrel  (Sciurus griseus) enjoying a peanut in the San Bernardino Mountains, California


The Western Gray Squirrel displays notable characteristics in its appearance and behavior.

  • Size and Coloration: Adults typically measure between 46 to 61 centimeters (18 to 24 inches) in length, including their bushy tail, which comprises about half of their total length. They weigh between 400 to 700 grams (14 to 25 ounces). The coloration of their fur varies geographically but generally includes shades of gray, with white underparts and a distinctive white fringe on their tails.
  • Habitat and Range: Western Gray Squirrels inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including mixed coniferous forests, oak woodlands, and riparian areas. Their range extends from Washington and Oregon through California and into parts of Nevada.
  • Behavior: These squirrels are primarily arboreal, spending much of their time in trees. They are agile climbers, using their strong hind limbs and sharp claws to navigate branches with ease. They build nests, called dreys, out of twigs and leaves in the canopy for shelter and raising young.


The Western Gray Squirrel is omnivorous, with a diet consisting of a diverse array of food items.

  • Vegetation: They feed on a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, berries, and acorns. Oak trees are particularly important food sources, and these squirrels play a role in seed dispersal and forest regeneration by caching and forgetting seeds.
  • Insects: In addition to plant matter, they also consume insects, bird eggs, and small vertebrates, supplementing their diet with protein-rich prey.



Breeding typically occurs from late winter to early spring, with females giving birth to one to six young, though litter sizes usually range from two to three. The gestation period lasts approximately 36 to 40 days. The young are born hairless and helpless, relying on their mother for warmth and nourishment until they are weaned at around 10 to 12 weeks of age.

Conservation Status

The Western Gray Squirrel faces several threats to its populations, primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as competition and predation from invasive species such as the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Additionally, urbanization, logging, and wildfires have further impacted their habitat and population dynamics. While specific conservation efforts vary across their range, maintaining and restoring suitable habitat and implementing measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts are essential for the long-term survival of this species.

The Western Gray Squirrel is a charismatic and ecologically important species in western North American forests. Understanding its biology, behavior, and conservation needs is crucial for preserving its populations and ensuring the health of forest ecosystems where it resides. Continued research and conservation efforts are necessary to address the various threats facing this iconic tree squirrel species.




Grand Canyon Railroad

The Grand Canyon Railroad is a 64 miles railroad which connects Williams Arizona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The original 64 mile route was built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway company in order to construct and promote the Grand Canyon Village. The railroad was completed on September 17th, 1901. in 1901 a ticket could be purchase for the sum of $3.95.

First Train to Carry Passengers all the way to Grand Canyon Village. 
SEPT. 17, 1901. Photo By G.L. ROSE.
First Train to Carry Passengers all the way to Grand Canyon Village. SEPT. 17, 1901. Photo By G.L. ROSE.

The El Tovar Hotel is completed in Janurary, 1905. The hotel is constructed by the Santa Fe Railway to accommodate train passengers and uniquely located just 20 feet from the Canyon Rim. The initial success of this railroad is diminished with the widespread adaptation of the automobile and the highway system. Passenger Service is halted in July 1968 and later freight service is halted in 1974.

In 1988, the line is purchased by Max and Thelma Biegert, who restored the railroad and started operations in 1989. The Biegerts made their fortune in Nevada, operated the line until 2006 when the railroad was again sold to Xanterra Travel Collection. Today, the railroad offers both diesel and steam engine service and operates as a Heritage Railway and gives the passenger a brief means of enjoying a by gone era.

The Polar Express

Every winter, following the release of the Christmas classic movie the Polar Express, the Grand Canyon Railway’s offers a special train serice, the Polar Express. The Polar Express is a 90 minute journey from the nighttime wilderness of Williams, Arizona, to “the North Pole”. During the journey, passengers are encouraged to sing and treated with hot chocolate and a reindeer bell.

Our son, nephew and niece poising with The Grand Canyons Railroad's engine number 29 - The Polar Express
Our son, nephew and niece poising with The Grand Canyons Railroad’s engine number 29 – The Polar Express

Grand Canyon Railroad Map

Grand Canyon Railroad Summary

Name Grand Canyon Railroad
LocationCoconino County, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park
Years of OperationSeptember 17th, 1901 – Current
GaugeStandard Gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm)
National Register of Historic Places00000319