Posts Tagged ‘pacific northwest’

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.

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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!

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

There are five jays that call the Pacific Northwest home. Can you name them all? Steller’s Jay is the most common, followed by the Gray Jay and the Western Scrub-jay. The Blue Jay and Pinyon Jay round out the five, but these two are somewhat rare.

The Western Scrub-jay (WSJ) used to be a rare sight, as well, especially in Washington State. But an important part of its habitat is the Prairie Oak, and as this tree has spread northward, the WSJ has followed it. We humans are very good at ripping out important wildlife habitats, however, so it remains to be seen if this northward expansion will continue or if it will eventually stall.

It’s an exciting thing to watch these birds on their northern march. Just a handful of years ago, it was a big deal to see them in areas south of Seattle. But they kept moving, handily conquering the Emerald City and the Puget Sound suburbs, and are now being seen further north. (I’ve heard a rumor that the WSJ has also been seen in British Columbia. I’ll be looking into this, for sure.) A few of them visited our feeders for a few weeks in September, but have since moved on. Luckily, the camera was ready, and my daughter and I were both able to get a few good shots.

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

Western Scrub-jay. Photo: Erica Dinius

If you compare many range maps for the Western Scrub-jay, you might notice that some maps show this bird living farther north than other maps do. Some maps will show these birds living to the north of Seattle, while some show them barely making it over the Washington/Oregon border.

Put these maps in order and they will illustrate the WSJ’s northward expansion. Very cool to see, indeed. (A Google image search will help you to find some of these maps.)

The Western Scrub-jay can be broken down into three subspecies: Aphelocoma californica, Aphelocoma woodhouseii, and Aphelocoma sumichrasti. The one we see most commonly in the Pacific Northwest is A. californica.

Read on to learn more about the Western Scrub-jay.

Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica
Family: CORVIDAE

Size and markings: 11″ long (28 cm), with a wingspan of 15-16″ (38-41 cm). Head, wings, and tail are blue. Dark eyes sit under a white eye stripe and just in front of a gray cheek patch. Beak is dark with a slight downward curve at the end. Back is brownish-gray. Unlike Steller’s and Blue Jays, this one has no crest on its crown. Tail is long and blue. Light-colored undersides. A. californica, most typically seen in the PNW, has a blue “necklace” interrupted by a white shirt front.

Learn more: American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America by DK Books

Food: The Western Scrub-jay is omnivorous, eating everything from nuts (acorns, peanuts), seeds, and berries, to snails, insects, and spiders. Rodents and the young of other birds are also fair game. It won’t pass up a good feeding station, either, especially when sunflower seeds are offered. This jay will scavenge for seeds below feeders, as well.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Throughout its range, which consists primarily of the western United States and parts of Mexico, the WSJ frequents foothills and lower mountain slopes, scrub lands, and even suburbia if not too densely populated, preferably near oaks. This monogamous bird prefers low trees and shrubs for nesting sites, where both male and female work on building the nest.

Number of broods per year: 1
Number of eggs per brood: 1-6

Migratory pattern: While the Western Scrub-jay does not migrate, it often chooses fall as a time to be nomadic and change location, which may also be when its range expansion occurs.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Possibly any.


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!

Male Black-throated Gray Warbler. Photo by Dominic Sherony. Graphic by Pacific Northwest Birds.

Male Black-throated Gray Warbler. Photo by Dominic Sherony. Graphic by Pacific Northwest Birds.

The Black-throated Gray Warbler is a fairly tame bird. It isn’t going to come up and land on your shoulder, but if you are lucky enough to spy one as it searches for insects among the branches, it won’t be too easily scared off. Despite its reputation of being easy to watch, the American Ornithologists’ Union says there still isn’t much research to be found on this small songbird. We know it migrates to the Pacific Northwest to breed, and then returns to Mexico in the fall. We also know that it eats insects in the summer and will add fruit to its diet in the fall and winter. Sadly, that seems to be the extent of any information gleaned about this black, white, and gray warbler.

This also means that while we can be pretty sure these warblers have about four eggs at a time, on average, we don’t know how many broods (sets of eggs) it has per year, so that information will be missing in the write-up below. Nevertheless, the Black-throated Gray Warbler is still a fascinating bird, which I hope you’ll enjoy learning about. Here we go!

Scientific name: Setophaga nigrescens (formerly Dendroica nigrescens)
Family: PARULIDAE

Size and markings: The Black-throated Gray Warbler is 4.5 to 5” in length. The male has a white face, white underparts, gray back, and a black mask and crown. The female is more of a slate-gray where the male is black, with a white throat. Juvenile is even lighter than the female. All have white wing bars, gray striping on the chest, and a yellow spot in the lores (just in front of each eye).

Learn more about warblers in The Warbler Guide.

Food: The main diet of the Black-throated Gray is insects and caterpillars, though, like other warblers, it may also eat fruit in the fall and winter months.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: Because it hangs out at a lower altitude and will spend time in lower branches and shrubs searching for food, you are more likely to see this warbler than the Townsend’s or Hermit Warblers. The Black-throated Gray prefers pine forests and pine/mixed forests, especially when oak is present. This monogamous warbler builds a soft cup-shaped nest. The length of the incubation and nestling periods is not certain.

Number of broods per year: Unknown
Number of eggs per brood: 4

Migratory pattern: This warbler is seen in the Pacific Northwest during breeding months only, from northern California, west to southern Idaho, and north to Victoria Island and southern British Columbia. In Washington state and Oregon, it is mainly seen west of the Cascades.

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

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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, Twitter, and now Instagram!

A Yellow Warbler. This image is ready for sharing on Twitter, Instagram (via mobile), and Pinterest.

Some time back, I’d decided that this month…June…would be Warbler Month here at Pacific Northwest Birds. Over the past few weeks, however, I found myself with very little time to write and knew I would need to rethink my plans. So I thought about it and soon realized my late start on Warbler Month might not be such a bad thing. Why, after all, should we limit talking about warblers to just one month? And so Warbler Month has happily become Warbler Summer: For as long as these little darlings are in the Pacific Northwest, we’ll be learning about them. (We’ll be talking about other Northwest birds, too.)

If you’re following us on Instagram at pacificnorthwestbirds, you’ve already seen a couple of the fun graphics that have been posted. The latest one, left, features the Yellow Warbler, who is also our Bird of the Week.

Though a number of warblers with yellow plumage are sometimes confused with American Goldfinches, the Yellow Warbler is probably mistaken for them more than any other. This is the warbler that is most uniformly yellow, and if someone spots it who doesn’t know their birds as well as they’d like to (and we’ve all been at there at some point as birders), it is often assumed to be a goldfinch. If you’re one of those who’s confused the two (no shame), here’s a handy side-by-side of two males to help you out:

Left: Yellow Warbler (male). Photo: Mdf (Creative Commons) | Right: American Goldfinch (male). Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Left: Yellow Warbler (male). Photo: Mdf (Creative Commons) | Right: American Goldfinch (male). Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Read on to learn more about the Yellow Warbler.

Scientific name: Setophaga petechia
Family: Parulidae

Size and markings: 5″ long. Yellow with olive coloring from crown to rump. The male is more vibrant in color than the female and has rufous streaks on his chest and belly.

Food: The Yellow Warbler eats mainly insects and is especially fond of caterpillars.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: This warbler can be found nesting in riparian woodlands (wooded areas found close to rivers, streams, and lakes) and even shade trees in residential yards and parks. They are particularly fond of cottonwoods, alders, willows, and dense underbrush. The male is first to arrive in the spring, followed up to two weeks later by the female, who then builds the nest.

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

Migratory pattern: The breeding range of the Yellow Warbler covers most of North America, from Mexico to Alaska and northern Canada. Winters for this long-distance flyer are spent in Central America and northern South America.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Not typically seen at feeders.

Learn more about warblers in The Warbler Guide by Tom Stevenson and Scott Whittle and Stokes Field Guide to Warblers by Don and Lillian Stokes.

___________________________________________________________________________________

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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