American Goldfinches. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

American Goldfinches have been hogging the feeders lately, perhaps to fuel up for their journey to...elsewhere (certainly not here). 9-1-2014. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

When I stepped outside to fill the feeders the other morning (the first of September, to be exact), I was pleasantly surprised to feel a slight chill in the air. I love summer, but all the heat and humidity was making me cranky.

Besides the lower temps, there are other things I look forward to with the arrival of fall: the changing of the leaves, drinking hot coffee at Starbucks just to warm myself up, and the visits of migrating birds passing through on the way to their winter homes.

It’s that very idea of birds heading south that causes some people to believe that feeding the birds is just a seasonal thing. The truth is that while many birds do fly off to spend the winter in warmer climates, quite a few remain. Here are some of the birds you’ll see year-round in the Pacific Northwest (though not everyone here in the PNW will see the same birds):

Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay
Dark-eyed Junco
Pine Siskin
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
House Finch
Purple Finch

American Goldfinches also hang out year round, according to every range map I’ve seen. That may be true, but where I live (just south of Seattle), I only see them from spring through early fall. What about you? Do you see them during the winter months? Since they’re more drab in the winter, they may in large part just go unnoticed, but I have a feeling that many of them also vacation in the southern U.S. before returning in the spring. I know for a fact that they are nowhere near my feeders in the winter months…and you can bet I notice and identify every bird I see in my backyard.

Considering that so many of our feathered friends do stick around, what should we be doing this fall to help care for them? I’ve come up with a few ideas.

1. For starters, now is a great time to clean your feeders. Let the birds empty them, then bring them in to give them a good scrub in your sink. (Be sure to dry them completely before refilling with seed.) I prefer feeders that come apart easily. I also have a long tube seed feeder, but since it’s hard to clean, it gets replaced about once a year. Choose hummingbird feeders that are easy to clean, too, since these can grow mildew and bacteria quickly.

2. Continue to feed the hummingbirds. Rufous Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive in spring and leave in late summer, but our Anna’s hummers are year-round residents who depend on nectar for sustenance, especially when the bug population drops.

3. Depending on where you hang your feeders, this is also a good time to rake or sweep away any old seed and seed husks. Not only is it unsightly, but old seed left on the ground can harbor bacteria and also attract slugs and rodents.

4. Hang up bird houses and/or roosting boxes to provide shelter for birds during cold and harsh weather. Also, hold off on any drastic pruning of shrubbery and trees, for the same reason. This also gives birds a place to hide from predators.

5. Most importantly, keep feeding the birds! Once you’ve begun to feed your backyard birds, it really is a commitment. They quickly learn to depend on you for sustenance. Look for sales and stock up on seed if you live in an area where you’re likely to get snowed in.

What do you do to care for backyard birds during the fall and winter months? Leave a comment below or chime in 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!

Of all the birds that migrate to the Pacific Northwest for springtime breeding, I consider the Barn Swallow to be the herald…the one whose arrival announces that it truly is spring, even if it isn’t the first to get here. Beginning in April, I keep an eye to the sky, watching for the charming, tell-tale aerobatic maneuvers of this graceful little bird.

I know, I know…it’s almost fall and I’m talking about spring! But the Barn Swallow will be heading south soon, which means, in my scheme of things, I’m running out of time to feature it as the Bird of the Week. (Speaking of fall…I’m ready. Pumpkin everything? I think yes.)

But I realize, as I write this, that I haven’t seen our resident Barn Swallows in a while, which means they may already be on their way to their winter home somewhere in Central or South America. And according to this cool Barn Swallow timeline, that’s exactly what’s happening. (Ah, well…see you next year, little darlings.)

Left: Male Barn Swallow. Right: Female Barn Swallow. (See end of post for photo credits.)

Left: Male Barn Swallow. Right: Female Barn Swallow. (See end of post for photo credits.)

Here’s more fun info about the Barn Swallow, from the newly revised edition of Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds:

Species: Hirundo rustica
Family: HIRUNDINIDAE

Size and markings: The Barn Swallow is 6-7.5 inches long, with a wingspan of 11-12.5 inches. The male’s upper parts are midnight blue while its underside and chest are a light buffy orange. The dark, glistening eyes and small, dark beak are surrounded by a rust-bronze on the forehead, chin, and throat. The female has the same blue above, but her undersides, forehead, and throat are lighter. Long wings taper back toward the tail when perched. Easily identifiable on a wire or in flight by its long, forked tail.

Food: This swallow catches food “on the wing” (in flight), dining on a large variety of flying insects, such as wasps, beetles, bees, moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers, but has a special fondness for flies.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Suburban areas are a favorite of the Barn Swallow, as it readily builds nests in man-made structures like garages, car ports, bridges, and barns, from which it gets its name. It will also use bird houses, if provided. This bird tolerates people and will return to the same nesting site each spring.

The Barn Swallow’s nest is made up of bits of mud. The base of the nest is built first, and eventually a cup-shape is created as more mud is added.

Breeding happens from April to June or even later. One of the first signs of the yearly return of the Barn Swallow is its aerobatic swooping overhead. Power lines are often used for perching, and you are very likely to see fledglings sitting there as they noisily wait to be fed.

Number of broods per year: 1-2
Number of eggs per brood: 3-7

Hungry Barn Swallow fledglings. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Hungry Barn Swallow fledglings. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Migratory pattern: The Barn Swallow breeds during the spring and summer months throughout the North American continent, with the exception of northern Canada and northern Alaska. It winters in Central and South America.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: While not a feeder bird, you are still likely to see this bird as it performs its beautiful swoops over your yard and neighborhood.

Photo credits: Male Barn Swallow by “stevebyland” on canstockphoto.com. Female Barn Swallow by “igraciela” on canstockphoto.com.
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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 new edition of Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds, has just hit the virtual shelves! It’s already available on Amazon for the Kindle, and will soon be ready for purchase from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble for the Nook, and the iTunes Bookstore. (Those links will be included here as soon as they’ve made this new version available for sale.)

In this revised version, you’ll now see pictures of both males and females of each bird, except for species in which the sexes are similar in appearance. Also, because the subtitle refers to the most popular birds, I’ve switched out two, the House Wren and the Violet-green Swallow, for the Black-headed Grosbeak and the Barn Swallow. While beautiful and wonderful birds in their own right, the House Wren and Violet-green Swallow just seemed like they’d be a better fit for a larger book that I also have in the works, due out later this year or early next.

And thanks to feedback from some of you, I’ve included an “At-a-Glance Index” that features photographs of each bird along with its name and a link to where its description can be found elsewhere in the book. After each bird’s description, you’ll see two links: One to return you to the table of contents, and one to return you to the At-a-Glance Index, so you’re never stuck having to click all the way through the book just to return to the beginning or to find a different bird.

If you don’t have an e-reader, you can still read this valuable guide. Just open it up on your PC, Mac, tablet, or smartphone using these free reading apps.

For a limited time, Birds of the Pacific Northwest is available at Amazon for just $2.99 (higher elsewhere). If you’ve already purchased it from Amazon, go to your account and click on “Manage My Kindle,” where you’ll be able to upload this latest version for free. (I like free, how about you?)

I would love to hear from you about this new version…what you like and even what you think could be better. Together we can make this your go-to birding guide for the Pacific Northwest!

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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!

I’m convinced that other folks who see Cedar Waxwings in their yards have more “normal” encounters with them, like watching them feast on the berries from their trees, or even stumble around like little drunkards because they’d eaten berries that had fermented. But not us. When we encountered Cedar Waxwings, they didn’t want anything from us but the net from our basketball hoop.

It was over about a week’s time that I’d noticed the netting on the hoop gradually looking more and more scrawny and loose. This confused me, because it was a nice net when we’d put it up less than a year before. It took me a few more days to connect the worsening condition of the net with the birds that were making round trips between it and the neighbor’s trees: Cedar Waxwings were helping themselves to pieces of silky string from the net…and using it to make the best nests ever, I’m sure.

At the time, our boys were still young enough to use the hoop, and did often, so we replaced the rope net as soon as possible with one made from thin chains. One Cedar Waxwing soon landed on it, pecked at it, looked around as if utterly confused by our devilish trickery, and flew off. (Now, this was at least ten years ago, and if I’d thought about it, I would have just left the net until I was certain they’d finished building their nests and then replaced it.)

We haven’t seen one in our yard since then, and I’m convinced it’s been purely to spite us: No net, no looky. On second thought, it’s possible I’ve seen them fly through, but they certainly don’t stop long enough, and are too far away, for a positive identification. I’m wanting to attract them again, and am considering some trees or shrubs whose berries will do just that. Plant any of the following if you, like me, are wanting to attract these beautiful birds:

Hawthorn
Mistletoe
Winterberry
Holly
Dogwood
Juniper
Cherry
Mulberry
Serviceberry
…and more.

Ready to learn more about the Cedar Waxwing? Read on.

Cedar Waxwing. Photo credit: Unknown

Cedar Waxwing. Photo credit: Unknown


Species: Bombycilla cedrorum
Family: BOMBYCILLIDAE

Size and markings: Who is that masked bird? It’s the Cedar Waxwing, with a length of 6-7 inches and a wingspan of 9-11 inches. Not to be confused with the Bohemian Waxwing that also lives in parts of the Pacific Northwest (though generally is not found in western areas of Washington, Oregon, or British Columbia), the Cedar Waxwing is smaller than, and not as gray, as its larger counterpart. The head is topped by a crest that appears to have been slicked back, and has a light ruddy color, as does the upper back and chest. That ruddiness blends into gray and then white and is complimented by soft yellow on its underbelly and on the end of the tail, giving the bird’s appearance a watercolor effect. The wings are tipped with red waxy secretions, the purpose of which may be to attract mates. Though Cedar Waxwings are resident throughout North America, the red-tipped variety is found only in the West. The bird’s look is finished off with a sleek black mask reminiscent of the Lone Ranger. Sexes are similar.

Food: Cedar Waxwings are well-known for their love of berries. Some of that is a notoriety which comes from their drunken behavior after eating berries that are overripe and fermented. Birds who have consumed too much of the alcohol found in these fermented berries have even died. Insects are another favorite food of Cedar Waxwings.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: This bird may look like the Lone Ranger, but there is nothing solitary about his behavior. The Cedar Waxwing is a gregarious bird that is happiest while living, feeding, and gallivanting in flocks. Mostly found nesting in wooded areas, particularly near rivers and streams, waxwings may also be found in suburban areas where fruiting shrubs are planted. A nest may take up to a week to create, and after making hundreds (and possibly thousands) of trips back and forth while building the nest, waxwings have been observed stealing materials from other nests nearby.

Number of broods per year: 1-2

Number of eggs per brood: 2-6

Migratory pattern: Cedar Waxwings are year-round inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, but because many of them do migrate, you are more likely to see them here in the spring and summer months.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: You’re not likely to see Cedar Waxwings at your feeders. If they do come close, it’s probably just to see what the other birds are up to!

Much of the above information was taken from my book, 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 with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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

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.

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

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