Mojave River Valley Museum
Red Rock Canyon NCA -
A BIRD HAVEN
Birds - Red Rock Canyon NCA
Red Rock Canyon NCA is an oasis in the desert. Its deep sandstone canyons provide a perennial water supply, cool temperatures and a wide
variety of vegetation which serves as ideal habitat for many birds species. In fact, over 100 bird species have been identified within
the conservation area.
Many birds, such as
birds of prey, although not exclusively found in the desert, exhibit specific
behavioral traits which allow them to survive in arid lands. Eagles and hawks
conserve water by soaring in high altitude air currents where strong winds allow them
to stay aloft with little exertion, and temperatures can be 20 degrees cooler than at ground level. Obtaining water is no problem
for these birds, their water needs are satisfied by eating the moisture-rich flesh of small animals. The dark silhouettes of the
red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk,
and other raptors can be seen against the blue sky above the conservation area.
Some birds have learned to use desert plants, especially those of the
for protection of captured prey. The
though a predatory bird, has weak feet and is unable to hold struggling prey in its grasp. To immobilize prey,
the shrike will often impale it on cactus spines. It will eat the prey immediately or allow it to sun dry for later
identified by its down turned bill, heavily streaked body and fan shaped tail, uses the spiny branches of the
to protect its nests. The nests, which resemble a football, are built from desert plant stems and flower stalks. Up to 10
nests may be built by one pair of cactus wrens, but only one will be used to raise young. The unoccupied nests may serve to
confuse and frustrate
not hampered by cholla spines. The cactus wren does not wander far from its nests, rather it hunts succulent spiders, insects and larvae
in the nearby vicinity. Watch for the cactus wren and loggerhead shrike throughout the Red Rock Canyon NCA.
A few birds have not only adapted behaviorally, but also have special body modifications to meet the demands of desert life. One such bird is the
roadrunner. This desert member of the cuckoo family is a large bird about the
size of a chicken. It is heavily streaked, has a bristle tipped crest and a long tail. It is most easily identified, however, by its habit of
streaking across the desert on foot, much like the roadrunner cartoon character. It rarely flies, but will make short, hopping flights to
escape danger or aid in the capture of
snakes, ground squirrels and insects. These prey have a high percentage of body
moisture which satisfies the roadrunner's need for water. The roadrunner pants to keep cool and voids excess blood salts through special
nasal glands similar to those found in marine birds. Watch for this lively bird throughout the scenic loop drive.
Many birds found in the Red Rock Canyon NCA have no special behavioral or body
adaptations. It is only the presence of water in
perennial streams or potholes after rains which allows them to survive in this area. Such birds include the rufous-sided towhee,
mourning dove, white-throated swift, chukar and
The rufous-sided towhee is usually seen in oak tree and shrub vegetation near water. Its red sides, dark head and black and white
underbelly identify this bird. It has a strong bill for crushing seeds, but it will also eat insects and berries.
The mourning dove, recognized by its plump, brown body and wedge shaped tail, needs daily drinking water in order to survive. It
arrives in the conservation area during the spring months and constructs flimsy nests on shrubs or the branches of the cholla cactus
within one mile of water. These nests often fall apart during high winds or stormy weather, killing the young. However, the high
reproductive rate of these birds allows a few nests to be lost without much harm to the overall productivity of the breeding pair. The
parents feed their young a white liquid produced in their crop; the liquid is so rich in protein that young can fly in 10 days. Some young
doves have left the nest within one month. The parents will then begin a new nest. Adult morning doves may raise up to six separate groups of
young per breeding season in this manner. Watch for this bird as it flies to and from water sources throughout the conservation area.
The white-throated swift is a small bird with long narrow, stiff wings and a short tail. It can be distinguished from other swifts by the
contrasting black and white pattern on its underside. Its small size and pointed wings grant it great speed and maneuverability that aid
in the capture of insects. Swifts are frequently seen flying in steep canyons and over pools of water throughout the area.
Both chukar and Gambel's quail need a supply of water to supplement the moisture they derive from the seeds they eat. Although in the same
family, they prefer different habitats within the conservation area. The Gambel's quail occurs in the desert thickets near washes, while
the chukar prefers steep, rocky slopes where grasses are plentiful. Both rely on their feet for travel, but will make sustained flights in
times of danger.
Many more bird species inhabit the Red Rock Canyon NCA; too many to detail here. You are encouraged to explore the
diversity of bird life
in the region and to learn about the desert environment. Only through close observation ran the beauty and majesty of the desert and its
associated life forms be appreciated.