The bird watching activity began as they usually do at Tanque Verde Ranch. After focusing their borrowed binoculars, guests watched the battles of the Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Each iridescent-feathered warrior tried to claim the feeders in front of the Nature Center for himself alone. Chasing each other to and fro, they flashed the brilliant reds and blues of their gorgets for all to see. To the left, the Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins grudgingly took turns at the finch feeder.

After a brief lesson on the use of the spotting scope that would provide closer views of some of the birds, the neophyte and experienced birders set off for other parts of the ranch to find what the desert had to offer.

The first stop was the bird ramada, a shaded sitting area with seed feeders scattered about it. After the ranch’s resident birder topped off the feeders, the parade began. First in were the Gambel’s Quail. Arriving in ones and twos, clucking constantly among themselves, they gathered in a tight covey, their head plumes bobbing as they pecked at the seed. Emboldened by the presence of the quail, others came out of the brush to feed before us.

Rufous-winged Sparrows, Brewers Sparrows and Black-throated Sparrows worked the edges of the path. Curve-billed Thrashers moved to the tube feeders. Northern Cardinals, brilliant red in the sunlight, moved in to the tray feeders, joined shortly by the Pyrrhuloxia. Mourning Doves joined the quail on the path, with one White-winged Dove dropping into the group. A pair of Inca Doves fought over which of them had rights to the food while the birds around them ignored them and continued to devour the seed. A Cactus Wren called from the cholla cactus at the side of the path. A Gila Woodpecker, taking a break from building its new home in the nearby saguaro, swept down to one of the platform feeders to grab a quick meal.

Three different species of towhee came to visit. Two Abert’s Towhees appeared briefly, three Canyon Towhees moved about under the feeders, picking up the dropped seed and a lone Green-tailed Towhee came close to the back step of the ramada. For no apparent reason since none of us had moved, the birds exploded into the air and disappeared into the brush. Seconds later, a Cooper’s Hawk swept up the path and through the ramada, just above the heads of the startled bird watchers.

Taking advantage of the sudden vacancy of the feeders, talking excitedly about the close encounter of the bird kind, we moved on to the pond beside the cottonwoods. American Coots and Ring-necked Ducks swam about. A Great Egret lifted off from the far bank. A female Belted Kingfisher flew to the far end of the pond, scolding us for our intrusion upon her world. A pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, hawking for their meals, perched in the top of a young cottonwood on one of the islands. Phainopepla perched in nearby mesquites, guarding their supplies of mistletoe berries.

Moving into the stand of tall cottonwoods, we found the “resident” Great Horned Owl, watching us wide-eyed as we returned the favor. A Verdin made a brief appearance along the path, several of his old nests noticeable in the mesquites.

Searching through the leaf litter under the cottonwoods, a pair of Greater Roadrunners came close as they looked for the variety of insects and lizards that make up the majority of their diets. A lone Black-tailed Gnatcatcher jumped from branch to branch in the bushes, gleaning his meal.

Two hours had flown by. We were back at the nature center, handing back our binoculars as the hummingbirds continued their aerial combat around us. After taking a couple of pictures of them from impossibly close range, we moved on to our next activities, promising ourselves that we would spend some quiet time on the benches at the bird ramada or on the gliders in front of the nature center, relaxing and enjoying the birds the desert has to offer.


Do you ever feel misunderstood? Well, the Desert Blonde Tarantula sure does. Considered a relatively docile creature, and having venom so weak it’s harmless to humans, the Desert Blonde Tarantula is hardly anything to fear.

Fuzzy, furry, cute and a great pet.

Soft blond hair covers the females, while males are found covered in black. Female tarantulas have larger, stockier bodies than males, and they also have hairier legs…how attractive! The cephalothorax and the abdomen, the two main body parts, along with eight legs, and two pedipalps, make up a tarantula. The pedipalps, used to catch and transport their prey, are located at the front of the cephalothorax, the anterior part of their body which includes their head. Their mouth and fangs are on the underside.

Living as long as 24 years, female tarantulas live twice as long as males. Males mate only once, often dying shortly after, and sometimes at the mercy of the female. Residing in the dry, open areas of the southwest, the Desert Blonde Tarantula is partial to the state of Arizona, as well as Mexico. These spiders burrow 8 to 12 inches into the dessert ground, line it with silk webbing, and call it home. The silk webbing, believe it or not, actually prevents their burrow from caving in.

Tarantulas are very sensitive to vibrations on the ground that may indicate the presence of prey or danger. Equipped with urticating hairs on their abdomens, tarantulas can release these hairs, causing the eyes and noses of predators to burn and itch. Now, while their venom isn’t harmful to humans, its bite will overcome most insects, and even some small rodents. Desert Blonde Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters, with a diet consisting mostly of grasshoppers, beetles, other small spiders, and even small lizards.

What’s the Desert Blonde Tarantula’s worst nightmare? Yup, you guessed it…the Tarantula Hawk. A large, black wasp with orange wings, the Tarantula Hawk stings the spider, causing paralysis. The predator then drags the tarantula away from its burrow, lays an egg on it, covers it up, and when the larvae hatches, it feeds on the paralyzed tarantula. Other predators the Desert Blonde Tarantula must be wary of include lizards, snakes, spider-eating birds, coyotes, and foxes.

The Tarantula Hawk is the Desert Blonde Tarantula's worst enemy.

The Desert Blonde Tarantula isn’t only a wild species that you catch rare glimpses of, it also makes a great pet. These spiders are tame creatures and easy to care for. A 5 to 10 gallon tank filled with peat moss and soil provides a good home for this tarantula. Half a flower part or a nice piece of tree bark makes for a suitable shelter to retreat to. With a diet consisting of larger insects, the Desert Blonde Tarantula is easy and inexpensive to feed. If you’re looking for a pet that doesn’t take up much space, doesn’t need constant attention, and isn’t at all vocal, consider making a Desert Blond Tarantula your next furry friend.