Male Red Crossbill. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson, naturepicsonline.com

Male Red Crossbill. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson, naturepicsonline.com

As bird lovers, most of us live for the day when a rare (to us) bird flies into our air space, and – instead of just passing through – decides our yard looks good enough for a stopover. This happened for me last year when a Lazuli Bunting stopped in for a bite and lingered for a few hours. Last week, it was a pair of Red Crossbills.

The Red Crossbill, a colorful yet smudgy-looking member of the finch family, has one very interesting feature. And if you’re seeing this bird for the first time, this feature – a curved beak that crosses at the tips – may look like a deformity. But that crazy beak isn’t a deformity at all. Rather, it’s a handy feature that helps it collect the seeds that are the main part of its diet.

Of the rare-to-me birds on my list, the Red Crossbill is the one I’ve been most wanting to see, and for one reason: to get a first-hand look at that crazy, curvy, crossed beak myself. And it finally happened.

As I was gazing at my feeder birds the other morning, I was perplexed by what resembled a too-small, “dirty” Evening Grosbeak. She was eating seeds from a snowman-shaped cylinder feeder and was soon joined by a reddish friend that at first glance appeared to be a male House Finch. Of course, I knew they weren’t either of those and set about to identify them. (I knew what I wanted them to be, but had to make sure). After snapping a couple of photos to get a closer look, I was very excited to confirm that they were the Red Crossbills I’d been waiting for (the yellow one was the female). Oh, happy day!

Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t turn out well – see below – and I wasn’t able to get a great look at their beaks, but it was enough that they had finally showed. And hopefully they’ll be back.

If you, too, would like to see that amazing beak in action, watch as this female Red Crossbill devours an immature pinecone in slow motion:

And here’s a nice close-up of the Red Crossbill’s fabulous beak:

Want to learn more about the Red Crossbill? Read on.

Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra
Family: FRINGILLIDAE

Size and markings: The Red Crossbill is 5.5-7” in length with a wingspan of 11-12”. Its heavy finch bill is crossed at the tip. The male is a dull brick red with brown wings, and the red is lighter on the rump. The female is a yellow/olive-green with brown wings and also has lighter coloring on the rump. Tail is short and brown.

Food: The main diet of the Red Crossbill consists of seeds from pinecones. It also eats other seeds, berries, and insects.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: This bird forms loose colonies with other crossbills in coniferous forests. Its chunky nest, built on a branch, is made up of twigs, grasses, and lichen. The Red Crossbill has been known to breed “off-season” if a plentiful supply of pinecones is found.

Number of broods per year: Varies. At least one, but possibly more if plentiful food is found.

Number of eggs per brood: 3-4

Migratory pattern: The Red Crossbill is a year-round resident throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, but will micro-migrate nomadically in its search for pinecones.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Most likely to be seen at lowland feeders during the winter months, though rare.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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Male Mountain Bluebird. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

Male Mountain Bluebird. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson

There are three bluebird species in North America: the Eastern Bluebird (perhaps the most well-known of the three), the Western Bluebird, and the Mountain Bluebird. Of the three, only the Western and the Mountain Bluebirds call the West their home. While both are bluebirds and have their similarities, they are quite easy to tell apart. Read on to learn more about the beautiful Mountain Bluebird.

Scientific name: Sialia currucoides
Family: TURDIDAE

Size and markings: This member of the thrush family is 6.5-7” long and has a wingspan of about 12”. Unlike his cousin, the male Western Bluebird, the male Mountain Bluebird has no rufous coloring. During breeding months, he is sky blue on the head, neck, wings, and upperparts. The blue gradually gets lighter from the chest downward. Gray coloring around the eyes and on the lores (cheeks) can be seen in the winter. Females have sky blue on the tail, rump, and edges of the wings, while upperparts and underparts are rufous-gray or, at times, grayish-white. Females are further distinguished from the males by their white eye ring, a common marking of thrushes, which the males lack.

Food: Insects are the main food of the Mountain Bluebird, who will forage for them on the ground or catch them on the wing (while flying). This bird is also a fan of berries and other fruit and will eat mealworms and suet offered on platform feeders.

Female Mountain Bluebird. Photo: Linda Tanner

Female Mountain Bluebird. Photo: Linda Tanner


Habitat/nesting/behavior: The Mountain Bluebird prefers open habitat dotted by trees. It’s undaunted by colder habitats during the winter months and even in summer will be found where it’s cool, in mountainous areas higher than 7,000 feet. Mountain Bluebird pairs are monogamous cavity nesters but will nest in bluebird boxes when offered.

Number of broods per year: 1-2

Number of eggs per brood: 4-8

Number of days young spend in nest: 21-23

Migratory pattern: In breeding months, this bird is found in the mountains of western North America as far north as Alaska, usually at elevations of 7,000 feet and up. In the winter, it is more likely to be found at lower elevations from central Oregon to Mexico. Stragglers who stay in the Pacific Northwest are seen in more open areas of mountain foothills, but are considered rare.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Winter months and migration.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

There are five jays that call the Pacific Northwest home. Can you name them all? Steller’s Jay is the most common, followed by the Gray Jay and the Western Scrub-jay. The Blue Jay and Pinyon Jay round out the five, but these two are somewhat rare.

The Western Scrub-jay (WSJ) used to be a rare sight, as well, especially in Washington State. But an important part of its habitat is the Prairie Oak, and as this tree has spread northward, the WSJ has followed it. We humans are very good at ripping out important wildlife habitats, however, so it remains to be seen if this northward expansion will continue or if it will eventually stall.

It’s an exciting thing to watch these birds on their northern march. Just a handful of years ago, it was a big deal to see them in areas south of Seattle. But they kept moving, handily conquering the Emerald City and the Puget Sound suburbs, and are now being seen further north. (I’ve heard a rumor that the WSJ has also been seen in British Columbia. I’ll be looking into this, for sure.) A few of them visited our feeders for a few weeks in September, but have since moved on. Luckily, the camera was ready, and my daughter and I were both able to get a few good shots.

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

If you compare many range maps for the Western Scrub-jay, you might notice that some maps show this bird living farther north than other maps do. Some maps will show these birds living to the north of Seattle, while some show them barely making it over the Washington/Oregon border.

Put these maps in order and they will illustrate the WSJ’s northward expansion. Very cool to see, indeed. (A Google image search will help you to find some of these maps.)

The Western Scrub-jay can be broken down into three subspecies: Aphelocoma californica, Aphelocoma woodhouseii, and Aphelocoma sumichrasti. The one we see most commonly in the Pacific Northwest is A. californica.

Read on to learn more about the Western Scrub-jay.

Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica
Family: CORVIDAE

Size and markings: 11″ long (28 cm), with a wingspan of 15-16″ (38-41 cm). Head, wings, and tail are blue. Dark eyes sit under a white eye stripe and just in front of a gray cheek patch. Beak is dark with a slight downward curve at the end. Back is brownish-gray. Unlike Steller’s and Blue Jays, this one has no crest on its crown. Tail is long and blue. Light-colored undersides. A. californica, most typically seen in the PNW, has a blue “necklace” interrupted by a white shirt front.

Learn more: American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America by DK Books

Food: The Western Scrub-jay is omnivorous, eating everything from nuts (acorns, peanuts), seeds, and berries, to snails, insects, and spiders. Rodents and the young of other birds are also fair game. It won’t pass up a good feeding station, either, especially when sunflower seeds are offered. This jay will scavenge for seeds below feeders, as well.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Throughout its range, which consists primarily of the western United States and parts of Mexico, the WSJ frequents foothills and lower mountain slopes, scrub lands, and even suburbia if not too densely populated, preferably near oaks. This monogamous bird prefers low trees and shrubs for nesting sites, where both male and female work on building the nest.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 1-6

Migratory pattern: While the Western Scrub-jay does not migrate, it often chooses fall as a time to be nomadic and change location, which may also be when its range expansion occurs.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Possibly any.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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Male Wilson's Warbler. Photo by Michael Woodruff from Spokane, Washington, USA (Wilson's Warbler) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Male Wilson's Warbler. Photo by Michael Woodruff, Spokane, WA.

Wilson’s Warbler was named for Alexander Wilson, a Scottish immigrant who later became known as the father of American ornithology. His work 200 years ago inspired many future ornithologists of both the professional and armchair varieties.

Discovered in 1811, Wilson’s Warbler is a mostly-yellow, insect-eating, tail-twitching migrant that is found during the summer months from the heat of California to the wilds of Alaska and across most of Canada. It is often confused with the Yellow Warbler, but can be distinguished by the male Wilson’s black cap and the rufous streaks on the breast of the male Yellow. The females are a little trickier, but telling them apart can be done. The female Wilson’s has olive coloring on her back and crown and may even have the suggestion of a cap, while the female Yellow, who also has some olive coloring, has no cap but may have breast stripes like the male’s, though much lighter. Read on for more of the 411 on this adorable bird.

Scientific name: Cardellina pusilla (formerly Wilsonia pusilla)
Family: PARULIDAE

Size and markings: Wilson’s Warbler is a very small songbird at 4 – 4-3/4″ long with a wingspan of 7″. Both sexes have beautiful yellow undersides with olive backs and necks. The male has a black cap, while the female’s crown is olive. Juveniles resemble the females, though male juvies may show a trace of a smaller black cap.

Learn more about warblers in The Warbler Guide.

Food: Like other warblers, Wilson’s eats mostly insects, but will also eat fruit in the fall and winter. Insects are gleaned from twigs, branches, and leaves, often as this warbler hovers to pick them off. Wilson’s Warbler is also not above in-flight snacking, as it sometimes catches its prey in mid-air.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Look for this small yellow bird flitting about in willows, cottonwoods, alders, thickets, and underbrush, especially near streams.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 2-7

Migratory pattern: Winters are spent mostly in Mexico, Central America, and parts of the Southeastern U.S. There aren’t many places that don’t see this bird at some point during the year: Summer finds Wilson’s Warbler in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and most of Canada, including — of course — the Pacific Northwest’s own British Columbia. Breeding also occurs in parts of the American West. Most of the lower 48, with the exception of Florida, sees this warbler twice a year as it passes through on its migratory routes.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Not a feeder bird.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

Nestling Barn Owls, almost ready to fledge: Just one of the many bird species received at wildlife clinics every year. Photo: chdwckvnstrsslhm, Wikipedia

Nestling Barn Owls, almost ready to fledge: Just one of the many bird species received at wildlife clinics every year. Photo: chdwckvnstrsslhm, Wikipedia

Ah, summer: a few short months full of camping, swimming, barbecues, family vacations, and baby wildlife. Wait…baby wildlife? Yes, and plenty of it.

Summer is usually the busiest season for wildlife rehabilitators because of orphaned — or thought to be orphaned — birds and other wild animals. Rehabbers take in many baby birds, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and more at this time of the year.

If you found an injured or orphaned bird or mammal, would you know what to do with it or who to take it to? Because wildlife rehabilitators can be difficult to find online, and because time is of the essence when dealing with nestlings, orphans, or injured critters, I’ve created a convenient resource for you that lists many of these wonderful people and organizations in one place.

To cover as wide an area of the Pacific Northwest as possible, the rehabilitation clinics and individuals listed cover Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Western Montana, and Northern California. I hope to cover more of Montana and California soon, and even include other western states.

Check out these listings by clicking the tab for injured wildlife above or going here: Injured or Orphaned Wildlife? or by going directly to the page for each area (the tab above also features a drop-down menu featuring each of these):

Alaska Wildlife Rehabilitators

British Columbia Wildlife Rehabilitators

Idaho Wildlife Rehabilitators

Northern California Wildlife Rehabilitators

Oregon Wildlife Rehabilitators

Washington Wildlife Rehabilitators

Western Montana Wildlife Rehabilitators

The lists are intended to be ever-growing and ever-changing. If you know of a clinic or licensed individual to add to any of the lists, or if a correction needs to be made, please email me using the link available on each page.

Further reading:

What To Do With a Baby Bird (via Audubon.org)

Handling Injured Birds (via Eastside Audubon)

Help! I Found a Baby Bird — What Do I Do? (via Infinite Spider)

Finally, please consider supporting a wildlife rehabilitator near you. Many need volunteers and donations, so do help out if you’re able.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

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