Adult Bald Eagle on the beach in Ocean Shores, WA. Photo: Julie Cavendish

Adult Bald Eagle on the beach in Ocean Shores, WA. Photo: Julie Cavendish


What comes to mind when you think of the Bald Eagle: America? Freedom? Because it’s our national bird, that’s what pops into my head, too, but mainly I think of the Bald Eagle as a bird of prey. A big, beautiful, majestic bird of prey.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Bald Eagles in my neighborhood in unincorporated South King County, WA. We’ve lived on our street for almost 14 years and used to see quite a few more eagles than we do now, and for this I blame the territorial chutzpah of American Crows, among other things.

The angry cawing of the crows was usually a good sign that eagles, who’d probably gotten overconfidently close to the crows’ nests, were in the area. Upon hearing the crows — and if I was lucky — I would look outside just in time to see a Bald Eagle being chased by two or three of them, who are still here, by the way, defending their territory against Red-tailed Hawks and their ilk.

Besides seeing them being chased by crows or sitting high in nearby Douglas Firs, evidence of the eagles’ presence here over the years has been the mysteriously dwindling gosling population in my neighbor’s barnyard. Each time his domestic geese had their young, only a few of the adorable little balls of fluff would reach adulthood, as it seemed the eagles thought of that barnyard as their private vending machine. And, of course, seeing a Bald Eagle sitting in the middle of the barnyard one day was also a big tip-off.

Once in a while, I’ll see eagles flying over our neighborhood’s lake, but regularly venturing back to our side of the neighborhood again has yet to happen. I assume they’re too busy catching fish and waiting for the ducks and Canada Geese to have their young than to be bothered with sparring with the crows again. But all of life’s a cycle, so I’m sure they’ll be back someday to have another go at any recently-hatched goslings. (Though I do hope they’ll fill up on the lake’s trout instead.)

If you’re a fan of Bald Eagles and are also on Facebook, you’ll want to check out the following pages:

Hornby Eagles

American Eagle Foundation

On Eagle’s Wings

Conowingo Bald Eagles

Eagle Chatters

Bald Eagle Photo Site

National Eagle Center

EagleEyes Photography

Jack Molan Photography

And now, here’s the 411 on the Bald Eagle.

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Family: ACCIPITRIDAE

Size and markings: 28-43″ long with a wingspan of 80-96″ (that’s 6-1/2 – 8 feet). The adult Bald Eagle is one of the most easily identifiable birds in the world, with its white head and tail and brown body and wings. Its beak is yellow, as are its eyes. Feet are golden yellow with black talons. Juveniles have a dark beak and are mostly brown with some white mottling. (Juveniles are sometimes confused with Golden Eagles.) Sexes are similar, but females are larger than males.

Food: Bald Eagles mainly dine on fish (salmon is a favorite), waterfowl, and carrion (dead animals). They’ve also been known to go after rodents and small pets.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Rivers, ocean beaches, large lakes, and marshlands are good places to look for eagles (nests are built in tall trees near waterways), while wildlife preserves and fish-processing plants here in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are worthwhile places to visit if you’re hoping to see them in larger groups. Nest construction begins in winter in preparation for young born later in the spring.

Eagle courtship has long been known as a thing of beauty, as the pair locks talons and tumbles through the air. Check out this video, complete with mood music by Adele:

Number of broods per year: 1

Number of eggs per brood: 1-3

Migratory pattern: On the North American continent, Bald Eagles spend their summers in Alaska and Canada, and winter throughout much of the lower 48 and Mexico. However, they are also year-round residents in many areas, especially along waterways and coastlines from northern California to Alaska, including Alaska’s almost-treeless Aleutian Islands.

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

We would love to hear your Bald Eagle stories! Share your stories and photos below, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter.

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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated 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 and Twitter!

Female Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Female Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

As a child, I was a product of the Saturday morning cartoon era…it was, in fact, the highlight of my week. If I didn’t watch Looney Tunes, it just wasn’t a good Saturday. Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner were my favorite characters, but a close second was Woody Woodpecker. I guess you could say that everything I knew about woodpeckers I learned on Saturday mornings: I was convinced that all woodpeckers had a red head like Woody and that they all pecked incessantly on trees, to the annoyance of every human within earshot.

In actuality, there are many different types of woodpeckers, and they don’t all look or even act the same. (Rumor has it, by the way, that Woody was modeled after the Pileated Woodpecker.) The all-woodpeckers-are-the-same stereotype was blown for me the day I discovered and fell into deep like with the Northern Flicker, a soft gray-brown, spotted bird more closely resembling a dove than a feathered drill bit.

Not everyone is a fan of the flicker. A quick search on Google will reveal plenty of ticked off homeowners plotting the demise of one or more of these birds for having pecked holes in the sides of their houses. In my yard, they’re quite content to just eat suet when not looking for ants in the ground, though they’ve been known — once in a while — to wake me up during warmer months by pecking on the roof above my bedroom.

While the Northern Flicker’s habitat stretches across North America, the species can be separated into two distinct types, and possibly a third. Northern Flickers are called “Red-shafted” in the west but “Yellow-shafted” in the east. (Read below for an explanation of this.) They hybridize (interbreed) in an area that stretches from Alaska to Texas, producing offspring that have traits of both western and eastern Northern Flickers. Click here to read about the beautiful hybridized Northern Flicker that visited my suet feeder some time back. That was a very cool treat, indeed.

The following information is taken from my book, Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Read on to learn more about the Northern Flicker:

Species: Colaptes auratus
Family: PICIDAE

Size and markings: The Northern Flicker is 12-14 inches long with a wingspan of 17-21 inches. The markings of the western variety, the Red-shafted Northern Flicker, are different from those of its eastern counterpart, the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. On our side of the country, males will have red malars (moustaches), but the females do not. In the East, both males and females will have a red crescent on the back of the neck. In the West, northern flickers have red flashing under the wings and tail feathers, while in the East, that same flashing is yellow. Other marks are the same, such as the brown-gray coloring, the obvious black bib, the white underside spotted with black, and the black barring on the back, wings, and tail.

Food: While the Northern Flicker is not a typical feeder visitor in summer months, it will visit available suet feeders. You’re also likely to see it on the ground where it will search for insects and other invertebrates, such as slugs and snails. It will also peck the ground to get at ants and their larvae, much like other woodpeckers will do to tree bark.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: The Northern Flicker will nest in any large cavity in a dead tree but will also use an artificial nesting box.

Number of broods per year: 1-4

Number of eggs per brood: 1-8

Migratory pattern: This bird is a year-round resident in most of the lower 48 states and southern Canada. Some flickers, however, will move south for the winter and fly farther north into Canada and Alaska for summer breeding.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Expect to see the beautiful Northern Flicker at any time if you have a suet feeder. It’s also more likely to visit seed feeders in the winter months when the insect population isn’t as plentiful.

Want to attract Northern Flickers to your yard? Order Pacific Northwest Birds’ Peanut Butter Suet here.
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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated 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 and Twitter!

It was suddenly quiet…eerily so. Both the area around the feeders and the branches of our Japanese maple were like an avian ghost town, without a songbird to be seen. My eyes quickly scanned the area before landing on the culprit: a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting conspicuously on my little cedar bridge before flapping up to the edge of the birdbath, obviously still needing to learn why stealth matters.

Speaking of stealth, I became the poster child for it. I slunk from my seat near the window, dropped to the floor so as not to scare him away, and did a ninja-roll to the kitchen counter where the camera sat. I grabbed it, did the whole routine in reverse back to the window, raised the camera up to the glass pane, and began clicking.

What…? It’s all true! Okay, it’s all true…except for the ninja-roll across the floor. (I actually crawled like a clumsy baby but we don’t need to go into that.)

At any rate, he hung around just long enough to figure out he wasn’t getting breakfast in my yard, but thankfully long enough for me to get about six shots before he flew away. Of the six, only one turned out, but it wasn’t too bad. He was small and blended in with the background, so I did have to enhance this photo just a bit in order to see him more clearly:

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Beautiful, isn’t he? And here’s an adult:

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo credit: PBodig on CanStockPhoto

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo credit: PBodig

Read on to learn more about this small but fierce predator.

Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Family: ACCIPITRIDAE

Size and markings: A raptor (bird of prey) very similar in appearance to the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharpie is smaller. I won’t go into all the differences here because it would take too long, but if you’re super curious about what makes them different, do a Google search for “Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks” and then click on “images” at the top of the search results. The Sharpie is 9.5-14″ long and is slim rather than stocky. The young hawk I saw in my yard was about the size of a Steller’s Jay, but with a longer tail. Its tail is square-tipped and its wings are short and rounded. Juveniles, like the one above, have yellow eyes, are brown on the wings, back, and head (with some white mixed in), and have vertical barring on the chest. The adult also has chest barring, but the markings are heavier and appear to be more horizontal. Also setting the adult apart from the juvenile is the slate-gray coloring on head, back, and wings. Tail is striped and squared, as mentioned above, and its eyes are orange. Sexes are similar, but females are larger than males.

Food: The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an accipiter, otherwise known as a “bird hawk.” It’s main source of food is other birds, though it will also eat small mammals. Backyard bird feeders, unfortunately, are key sources of food for this hawk.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Accipiters like the Sharp-shinned Hawk prefer wooded areas. If you live in or near a wooded area like I do, your chances of seeing one of these beautiful birds at some point are pretty high.

Number of broods per year: 1

Number of eggs per brood: Usually 3-5, but possibly up to 8

Migratory pattern: The Sharpie is a year-round resident throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, but is also known to migrate, spending summers as far north as Alaska and wintering as far south as Central America.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Possibly any, but they obviously aren’t there for the seeds.

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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated 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 and Twitter!

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo credit: Unknown

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo credit: Unknown

(After a brief hiatus, our Bird of the Week feature returns today.)

It’s second nature to me, whenever I pass my dining room window, to take a quick peek to see which birds are visiting the feeders. Do you do that, too? It was only a couple of weeks ago, if that, that I realized I hadn’t seen my usual Red-breasted Nuthatch in a while. You know how it is: If all of the usual criminals aren’t hanging out together, it’s just not as much fun. The chickadees, juncos, jays, and other sparrows and finches were there, but no nuthatch. It wasn’t long afterward, however, that he started showing up again, first on the sunflower seed feeder…but just briefly, before hanging from the suet basket, where he was happily eating upside down.

Funny how the return of a much-loved little bird can make everything feel a little more settled. It was as if he was saying, “Okay, I’m back…fall can begin!”

Read on to learn more about the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Scientific name: Sitta canadensis
Family: SITTIDAE

Size and markings: The Red-breasted Nuthatch is 4-4.5 inches long with a wingspan of 8 inches. Its sides and belly are rufous (rust-colored), giving this very small bird its name. A black stripe covers its crown, and a black eye stripe gives it a mask-like appearance. Its eyebrow, cheeks, and throat are white. The upperparts and short tail are gray. Bill is long and slightly upturned. Sexes are similar.

Food: Insects, spiders, and larvae make up the main diet of the Red-breasted Nuthatch, who looks for its food on or under tree bark. It is also drawn to feeders that offer sunflower seeds or suet.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Mainly found in forests at higher elevations, the Red-breasted Nuthatch can also be convinced to come to feeders in suburban areas where sunflower seeds and suet are offered. This bird will hollow out its own nest cavity in a conifer or snag and then smear the entrance with pitch. Whether hunting for insects on a tree or pulling a sunflower seed from a feeder, it will typically do so facing head down.

Number of broods per year: 1

Number of eggs per brood: 2-8

Migratory pattern: The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a year-round resident of the Pacific Northwest. Some migration does occur, but has been known to happen irregularly on alternate years.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Any.

The above information was taken from Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds.
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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated 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 and Twitter!

On suet-making days, when I’ve got everything melting together in a pan on top of the stove, each member of my family, one-by-one, will saunter nonchalantly into the kitchen. Soon comes the sly, “Whatcha makin’? Smells like peanut butter fudge.”

Disappointment ensues when they find out that not only is it not fudge, but it isn’t for them at all. It’s peanut butter suet, and it’s for the backyard birds who’ve become spoiled enough to depend on it during cooler weather. Or even demand it, like the resident Northern Flickers who absolutely relish it.

Some time back, I decided to facilitate a taste test between my suet and some that was store-bought. (Both were peanut butter flavored.) Knowing my suet was fresh, fragrant, and even a little softer and easier to eat, I had a feeling I already knew which suet would win (ahem…mine), but gave it a go anyway. Here are a few photos to illustrate how the test went.

Order here: Pacific Northwest Birds Peanut Butter Suet

I’d added raisins to this particular batch of suet, but my mistake was mixing them in whole and not chopped. The birds seemed to pick around them and were more interested in the seeds, peanuts, and the suet dough itself. But, whole raisins or not, you can see which suet the birds preferred. The store-bought suet is on the left and mine is on the right. It’s been a while since I took these, but if I remember right, all of the photos were taken over a two week period, though the time frame may have been shorter.

#1 -- Hard to tell, but both suet baskets contain approximately the same amount of suet (by weight). The baskets are the same size.

#2 -- They've been chipping away at my suet and all but ignoring the store-bought.

#3 -- Whoa...almost gone!

#4 -- BAM! Loser concedes. We have a winner!

Somewhere in the middle of that, I forgot to take another photo, but you get the idea. The birds preferred the suet on the right.

Making your own suet is a fun and rewarding project. Check out this recipe to try it yourself. Or, if you’d rather not bother, you can purchase it directly from Pacific Northwest Birds. All of my suet is made in small batches to ensure quality and then frozen until shipment. The recipe I use for this suet is slightly different than the one at the link, as I changed it up just a bit to ensure stability and consistency. Each block of suet weighs about a pound or more…much larger than those little suet cakes you’ll find at the store. The suet on the right in the photos above is not representative of the much-larger suet blocks available for purchase.

Whether you buy it or make your own, you’ll most likely attract some or all of these birds: Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhees, Steller’s Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pileated Woodpeckers, Bushtits, and Northern Flickers. I have a feeling I’m forgetting one or two. Oh, that’s right — and European Starlings, which I don’t appreciate due to their ability to hog and demolish the suet block within just a few days. (I’ve been known to take the suet down until the starlings have forgotten about it.)

Enjoy!

Read more about our peanut butter suet here.

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Learn more about your backyard birds in the newly revised and updated 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 and Twitter!

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