Male and Female Rufous Hummingbirds. Photo credit: See below.

Male and Female Rufous Hummingbirds. Photo credits: See below.

Rufous Hummingbirds have begun to arrive in the Pacific Northwest once again, heralds of spring I always look forward to seeing. On the other hand, I inevitably feel bad for the Anna’s Hummingbirds, who’ve enjoyed having nectar feeders across the Northwest all to themselves…unharassed…during the winter months. Cute as they are, the territorial Rufous Hummingbirds seem to be natural bullies, aggressively chasing away Anna’s hummers from feeders they’d previously had unrestricted access to. Thus ensues their months-long dance, as they testily take turns at feeders each species wants to claim as their own.

Here’s the “buzz” on the Rufous Hummingbird:

Species: Selasphorus rufus
Family: TROCHILIDAE

Size and markings: The Rufous Hummingbird is just 3-3.75 inches long, with a wingspan of about 4 inches. The male is the only North American hummingbird with a rufous back. His throat is a showy red-orange, and his upperparts and sides are a deep rust. Forehead may be green. The female has a green head and back, and sides are a light rufous. Adult females may show a few rufous feathers on the throat. The bill on both is long and thin.

Food: The tiny yet very busy Rufous Hummingbird prefers nectar and is especially drawn to red flowers. It will also feast on spiders and small insects like gnats and fruit flies for protein. The Rufous will readily use a hummingbird feeder when provided and will return to it often to help keep up its energy.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Brushy, lightly wooded areas are a favorite habitat of the Rufous Hummingbird, but it will also reside in suburban areas like parks and neighborhoods. It’s very aggressive and protective of the territories where it feeds and breeds. Fast wing beats produce a light hum in flight.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 2-3

Migratory pattern: The Rufous Hummingbird is a summer resident of the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, and Alaska. Amazingly, it winters in southern Mexico, which gives this tiny bird the distinction of having the longest migratory route for its body size.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Spring and summer months.

The above facts about the Rufous Hummingbird were 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 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!

Credits for photos in collage, above: Female Rufous Hummingbird, by Sberardi, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en;
Male Rufous Hummingbird, by Ryan Bushby, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/.

Big Red, the mama Red-tailed Hawk at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, on March 19, 2014. One of her eggs is visible just under her chest.

Big Red, the mama Red-tailed Hawk at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, on March 19, 2014. You can see one of her eggs just under her chest.

It’s spring, and you know what that means: There will be a new generation of birds coming to our feeders over the next few months…after they leave the nest, that is. Until then, we’ll just have to twiddle our thumbs and wait. Right?

Nope.

That’s the way it used to be, but thanks to the internet and “bird cams,” we can watch baby birds from the time they are laid as eggs until they strike out on their own and take their first flight in real time. Watching the progress of these young birds is fun and inspiring, and by the time they leave the nest, you might even feel a bit attached to them. Admittedly, none of the birds featured below would come to a feeder (with the exception of the hummingbird, of course), but that’s what makes this so exciting — it’s the chance to peek in on birds we normally wouldn’t get close to at all.

Following are links to some of the best bird cams around. You’ll want to bookmark these so you can check in on your favorites every day.

Red-tailed Hawks
Location: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Camera host: Cornell Lab

Dunrovin Ospreys
Location: Lolo, Montana. Camera host: Dunrovin Ranch

Phoebe, the Allen’s Hummingbird
Location: A rose bush in Orange County, California. Camera host: Ustream user Pungh0Li0

Barred Owls
Location: Indiana. Camera host: Wild Birds Unlimited

Barn Owls
Location: Texas. Camera host: Anonymous

Raptor Resource Project
This page features a list of cameras focused on the nests of raptors such as Bald Eagles, American Kestrels, Turkey Vultures, owls, and falcons. Cool stuff!

American Kestrels
Location: Boise, Idaho. Camera host: The Peregrine Fund. It’s currently offline until the kestrels return to the nesting box, but this was one of my favorite cameras to watch last year.

And if you’d just like to watch birds at a feeder, you can visit the Cornell FeederWatch feeders via the camera at the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, NY. (You’ll see “eastern” birds like Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays on this cam, but you’ll also see some familiar feathered friends, too.) This camera is offline for maintenance until April 12, but do check back — it’s worth it.

If you’re aware of other bird cams and would like to let us know about them, please comment below or tell us on Facebook or 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), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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

Female and male Red-winged Blackbirds. Photos by Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Female and male Red-winged Blackbirds. Photos by Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

I always know when a male Red-winged Blackbird has come for a visit to my yard. As if he were a royal monarch announcing his own arrival, he’ll sit on the top of my shepherd’s staff feeder pole, or in the nearby Japanese maple, and let out a piercing “tseert!” for all to hear. And again, “Tseert!”

Not long after he toots his own horn, another Red-winged Blackbird will show up. Sometimes it’s a female or two, sometimes a male buddy. That’s probably what he was doing in the first place…just letting his friends know where the food is and that they should join him, like, now. It’s just more interesting to think of him as crying out, “I’m here! I’m here! All is well…carry on.”

If any bird fits the self-important, king-of-everything characterization, it’s the Red-winged Blackbird. After all, he even has his own harem. Highly polygamous, this very handsome blackbird will have his own clan of “sister wives”: One male can have anywhere from one to over a dozen females nesting in his territory.

The females are far from monogamous themselves, and have been known to lay clutches of eggs fertilized by different males.

If you see only one Red-winged Blackbird at your feeder, rest assured that others aren’t too far away. These birds are very communal and will roost together all year long, though flocks tend to be larger in winter months.

Here’s more of what you should know about the Red-winged Blackbird:

Species: Agelaius phoeniceus
Family: ICTERIDAE

Size and markings: Though roughly the same size at 7-9 inches long and with a wingspan of 12-15 inches, male and female red-winged blackbirds look completely different. The male is all black with the exception of red and yellow shoulder patches. The female’s plumage is a warm brown and heavily streaked. On both, the bill is sharply pointed.

Food: Red-winged Blackbirds feed on seeds, insects, berries, grain, corn, and small aquatic life, such as insects hiding inside aquatic plants.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Cup-shaped, loosely woven nests are built in damp areas such as marshes and ditches, though some Red-winged Blackbirds choose to nest in grassy fields. Red-winged Blackbirds are polygamous, and several females will nest in one male’s territory.

Number of broods per year: 1-2
Number of eggs per brood: 2-4

Migratory pattern: Some Red-winged Blackbirds remain year-round in the Pacific Northwest, but some do winter in the southern United States and Mexico. Males are the first to return in February to set up their territories, with the females following later.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Any, though most likely from February/March through November.

Many of the above facts about the Red-winged Blackbird were 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 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 Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Along with the sun and milder temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest, migrating birds have been making their appearance, too. Whether they’re in the area to stay or just stopping for a rest and a few morsels of food before taking off again, their arrival is a fantastic opportunity for us to do some backyard birding. (By the way, spring is a great time to start a “life list” of birds you’ve seen, if you haven’t done so yet.)

While watching these birds is enjoyable for us, spring can be a dangerous time for them. The following tips will help to ensure a safer experience for your feathered visitors.

1. Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats allowed to roam their yards and neighborhoods can do real damage to the bird population. (The outside world isn’t the safest place for cats, either, which is another good reason to keep them inside.) It’s normal, I think, to assume it’s not a big deal for cats to catch a bird or two. But when we realize just how many cats are actually out there catching “a bird or two,” and the huge negative impact this has on bird numbers, we see how much of a big deal it really is. This article by the Washington Post says outdoor cats (they’re including feral cats in these numbers, too) kill between 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds each year. Just one domestic cat alone can kill up to 34 birds a year (that number is quite a bit higher for feral cats). So, if at all possible, make a difference for the birds in your yard and keep kitty inside where she can spend time chattering at the birds instead of pouncing on them.

2. Learn Good Birdhouse Etiquette. Wait…there’s etiquette for birdhouses? Well, not really, as the word etiquette usually implies a code of conduct regarding proper and polite ways to behave in a social setting, but it sounded better than rules. But rules they are, I guess, and following them might make for a better nesting experience this spring for all concerned.

First of all, don’t place a birdhouse too low. A too-low birdhouse makes it easy for predators like cats and raccoons to reach in and remove eggs and nestlings — and possibly the parents — from the nest. Poles with baffles, like this one and this one from Duncraft, make it difficult for predators to reach the birdhouse.

Don’t hang it in a full-sun location. I made this mistake when I started caring for backyard birds years ago. The back of our house – a spot that got full sun – seemed like a perfect location for a nesting box I’d just purchased, and for a while it was. It just didn’t occur to me that it would overheat on the inside. (That’s called naïveté on steroids.) A family of sparrows raised one brood that spring, and then had a second brood that summer. The second brood didn’t fare as well: It ended up being too hot inside the birdhouse and the nestlings didn’t survive. Needless to say… I felt horrible about it, learned a huge lesson, and didn’t make that mistake again.

Only use birdhouses or nesting boxes that have a side or bottom panel that opens, and clean them out after nesting season is over. Many birds will simply build a new nest on top of any old ones left in the birdhouse. Over time, this raises the level of the nest dangerously, leaving the nestlings susceptible to predators. Also, if the young are too close to the entrance hole, they could fall out before they’re old enough to survive on their own. Birdhouses should also be cleaned out to remove parasites and any wasp nests that may have been started. The best time to do this is in the fall, when it’s obvious to you that the birdhouse is no longer being used. (Do put the birdhouse or nesting box back up after you’ve cleaned it — overwintering birds will use it for shelter during harsh weather.) For more tips about housing birds, check out this article by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Nesting and Roosting Boxes for Birds.

3. Do not use rat poison. Rat poison, commonly used by homeowners as an easy way to get rid of rodents, is made with anticoagulants (blood thinners) that cause internal hemorrhaging and subsequent death. These dying rats or mice become weak, easy prey for raptors like hawks, eagles, and owls, who then become secondary victims of the poison and die a slow, painful death.

I know it’s hard to admit…sometimes even to yourself…that you might have a rodent problem, so I’ll go first: Last summer, we had an experience with a family of rats that were getting into the crawl space under our house. They’d been attracted originally by the birdseed I’d been putting out, but since I wasn’t about to stop feeding the birds to get rid of the rats, we had to think of a different solution. After locating the place they were entering our home through, my husband placed one trap near that spot and another trap near what may have been their underground nest, using peanut butter as bait. He’d get a couple rats, reset the traps, and repeat. We ended up getting rid of the mama and several of her quickly-growing children that way. I was concerned that the birds would be attracted to the peanut butter and be harmed by the traps, too, but that didn’t happen. Whew.

If you do have a rat problem, you’ll enjoy this article by Animal Planet on 10 Rat Myths. Or, if you’re like me and you hate rats, you won’t enjoy it…but may find it interesting.

4. Keep birdfeeders clean and full. I don’t need to tell you, especially if you live west of the Cascades, that it’s been very wet and rainy lately. Birdfeeders can be magnets for bacteria, and quickly become their very own petri dishes. Buy an easy-to-clean feeder (one that can be completely taken apart) and clean it at least weekly during wet weather. If you see sick birds, take the feeders down entirely for at least a week or two to keep the disease from spreading to other birds.

Also, don’t place your feeders too close to dense shrubbery where predators can easily hide. Hanging them from a shepherd’s staff, like the one shown below, at least five to six feet away from the nearest shrubs will give your songbirds a better chance of escaping a hungry raptor or cat. (Pictures can be deceiving, by the way: The grape arbor in the photo, below, is really about 20 feet away from the feeding station.)

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Nectar feeders for hummingbirds should also be cleaned at least weekly, and the nectar changed every few days, especially in warm weather when it can quickly turn rancid. Some people change the nectar every day, and it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Just keep an eye on it – if the nectar starts to look cloudy, it needs to be changed and the feeder cleaned.

5. Keep Window Strikes to a Minimum. We’ve all heard that dreaded thunk when a bird flies directly into one of our window panes. At my house, it’s usually juncos, since we have so many, but one year it was a Wilson’s Warbler that hit our living room’s bay window (he lived, as far as we know). What’s particularly deceiving about window strikes is that the birds, even if knocked silly for a while, will eventually fly away…provided they weren’t killed instantly when they hit. It’s been discovered that birds who hit windows suffer concussions and possible bleeding inside their skulls from the window collisions, which can lead to their deaths later.

One way to keep window strikes to a minimum is to place decals on the windows most often hit by birds (for me, it’s my dining room and living room windows). The decals are more visible from the outside than from the inside, so your view won’t be impeded as you watch the birds while drinking your morning coffee.

That’s it for now. Do you have any tips for making your backyard safer for birds? Leave a comment below, on our Facebook page 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), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

The above post contains a few affiliate links. Patronage of these links helps to keep Pacific Northwest Birds up and running and full of fun information about our beautiful Northwest birds. Thank you!

Bewick's Wren. Photo credit: Unknown

Bewick's Wren. Photo credit: Unknown

Around 200 years ago, John James Audubon named a skittish, elusive, sparrow-sized North American wren for his good friend and fellow artist, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), an English naturalist and engraver. Bewick is known for having rediscovered the art of wood engraving and became quite well known for his many illustrations, including his work done for an edition of Aesop’s Fables and his own nature books. The following illustration of a wren is taken from his book, A History of British Birds, Volume 1: Containing the History and Description of Land Birds, available here at archives.org.

A wren engraved by British artist Thomas Bewick (1758-1823)

A wren engraved by British artist Thomas Bewick (1758-1823)

This kind dedication by Audubon on behalf of his friend gave a name to the little bird we know as “Bewick’s Wren.” I’m hoping Bewick’s Wren as a species stays as strong as the friendship between Audubon and Bewick. It’s a bit of a victim to a bully known as the House Wren, a competitor who has effectually pushed Bewick’s Wren…for the most part…out of the eastern United States. The House Wren is known to take over the nests of Bewick’s Wren, even going as far as knocking eggs to the ground during the coup.

That said, the female Bewick’s Wren has shown herself at times to be one fighter of a mother, often remaining on her eggs even in the presence of danger.

Read on to learn more about Bewick’s Wren:

Species: Thryomanes bewickii
Family: TROGLODYTIDAE

Size and markings: Bewick’s Wren is approximately 5.25 inches long with a 7.5 inch wingspan. Upperparts are brown intermixed with gray, underside is a light gray. This little bird is easily identified by its prominent white eyebrow stripe and long tail, which is often held upright. Tail is brown above and gray underneath, with barring on both sides. This wren has a long bill with a slight downward curve. Sexes are similar.

Food: The main diet of Bewick’s Wren consists of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. It may also be found at suet feeders and will chow down on mealworms, if offered.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Suburban yards, thickets, and along wooded areas – especially near fields and streams – are where you’re likely to find Bewick’s Wren. A cavity nester, the male will busy himself with building several “false” nests. The female inspects each of the nests before choosing her favorite, which she will then complete to her liking. Not only are these birds partners when it comes to nest building, but you will also see them searching for food together, usually under shrubs. Bewick’s Wren can be easily distinguished from other birds of similar color and size by noting the tail, which is usually held upright and flicks from side to side.

Number of broods per year: 1-3

Number of eggs per brood: 3-8

Migratory pattern: Year-round resident along coastal Oregon and southern British Columbia, and throughout all of Western Washington.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: You may not see this one at your feeders at all, with the exception of suet feeders. If you look closely, however, you just might see them foraging for insects under the shrubbery in your yard…or even hopping around underneath your patio furniture!

Many of the above facts about Bewick’s Wren were 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 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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