Did You Know / Did You Care #6

When we traveled to Arizona from New Mexico in late January of this year, we noticed a lot of very tall and very thin pine trees growing next to buildings (as in, just inches away from them), and also grown close together as natural windbreaks or privacy fences. They are called pencil pines, and they are a cultivar of a species of cypress tree called Cupressus sempervirens.

Did you know / did you care that this cultivar was developed from trees native to the Mediterranean region of western Europe? The same conditions in Italy and Greece can be found in some parts of the American southwest, and the cultivars are very popular in Arizona’s arid and hot climate.

Our campground in Willcox, Arizona, had a single pencil pine planted next to each campsite.

In addition to providing protection from wind and prying eyes (when planted in close proximity), pencil pines, we were to discover, also serve as great habitat for a wide variety of songbirds. Their dense foliage and impressive height – up to 110 feet – provide plenty of safe nesting and perching spaces for our feathered friends.

I took this photo of a house sparrow (a very common bird around the entire country) from a window inside The Goddard. It was perched in the pencil pine planted next to our front door (the one at far left in the photo of The Goddard above).
Here’s another common bird, a house finch, perched in the same tree. This photo was taken in the late evening from below the bird. A bonus Did You Know / Did You Care!: house finches are native to the American southwest but some were captured in the 1940s and taken to the East Coast for breeding and to sell as house pets. That practice violated a couple of federal laws, and, in an effort to avoid prosecution, the captors released the birds to the wild. The house finches established wild populations, and now the species is found from coast to coast. The species was also taken to Hawaii in the 1870s and is now found on all of that state’s islands.
Here’s a bird not found from sea to shining sea (and Hawaii): the cactus wren. This guy perched at the very top of a different campsite’s pencil pine and called out almost every morning we were in Willcox. I thought it sounded like a car with a dead battery trying to start (but in a way that’s somewhat more pleasing than what it sounds). The calls last up to four seconds and can be heard a thousand feet away.

Of course, all of this avian activity was of great interest to the feline member of The Goddard’s crew.

Here’s Rusty keeping an eye on the goings-on in the pencil pine outside the door of The Goddard.
We regret not getting the optional extra-wide tread for the steps in our trailer, but we didn’t know that Rusty would be spending so many of his waking hours watching birds from the doorway.

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