The US Army Corps of Engineers says Double-crested Cormorants are eating too many fish.

Because of this, the Corps is planning to kill up to 16,000 of these birds on Oregon’s East Sand Island “using shotguns to shoot the birds over water and rifles with night vision scopes and silencers to shoot them on their nesting grounds.” (Source: Audubon Portland) I don’t know about you, but that plan turns my stomach. This colony “represents 39 percent of the total breeding population of Double-crested Cormorants west of the Rocky Mountains.” (Emphasis mine.) The culling of this colony is intended to take place over the next five years.

A Double-crested Cormorant in breeding plumage  (crests may be black or white). Photo: Mike Baird

A Double-crested Cormorant in breeding plumage (crests may be black or white). Photo: Mike Baird

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ solution to this problem of the Double-crested Cormorants eating too much salmon and steelhead trout is nothing but a gory Band-Aid that, in the long run, will solve nothing. The cormorants will continue to reproduce, as all animals and birds do, and will again grow to large numbers (hopefully). They will continue to eat the fish, and if the Corps has anything to do with it again in the future, history will repeat itself and the slaughter will happen again, if only because this organization refuses to consider more humane solutions. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that these birds — like others before them — will someday become extinct because of man’s refusal to find a better way to coexist.

(By the way, fixing the Buckley Dam in Washington State is just one example of a solution that will help to stem the decrease in salmon numbers. It’s estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 salmon were lost in 2013 alone because of the dilapidated dam.)

Doing what they do best: Double-crested Cormorants with the catch of the day. Photo: Lycaon (Wikipedia)

Doing what they do best: Double-crested Cormorants with the catch of the day. Photo: Lycaon (Wikipedia)

According to the website Bird Research Northwest, the Corps intends to help relocate many Caspian Terns to other locations by 2015. Can’t this be done for the cormorants, as well? Also, many pairs of other birds — such as Brown Pelicans, Brandt’s Cormorants, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, also nest and/or roost on the island. What if some of these birds are flushed from their roosts when the shooting begins and are killed by mistake?

Nesting by double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island was first recorded in 1989, when 90 active nests were detected at the western tip of the island; since then the colony has grown to ca. 13,600 breeding pairs by 2010. Amidst the double-crested cormorant colony a small colony of Brandt’s cormorants (nearly 1,000 nesting pairs in 2010) has developed. There is also a large colony of glaucous-winged/western gulls, consisting of nearly 5,000 breeding pairs, that has developed on East Sand Island in the last 25 years, joined more recently by a colony of ca. 1,700 pairs of ring-billed gulls. Nearly 17,000 California brown pelicans have been observed roosting on East Sand Island, making it the largest nighttime roost for this species anywhere on the Pacific coast of the United States. Because of the large numbers of nesting and roosting colonial waterbirds on East Sand Island, the island has been designated an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy. Source: Bird Research Northwest

For those of you in the Portland, OR, area (and for those of you willing to make a road trip), the public meeting to discuss the planned cormorant slaughter on East Sand Island is this Thursday, July 10, 2014, from 2:30-5:30 at the Matt Dishman Community Center in Portland. If you can attend, please do. A large presence in support of these birds may help the US Army Corps of Engineers to realize that better solutions can be found than what they’ve proposed. For more information, visit the Audubon Portland website.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the meeting because of family obligations, but I’ll be there in spirit. If you go, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts and may even include them in an upcoming post here on the blog. Leave a comment below, email me, or send a message to me through our Facebook page.

If you can’t attend, either, you can still make your voice heard by emailing the US Army Corps of Engineers directly: cormorant-eis@usace.army.mil

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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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One day, back when we lived in the East Hill area of Kent, Washington, my neighbor two houses up called to tell me that I had a Great Blue Heron perched on my roof. Because I typically never saw anything more exciting than the sparrows and finches that visited my feeder, this was a pretty special affair. It was gone by the time I went out to take a look (of course), but you can be sure I got in the habit of looking at my roof whenever I was outside. You know, just in case one of those very interesting birds chose my house…out of the many hundreds around…to land on again. (Didn’t happen, that I know of.)

Thankfully, here in the Pacific Northwest we have many opportunities to see Great Blue Herons. There are a number of heron nesting sites in the Seattle area (called “rookeries” or “heronries”), the closest one to my old neighborhood being along the nearby Soos Creek Trail. We moved a few years after the above event, but not too far away. We now live near a lake on the other side of that rookery, though I still have yet to see one over here.

Besides that little corner of Kent, there are other places around the Northwest to see Great Blue Herons. Parks along lakes and rivers are good places to start. We saw this guy, for example, at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington:

Great Blue Heron at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, WA. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Great Blue Heron at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, WA. The S-shaped position of this bird's neck allows it to strike quickly at its prey. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds.

You’re also likely to see Great Blue Herons at:

Ridgeway National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Sauvie Island, Oregon

Shillapoo Wildlife Area in Vancouver, Washington

Fernhill Wetlands in Oregon

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge in Washington

A smaller heronry may be found near the water on Lovell Avenue in Winslow, WA (Bainbridge Island)

In British Columbia, check out the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in Chilliwack

Great Blue Herons, named for their bluish-gray color, are about 38-52 inches long with wingspans of up to seven feet. Their long necks pull back into an S-shape when in flight, and also when waiting for lunch to swim, hop, or slither by. The “S” position allows the bird to strike quickly at its prey, which may consist of small fish like minnows, and other small creatures such as snakes, amphibians, and small rodents.

A heronry on Lovell Avenue in Winslow, WA, on Bainbridge Island. Photo: Inside Bainbridge

A small heronry on Lovell Avenue in Winslow, WA, on Bainbridge Island. Photo: Inside Bainbridge

Where have you seen Great Blue Herons? Let us know by leaving a comment below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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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 and Twitter!

There’s something about this spring that has me feeling pretty melancholy. Just as our backyard birds are currently experiencing empty nests, I’m right there with them: My third oldest child — and first daughter — has just graduated high school. With two sons already in college, she’ll be doing that, too, in just a few short months. My nest won’t be totally empty, since I’ll have number four at home for quite a while longer, but it’s still a very poignant time watching each one grow up and move on.

Yesterday was orientation day at the college of her choice (Northwest University in Kirkland, WA, where one of my sons also goes), and during a session for the parents, we were shown a video that actually made a few parents cry. Stalwart that I pretend to be, I only got tears in my eyes but laughed at its cuteness. (Reality hit a little harder today.) I think they wanted to make sure we understood that our kids really are “leaving the nest.”

We get it — we really do. Sunrise, sunset. Quickly fly the years, etc., etc. I readily admit that this would not be the best time for me to watch Fiddler on the Roof, as I would probably just end up throwing folded laundry at my television.

Here’s the video we were shown yesterday at Northwest. Whether or not you’ve got birdies of your own leaving the nest (you may even be one), you’ll enjoy this video of Wood Duck fledglings jumping from their cavity nest high in a tree. I’m still amazed that it doesn’t hurt them. I could draw a parallel to that, too, but I’ll stop here.

Enjoy!

(A big thank you to Northwest University for showing us parents such great hospitality at orientation. Take good care of our fledglings!)
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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 and Twitter!

The Pileated Woodpecker is a large, striking bird whose drumming on power poles can be heard from blocks away, at least in our small, lakeside neighborhood. Everything seems to echo around here for some reason, so if one of these big boys is looking for carpenter ants or termites, it’s hard to miss.

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers. Credit for photo of male: Josh Laymon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree.jpg). Credit for photo of female: Unknown.

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers. Credit for photo of male: Josh Laymon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PileatedWoodpeckerFeedingonTree.jpg). Credit for photo of female: Unknown.

Even harder to miss was the day this female landed on my suet feeder. That was quite the event! Thankfully, my camera was nearby:

Female Pileated Woodpecker on suet. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Female Pileated Woodpecker on suet. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Besides its drumming, this woodpecker is also recognized by a very distinctive call that some have described as prehistoric-sounding. Check out this beautiful video of a male Pileated Woodpecker making this call and feeding his young. (It looks like it’s one of the nestlings making the call, but if you watch carefully, you’ll see it’s the adult male. The nestlings both make a raspy sound, which can also be heard on the video.)

Here’s what you need to know about the Pileated Woodpecker:

Species: Dryocopus pileatus
Family: PICIDAE

Size and markings: The crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker is 15-19 inches long with a wingspan of 26-30 inches. Almost solid black, it has a bright red crest that sweeps backward and a black and white striped face. Males have red malars (moustaches); females do not. Its powerful, heavy bill is long, black, and straight.

Food: Though it will eat berries and visit the occasional suet feeder, the diet of the Pileated Woodpecker consists mainly of insects and carpenter ant larvae. A telltale sign that a Pileated Woodpecker has visited a tree is the presence of vertical grooves drilled into the wood.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: The Pileated Woodpecker prefers the dense coniferous forests of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and their foothills. It excavates its own nesting cavity, which is later inhabited by other species such as bats and owls. Compared to other woodpeckers, its drumming is slow. Though not a very common sight in suburban backyards, it may occasionally be seen on suet feeders. Its call is always a series of sounds rather than just one, and some have described it as haunting and even prehistoric.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 3-5

Migratory pattern: None. The Pileated Woodpecker lives year-round in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, California, many eastern states, and Canada.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: A visit from one of these birds would be a very rare occurrence but possible at any time, especially if suet is offered and you live close to a forested area.

Many of the above facts about the Pileated Woodpecker were taken from Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds.

_________________________________________

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), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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

Male and female American Goldfinches, subspecies <em>S. t. jewetti</em>, both in breeding plumage. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds” title=”

Male and female American Goldfinches, subspecies S. t. jewetti, both in breeding plumage. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

When I was growing up in Washington State (I still live here), I was so proud that our state bird was the American Goldfinch. I remember feeling sorry for other states because we had the adorable American Goldfinch and they didn’t. As I grew older, I was disappointed to learn that it’s not just OUR state bird, but that we share it with New Jersey and Iowa.

And here I thought we were being original.

But then I discovered something else, albeit just recently, that changed everything. It’s possible that we do have our very own state bird: The American Goldfinch here in the Northwest isn’t necessarily the same bird claimed by Iowa and New Jersey.

Spinus tristis, the species name for this bright little bird, can be broken down into four subspecies: Spinus tristis tristis, spinus tristis jewetti, spinus tristis pallidus, and spinus tristis salicamans.

(If you do a search for the American Goldfinch online, you’ll see that many people still call this bird Carduelis tristis. However, the American Ornithologists’ Union, in their Fiftieth Supplement to the American ornithologists’ Union’s Check-list of North American Birds [2009], expressed that any species name beginning with Carduelis should be changed to Spinus, at least by those following the AOU Check-list. This also applied to other finches in the family Fringillidae besides the American Goldfinch, like the Pine Siskin, who, by the way, used to be known as Carduelis pinus. Now it’s Spinus pinus. That’s either cute or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it.)

It’s tricky trying to distinguish between the subspecies, but I believe it can be done. I’ve found a couple of descriptions online, but no images that show what each one looks like for certain, and that’s frustrating. So, going by those descriptions, I’ve decided that Spinus tristis tristis, the American Goldfinch primarily found from southern Canada, south to Colorado, and then eastward, is the state bird of Iowa and New Jersey. Over here, it appears we have S. t. jewetti and S. t. pallidus to choose from. The fourth subspecies, Spinus tristis salicamans, breeds in the Southwest from California to Baja California, Mexico. (S. t. jewetti and S. t. salicamans were considered the same subspecies until 1943.)

For those of you whose eyes have not yet glazed over and are still with me, here’s a quick overview of the two American Goldfinch subspecies found in the Pacific Northwest:

Spinus tristis jewetti: Truly a Pacific Northwest goldfinch, S. t. jewetti’s habitat ranges from British Columbia, down the coastal side of the Cascade Mountains, and westward. In the winter, this smaller goldfinch is darker than other American Goldfinch varieties.

Spinus tristis pallidus: This goldfinch is slightly larger and more pale than S. t. tristis (Iowa and New Jersey’s bird), and his black cap extends farther back on his crown. It appears this guy may have the largest Western range, which overlaps with that of S. t. jewetti here in the Northwest.

While Washington, Iowa, and New Jersey all generically claim the species Spinus tristis as their state bird, my inner third grader feels much better knowing that we at least do not have to share goldfinch subspecies with our friends to the east. (So there.)

Whatever the subspecies, one fun fact to know is that when it comes to finches in the Spinus genus, the American Goldfinch is the only one to molt (lose old feathers while growing new ones) twice a year. This happens at the start of breeding season, when its feathers become a more bright lemon-yellow, and closer to fall, when its more drab coloring returns.

Male and female American Goldfinches, subspecies <em>C. t. pallidus</em>. (The male will get quite a bit brighter; the female, not much more.) Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds” title=”

Male and female American Goldfinches, subspecies S. t. pallidus. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

And now, let’s lump all of those subspecies back together for a quick overview of the American Goldfinch:

Species: Spinus tristis (a.k.a. Carduelis tristis)
Family: FRINGILLIDAE

Size and markings: About 5 inches long with a wingspan of 8 inches, the American Goldfinch is easily the most recognizable finch in the Pacific Northwest. The male’s bright yellow breeding plumage is contrasted by sharp black on his crown, back, wings, and tail feathers, which are striped with bright white. Females are a soft brown but recognizable as goldfinches because of their black wing bars and yellow faces. Males in drab winter plumage are almost indistinguishable from females.

Food: The goldfinch is a seed-eating herbivore. If it eats an insect, you can be sure it was quite by accident. Favorite seeds are sunflower, milkweed, and thistle, and many goldfinches may be seen covering a thistle feeder at one time. They will also eat from regular seed feeders.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: While the American Goldfinch can be plentiful at backyard feeders, its natural habitat is comprised of fields and other open areas where weeds such as thistle and milkweed are plenty. Its nest, an open cup woven together of plant fibers, is softly lined with thistle down.

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

Migratory pattern: The state bird of Washington (and also of New Jersey and Iowa) is a year-round resident of the Pacific Northwest and many of the lower 48 states, but is also known to fly south for the winter and further north into Canada for breeding in the summer.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: While it’s possible to see goldfinches at your feeders during any month of the year, you’re more likely to see larger numbers of them in the spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Many of the above facts about the American Goldfinch were taken from Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds.

References for this article:

1. Fiftieth Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union
Check-list of North American Birds, 2009,
http://www.aou.org/checklist/suppl/AOU_checklist_suppl_50.pdf

2. Clement’s Checklist, with 2013 updates,
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
_________________________________________

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), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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

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