Apr 10 2008

Junk Birds in Las Vegas

Published by at 6:05 am under Travel

Great-tailed Grackle (photo by Chuck Tague)Every year in April I attend the PBS Technology Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  To me it is slightly bizarre that a public broadcasting meeting is held in Las Vegas but it’s planned to coincide with the National Association of Broadcasters convention which is always held in Las Vegas in April. 

So here I am.  For several days we sit in the dark watching Powerpoint.  I must say that my favorite presentations are the HD TV segments from nature shows.  Even so, when I’m not in the meetings I just want to see birds.

There are plenty of birds at the Las Vegas Strip but most of them are “junk birds” so common and prolific that it just doesn’t make your heart go pitta-pat to see them.

The great-tailed grackles are the ones who stand out.  They are incredibly common and in spring they’re obnoxious.  This is part of courtship.  The males chase the females and each other.  They swagger down the sidewalk.  They perch on palm trees and buildings and call loudly (click here on the Sound link!)  They expand their throat feathers and tails and point their bills at the sky.  They have bill-pointing contests to see whose bill is tallest.  They are so … Las Vegas.

They are also expanding their range.  The photo above was taken by Chuck Tague in Belize.  He’s also seen them in Arizona and I hear you can find them in Iowa now. 

Maybe they’re following the casinos.   ;)

p.s. My favorite place for birding near Las Vegas is Henderson Bird Preserve.  Also see the comments below for more birding hotspots near Las Vegas.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Junk Birds in Las Vegas”

  1. Melissaon 10 Apr 2008 at 7:04 pm

    This comment has nothing to do with “junk birds in Vegas”, but I’m so excited to tell you that I just spotted a peregrine falcon in my backyard!
    Actually, I noticed him in my yard a few months ago, perched on a distant bird feeder. I grabbed my camera and took a shot through the window, but the picture is fairly grainy (‘tho I can send it to you if you are interested.)
    He swoops into the yard sporadically. But I got a close view of him just a few minutes ago through my binoculars. He flew in and rested on a tree close to the house. No doubt this is a peregrine! (I had my copy of The Audubon Sociaety Field Guide to North American Birds nearby, so I was able to confirm that he was a carbon copy of the one pictured in the book!) Unfortunately, by the time I could grab my camera, he flew away.

  2. Kittyon 14 Apr 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Kate
    When I was in Las Vegas last year in March, I heard that sound coming from a tree and it was quiet frightful. I couldn’t see the bird but the sound definitely startled me to move closer to the curb.

  3. Joanneon 24 Jun 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for this! I just got back from attending a convention in Vegas. I looked all over to try and find someone who knew what they were. Can these have brown heads? Your description matches but some had distinctly brown heads but too large to be cow birds.

  4. Bobon 22 Dec 2008 at 4:40 pm

    “Can these have brown heads?”
    Joanna,
    I believe the female grackles have brown heads (primarily the heads although I have seen other parts of them be brown as well). I have lived here since ’84 and Kate is correct, they have become very common.

  5. Kathyon 01 Nov 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks Kate for clearing up a mystery for us. We just spent Halloween in Las Vegas. While walking along the strip, we heard the birds but were unable to spot them, at first. It wasn’t a call we recognized (we live in Maine). Later in the day, we spotted 2 of them pointing their bills at the sky and making those wild calls. They fit in with the noisy costumed crowd! I guess with all the craziness going on, no one seemed to notice them. It seems a shame that many people go through life and miss opportunities, like this one, to observe birds that may not be native to their part of the country. It was surprising to see that they have adapted so easily to life in Vegas on the strip. They weren’t even frightened of the noise and crowds. We did a search on “birds in las vegas” and we found your site which solved the mystery. Thanks!

  6. Christineon 17 Nov 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I think you may have solved a mystery for me. I love Vegas and always take notice of the different vegetation and birds that I see there. It’s amazing what one takes notice of when they look beneath all the lights and sounds of the Strip.

    Anyhow there’s this one type of bird that has always amused me. There are lots in the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo and there are often a bunch in different trees, especially conifers. They’re a good sized bird and very animated but I had no idea what they area. We definitely don’t have them where I live. One of their calls almost sounds like they’re laughing at me. Another call is a whistle that goes up in pitch as it crescendos. I never see the black ones in your photo though, only brown ones. I think it’s a Great-Tailed Grackle as you called it.

    There is a picture of one hanging out at the Terrace Point Cafe at the Wynn (good taste these birds have. lol) http://www.flickr.com/photos/30078953@N08/4099345762/
    I didn’t take the photo but it’s from a Tripadvisor review I was just reading. It looks like what’s in your photo except it’s brown like all the ones I normally see.

  7. Kate St. Johnon 17 Nov 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Yes, you saw great-tailed grackles! The females are brown, the males are black. That’s a nice picture of a female great-tailed grackle at the Wynn. I’ll bet she was looking for potato chips. ;-)

  8. Christineon 17 Nov 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks very much for the confirmation. I always love watching them when I’m on vacation in Vegas. They have quite the antics and even in the evening, they seem to be active.

    Nice website. I’ll have to keep visiting now that I stumbled upon it on the “mystery bird” search.

  9. Sandraon 22 Apr 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks so much. I’m going to be at my daughter’s wedding in mid May at the Wynn, but desperately hope to see a few new birds, if there are any spare moments. Any other hopes besides the great tailed grackle for someone from eastern Canada (I’ll be missing our migrating warblers)

  10. Kate St. Johnon 23 Apr 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Sandra, if you have a car there are at least four great birding places close to Las Vegas, listed here in order from great! to good.
    Henderson Bird Preserve also described here on my blog Excellent birding!
    Corn Creek Field Station The only water for miles. Phainopeplas.
    Mount Charleston, NV Mountain habitat. Western Bluebirds!
    Red Rock Canyon Good hiking, scenic!

  11. Kenon 28 May 2011 at 7:02 am

    I’m from the U.K. and was in Vegas for my daughters wedding. Being a birder I too saw many Great tailed Grackles as well as a couple of Northern Mockingbirds. Most surprisingly though I found an American Coot in the pool of the Mirage ( obviously waiting to see the volcano erupt !! ) also a couple of G.T Grackles here on the rocks.

  12. Kate St. Johnon 28 May 2011 at 7:10 am

    I’ve seen that too. I can’t remember exactly which bird but I think it was a blue-winged teal that I saw on one of the “lakes” in front of a casino on The Strip. The mallards are used to the volcano. ;)

  13. cheryl cottinghamon 18 Jul 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I too heard a bird while in Las Vegas and wanted to know what it was. I didn’t see the all brown female,but I saw brownish coloring under the tail as one swooped away.
    They were quite loud and did alot of calling back and forth in the trees.
    I am happy to know now,thanks!

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