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Canyon Notes

Elegant is an Understatement

By Karen McBride

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Birders and SOB's (Spouses of Birders, often being dragged behind the Birder)----the Star of our Show! He is exotic. He is rare. He is colorful, beautiful, stunning, and makes you suck in your breath, even if you've seen him many times before. It's Trogon time!
Yes, the Elegant Trogons are arriving. If you look at a range map for this bird, you will see one tiny corner of color that crosses the U.S. border into Southeastern Arizona, with the rest of the range going south through Mexico into Central America. For some reason, trogons gravitate to well-watered, deep sycamore canyons in Arizona , but prefer relatively dry areas farther south.
The male's costume is memorable and unlike anything else in North America . The back is a metallic green that shades from blue-green to bronze-hued in different lights. There is a white band across the upper chest to separate the green from a geranium-red lower breast and belly. The large bill is yellow; the large eyes are surrounded by a complete reddish-orange eye-ring; the tail is long and square-ended, slightly coppery-colored on the back, and from a distance looks like there are six white spots underneath. This 12" package is truly elegant!
Many times you hear a trogon before you see one. The far-carrying, rapid “Ku-WARK, Ku-WARK, Ku-WARK....” echoes through Madera Canyon and sounds like a small dog barking in the distance. And it's definitely easier to hear one than to see one. That's mainly because this bird likes to sit quietly on a branch with his green back toward you, blending perfectly into the foliage. He will sit there for five or ten minutes, swoop down for an insect, and then sit on the next perch for a while. Sometimes you have to try and find him during the swoop. Females are duller, browner, and even harder to see even though they have a red belly.
Trogons eat a variety of large insects, such as moths, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and dragonflies. They will also hover-feed on fruits and insects. Their territory usually averages one-half-mile of prime habitat which will include a sycamore along a stream that has a woodpecker hole or cavity where the male can call to perspective females from inside the hole. The pair will incubate 2 - 4 eggs and will become completely silent after the young fledge in July and August. Most leave Arizona during September and October, but a few will winter along streams at lower elevations. Because they usually do not call during the winter, and have to range farther to find food, they are especially hard to locate.
So, spring is the best time, folks. Stroll slowly up the Vault Mine Trail from Madera 's upper parking lots, or meander along the Proctor Trail anywhere from the bottom to the top, and you have a good chance of finding our rare and elegant visitor. But please keep your distance. Trogons are easily disturbed and their nests are vulnerable. Approach quietly (not too close) and stand still, and when you get a good look, I dare you not to suck in your breath!



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