Posts Tagged ‘pacific northwest birds’

World Wildlife Day 2017

World Wildlife Day 2017

Great movements in human history often start because of the need to stand up to cruelty, unfairness, and governmental overreach. Have you noticed that good usually wins?

In the realm of nature, we have our movements, as well, that start for similar reasons: People with good hearts see others with not-so-good hearts mistreating birds, mammals, sea life, and habitats, and often using these creatures and exploited areas for their own selfish gain.

They didn’t stay silent, but got busy and started fights. Not violent fights, but good fights that have built momentum and are still going.

In 1896, for example, Harriet Hemenway and Mina Hall started the first Audubon Society chapter in Massachusetts because they were upset by the killing of birds for the millinery (hat making) industry. They held a series of teas in an effort to convince other women to stop buying hats decorated with the feathers of these birds. This movement gained momentum, and within two years, other Audubon chapters had sprung up. Harriet and Mina were good people who started a movement and spread the word that wildlife is not a commodity and should be protected. To this day, the Audubon Society still speaks on behalf of birds. (A recent example of Audubon’s activism is their recent fight against the cormorant slaughter on Oregon’s Sand Island.)

In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was signed into law to prevent the willy-nilly, free-for-all use of wild birds, their feathers, their nests, and their eggs. (Click on the link to see what this law covers in its entirety.) Good people did that, setting into motion legislation that has protected birds for almost 100 years.

On December 20, 2013, the United Nations proclaimed March 3 to be World Wildlife Day as a way to draw attention, raise awareness, and hopefully encourage people to take action against habitat change and destruction, and the over-exploitation or illicit trafficking of fauna (wildlife) and flora (plants and trees), which is threatening, and even causing, the extinction of many species.

World Wildlife Day’s theme for 2017 is “Listen to the Young Voices,” and there are plenty of these voices to listen to: Did you know that over ¼ of the current world population is between the ages of 10-24? Many of these young people are very environmentally-focused and can teach us a thing or two. Likewise, we also have the opportunity — right now — to encourage the young people we know personally to respect wildlife and become its voices and protectors, not just on World Wildlife Day, but all through their growing-up years.

Sounds like a great movement to me. Click here to learn more about this year’s World Wildlife Day. http://www.wildlifeday.org/


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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Spotted Towhee in the snow. Stock photo.

Spotted Towhee

Well, here we are. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the start of Hannukah. It’s so easy to get “wrapped up” in our holiday preparations that we forget to include the birds in the festivities.

If you’re looking for a way to spread some cheer to our feathered friends, I’ve assembled a short list (very short, so we can all get right back to our holiday plans) to help us do just that.

1. Make a birdseed and suet wreath for the birds. Suet is a very helpful dietary component for birds during the cold winter months, and this oldie-but-goodie article will show you how to make a wreath they’ll really enjoy. Add dried mealworms for extra nutrition. Don’t forget the bow!

2. Give an end-of-the-year gift to your favorite nature charity. The larger nature foundations do wonderful work and have a reach that is far and wide, but did you know local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers need your gifts the most? If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can find one close to you here.

3. After Christmas, give your tree, wreaths, and garlands to the birds. Recycle your tree and pine boughs, etc., by turning them into protection against harsh weather and predators. Learn more in this article from Cornell.


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 Instagram!

Male Dark-eyed Junco | Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male Dark-eyed Junco | Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

It’s “the lull” – that period of time when the activity around many Northwest feeders noticeably quiets down. A handful of the usuals are still around, like finches, chickadees, Steller’s Jays, but they’re a skeleton crew for the most part — keeping things running until everyone else comes back.

(Happily, I have a family of House Finches — parents and babies — who’ve been noisily emptying my feeder lately. If it weren’t for them, I might be taking this lull personally!)

“Everyone else” will be back shortly, counting on us to provide seed and suet through the winter. We’ll begin seeing more Dark-eyed Juncos joining the Spotted Towhees foraging below the feeders. A new batch of drab little birds — the molted American and Lesser Goldfinches, who really aren’t new but look to be — will hit seed feeders and thistle socks again, possibly with their Pine Siskin buddies in tow.

And the migratory birds we saw this spring before they headed further north will put in appearances on their way to warmer locales, giving us a brief chance to see some of our spring favorites.

If you feed hummingbirds, it may be quieter for you because the Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds have already gone South. (Calliope and Black-chinned hummers typically breed east of the Cascade Mountains. Rufous Hummingbirds, while more common in the Puget Sound area, are seen on both sides.) Don’t take down your feeders, however — if you live west of the Cascades, Anna’s Hummingbirds are more than happy to enjoy that nectar year-round.

Here are some things you can do to keep your backyard birds (and yourself) happy throughout the upcoming fall and winter.

1. Clean your seed feeders. Actually, this is a good thing to do after each rain storm, when mold can grow quickly inside birdfeeders. Feeding birds from dirty feeders can promote sickness among our avian friends. If you notice a lot of mold growth in your feeder and cleaning it doesn’t help, consider replacing it. I like to replace my seed feeder a couple of times a year, anyway, and tube seed feeders can be pretty inexpensive. I’ve noticed the birds at my feeders prefer these to the fancier feeders; more of them are able to fit on it at once and have an easier time getting to the seeds than other feeders I’ve tried. Platform feeders also work well, but are best when used in combination with a weather dome. Considering our climate, it’s a good idea to use weather domes, anyway, to help inhibit mold growth and curb the spread of disease.

To learn more about the diseases birds can catch and what you can do to help stop these illnesses from spreading, read this fact sheet from the USGS: Coping with Diseases at Bird Feeders.

2. Clean your nectar feeders. Anna’s Hummingbirds are permanent residents here in the Pacific Northwest and rely on us to keep their nectar feeders filled regardless of the season or temperature. At least once a week, even in winter, take the feeder apart and thoroughly clean it using a special brush or toothbrush kept just for the task. I found some skinny toothbrushes at the dollar store that work very well for cleaning the inside of the bottle, and will also use cotton swabs to clean the ports. You’ll want to use bleach if the feeder has a film of mildew on the inside, but if you clean your hummer feeder often, Dawn dish soap and very hot water works just fine with only a periodic cleaning with bleach. Whatever you use to clean your nectar feeder, rinsing the feeder very well is a must.

By the way, please do not use commercial nectar for hummingbirds, whether it contains dye or is “dye-free.” You can make your own using one part granulated sugar to four parts boiled water. Cool, pour into your feeder, and keep the rest in the fridge. My hummers will drink nothing else.

3. Pull some weeds, do a little pruning. If your feeders are away from your deck or patio, take the time to make sure the grass around the feeding station is mowed, weeds are pulled, and bushes are trimmed back. This will allow for ground-feeding birds like Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, finches, sparrows, and jays to reach the seed that’s fallen to the ground. Pruning shrubbery away from the feeding area will give neighborhood cats less room to hide for stalking and hunting these birds.



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4. Empty out any birdhouses. Now that nesting season is over and done with for another year, it’s time to empty out and clean any birdhouses (also known as nest boxes) you may have. Do the birds a favor, however, and put them right back up, as they will use them in the fall and winter months as shelter from the cold and from storms. If you didn’t hang any birdhouses this year, why not put up a couple?

5. Become a citizen scientist. Now is the time to join Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. This is a fun program I’ve taken part in a few times now, and it feels good to be a part of something that helps bird research. It’s not too difficult: Watch the birds at your feeders for a certain amount of time each day, tally how many you see of each species, then go online and share that data with Cornell. As an added bonus, you may see birds at your feeder that you hadn’t noticed before. Sign up here: Project FeederWatch.

6. Stock up on birdseed and suet. If you live in an area that typically gets heavy snow, you’ll want to stock up not only on food for yourself, your family, and your pets, but for the birds, too. Once birds know where a food source is, they’ll frequent it regularly, and will be especially counting on it when natural food is hard to find. If you’re on the west side, like me, you should stock up, too. Our winters have been mild for a few years, but the reappearance of La Niña could possibly change that and bring us some real winter weather over the next several months.


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 Instagram!

The above article contains affiliate links. Your patronage of these links helps to keep Pacific Northwest Birds up and running and full of valuable information about our beautiful Northwest birds.

Left: Male Violet-green Swallow. Right: Female Violet-green Swallow. Both photos by Alan Vernon.

Left: Male Violet-green Swallow. Right: Female Violet-green Swallow. Both photos by Alan Vernon.


And…action!

It’s always a production when swallows return to the Pacific Northwest each spring.

Our first glimpses of their arrival is often while they’re “performing”: swooping and looping through the air like the happy, noisy, carefree daredevils they are, chasing their food on the wing. They bring to mind a medieval circus troupe putting on airs as they enter a village, already dancing to get the attention of the townsfolk.

The Violet-green was the first species of swallow to show up in our neighborhood this year, claiming prime nesting spots before their Barn Swallow cousins could arrive. As their aerial maneuvers cast spiraling shadows on our sunny lawn, I soon realized it was a group of six or seven that had arrived together, and they’ve been putting on their shows ever since.

And while we’re on the subject of performers, I must say that the Violet-green seems best suited to be one more than any other swallow – especially the male, who arrives in full costume and makeup. Maybe too much makeup. For some time now, his get-up has reminded me of a certain Batman nemesis…possibly this one:

Photo of Jack Nicholson as the Joker courtesy of Warner Bros. Photo of male Violet-green Swallow: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Photo of Jack Nicholson as the Joker courtesy of Warner Bros. Photo of male Violet-green Swallow: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds


Far from being a joker, this beautiful and cheerful bird is a true delight and nothing to summon Batman for. The most trouble Violet-greens are likely to get into is when they attempt to nest where they shouldn’t, like the one above, whom we recently found in our garage. He was quickly let out and all was well. (The bird, that is, not Jack Nicholson. He may still be in there somewhere.)

Read on to learn more about the lively Violet-green Swallow.

Scientific name: Tachycineta thalassina
Family: HIRUNDINIDAE

Size and markings: The Violet-green Swallow is 4.5 – 5 inches long with a wingspan of 10.5 inches. Its iridescent upperparts are a greenish-bronze with touches of violet on the shoulders. The rump and upper tail are also tinged with violet and surrounded by white on each side. The male’s head is a full green, often a slightly different shade than the green on his back, which can appear more teal in color. The female’s head is lighter with bronze coloring on her crown. The bill is small and black. Wings are long and its tail is forked. Its underparts are white, as is the face, with the white reaching over the eye. At the front of the eye is a dark spot, most noticeable on the male.

Food: The diet of the Violet-green Swallow consists of flying insects, which it catches on the wing (while flying).

Swallows & Martins: An Identification Guide and Handbook by Angela Turner and Chris Rose

Swallows & Martins: An Identification Guide and Handbook by Angela Turner and Chris Rose


Habitat/nesting/behavior: Suburban areas and even cities will find this swallow returning year after year to the same nesting sites. It will choose nesting boxes, crevices in buildings, ledges in open carports, and available tree cavities. Its nest is woven together with twigs, rootlets, and grasses, and then lined with soft feathers.

Number of broods per year: 1-2

Number of eggs per year: 4-6

Migratory pattern: The Violet-green Swallow spends its summers in western North America, nesting from northern Mexico all the way to Alaska. It also lives year-round in much of Mexico, where the swallows who’ve migrated will return for winter. Watch for this bird to return to the Pacific Northwest starting in late April (or earlier) into May, when you’ll see it sitting on power lines or swooping acrobatically above its chosen territory as it chases food and chirps excitedly.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: The Violet-green Swallow is not a feeder bird, but you can still be thrilled by the acrobatics of this suburban nester during the late spring and summer months.


Male Violet-green Swallow by Alan Vernon (By Alan Vernon – Male Violet green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15273911)

Female Violet-green Swallow by Alan Vernon (By Alan Vernon – Female Violet green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid


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!







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

Like so many others right now (or so it seems), I’m currently battling the flu. I’d wanted to write a new blog post today, but alas…I just can’t. So by necessity, I’m sharing with you a blast from the past about a favorite backyard bird — one that has recently been showing up at my feeders again. I know spring is about to spring when these beautiful birds with their fancy epaullets come to call. Enjoy. – Ed.

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.

To attract RWBB’s, try Woodlink’s Magnum Sunflower Seed Screen Feeder

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.


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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