BACKYARD BIRDS OF DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON
The junco is one of the most familiar and distinctive birds of our area. They are frequent at seed feeders and the ground below, especially during fall and winter months when they typically occur in flocks of 5-30. As spring approaches, the winter flocks begin to break up as many begin their migration--short or long--back to their breeding grounds. At this time, especially on sunnier days, some of the males begin to sing their musical trill, sometimes at first with more variety, as if tuning up for the upcoming performance. A few remain through the spring and summer near wooded/grassy lowlands to breed and raise young. If you live in town or away from such habitat the juncos may "disappear" for the summer. However, beginning in July, and increasingly as summer wears on, young streaked juveniles begin to wander and family groups begin to gather together again. In fall the streaked juveniles (which look like a new species of sparrow, but note the white outer tail feathers) molt into the smooth plumage we are most familiar with the rest of the year. An uncommon form, the 'Slate-colored' Junco, sometimes winters here. The male is fairly obvious because the black of the hood continues down the sides on this subspecies, where our usual juncos show tan or pinkish.
The Black-capped Chickadee is one of the cheeriest birds on the planet. While small, they are clearly marked, almost always traveling with one or more of their species, and usually chitting and chatting about this or that. When spring comes they begin more sophisticated calls as well as their sweet and clear-noted whistley song (though some individuals will sing in a minor key). At feeding stations, this species prefers black-oil sunflower or suet. Chickadees don't often dilly dally at the feeder (like say a House Finch), but rather grab a sunflower and dart off to wedge the seed firmly in a crevice of tree bark nearby, ...or under a shingle on your house. These seeds they will later find and eat, if not beaten to it by a nuthatch or scrub-jay, all of which are expert treasure hiders and seekers. The chickadees nest in small cavities in trees, which they can excavate themselves given soft rotten wood, but more often they will find one already available that they remodel to their liking. A nest box in a wooded area or near some trees will sometimes be used by this species. If you see a bird that is similar, but with a white stripe above the eye, it may be a Mountain Chickadee. (See also Chestnut-backed Chickadee.)
One of the most loved and hated birds in backyards across the west, the Scrub-Jay is a common sight and sound in most lowland neighborhoods and shrub-and-tree-dotted open hillsides. For some, the appearance of this beautiful blue bird is a delight and a wonder. For others, it is a noisy, feeder-hording, seed-eating nuisance. Whatever it is to you, they are here to stay. Resist the temptation to call this bird a "blue jay," as your birding friends are apt to let you know under no uncertain terms that there truly is a Blue Jay, which lives east of the Rockies, and this isn't it! (See also the Steller's Jay). Regardless of your predilection toward this bird, like many corvids (the family of crows and jays), this jay is smart. They have been recorded storing many dozens of caches of seeds, and later finding most of them, a skill I could use the next time I've misplaced my keys, wallet, or glasses. Some people use weight-activated feeders to exclude this and other larger birds, which works to some degree, but as with many feeders, sufficient seed is spilled on the ground that jays as well as other critters are quick to glean. In late summer and early fall, you may observe some of these jays traversing the skies with light-colored seeds (acorns, hazelnuts, etc.) in their bills, on their way to bury their stash.
House Finches love bird feeders as much as kids like a playground; they like to stay there a long time. If you offer seed during spring and summer and live in or near town, you most likely have House Finches nesting nearby in one of your shrubs, or even on a ledge of a porch cover or shed. Unfortunately, likely due in part to the amount of time these birds hang out at feeders, they are one of the species that more commonly succumbs to various communicable avian diseases, so you will occasionally see one with a grotesque bulging eye, or a club foot (learn more at this page on Cornell University's website). The males are typically reddish with brown streaks, and the females plain light brown with streaks. Occasionally a "yellow variant" or some other oddball (like this albinistic one) will show up. The House Finch is occasionally confused with the Purple Finch (seasonally occurs at feeders here) and Cassin's Finch (extremely rare in valleys, common in High Cascades). A helpful guide to distinguish these species is found at this Project FeederWatch page.
Of the two goldfinch species we regularly have in Douglas County, this is the smaller and often darker-backed one. Although they are present year-round, some folks get influxes of this species only at certain times of year. They will utilize a standard seed platform feeder and standard seed, but they really like thistle seed. Some of their favorite "wild" foods are thistle, teasel, birch catkins, and other weed seeds. Unknown to many, males of this species incorporate snippets of local bird sounds into their song. Each snippet is about one to one and a half seconds in duration, and intermixed with the goldfinch's own unique sounds, making them difficult to detect. Commonly mimicked species in our area include Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Western Wood-Pewee, Cassin's Vireo, American Kestrel, Black Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Killdeer, House Sparrow, Western Tanager, House Wren, and Western Scrub-Jay.
If you live in town, or near grain-fed livestock, you are likely familiar with this weaver finch of European origin. In most areas of Oregon the species uses cavities in human-made structures, whether buildings or bird boxes, for nesting. Occasionally they will nest in very dense shrubbery where they will construct their own nests out of twigs, but I'm not aware of this being observed yet in Douglas County. Pairs of these birds are tireless and aggressive competitors for nestboxes placed near homes and gardens. The conflict alone is stressful for our native cavity-nesters, but sometimes they will even build a nest on top of an existing swallow or bluebird nest. If you live up in the woods, and far away from grain-fed livestock, you may not see this species at your home.
The Eurasian Collared-Dove is a newcomer to our area. Recent introductions to the Bahamas and Guadeloupe in the 1970s led to expansions to Florida by the 1980s and across North America over the next two decades. The first detections in Oregon were in the late 1990s, and by the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, they were established across the state, including the lowlands of Douglas County. Their future is unknown. Some species that expand rapidly also decline, but we will just have to see. They are noticeably larger and paler than our native Mourning Dove, with a square instead of pointed tail, and a black collar on the neck. Their calls and song are also quite distinctive. While in some areas this species is present year-round, in other areas and yards they disappear for a few months in winter. They are considered an unprotected species in Oregon, along with the House Sparrow and European Starling (all three of which can be seen in the photo to the left).
If you live on the edge of town not far from brushy hillsides or oak woodland, or a bit more out in the country, you may have a pair or covey of these interesting birds visit your yard. A single pair of California Quail may have a dozen or more young, thus quickly expanding their numbers in mid-summer. The young, which can walk soon after hatching and leave the nest within a couple days, are exceedingly cute as they scurry along after their parents like little fuzzy bugs on a wild adventure. Nevertheless, as with many species that have many young, most do not make it to their first year as they become food for Cooper's Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, coyotes, bobcats, and house cats.
Towhees are primarily brush-loving, ground-feeding birds, tearing up the ground with their chicken-like scratching. However, in spring, males will often sing their loud trill--preceded by one or two introductory notes--from quite high in trees. In the Pacific Northwest, males and females of this species are very similar, but females are typically browner; some more so than others. Adults of both sexes have a stunning red eye visible at medium to close range. In summer, newly fledged young of this species, with their smudgy, streaked appearance, may make you think a new species has arrived!
This hummingbird was not recorded in Oregon until the mid-1940s. By the 1960s, the species had become established in small numbers. Today, it is present year-round and common in the lowlands of western Oregon, particularly in urban residential areas, and has expanded even to eastern Oregon. It is quite a treat to be able to see hummingbirds year round. It also gives one an opportunity to observe the interaction with the migratory Rufous Hummingbird when they arrive each spring. Male Anna's can be seen displaying any time of year, or singing their raspy song from a perch or while they zip from one area to another.
As woodpeckers go, this one is a bit unusual. For starters, it commonly feeds on the ground, digging in the grass and dirt. Their second favorite thing to peck on seems to be homes, usually up under the eaves or the gable of the house. Often they simply perform their territorial drum--the very rapid jack-hammer--which typically does little damage to a home; it merely startles the homeowner. Occasionally, however, the flicker may find a nice hollow-sounding spot and attempt to excavate a nest hole into the hollow space (e.g., your wall or attic). This pecking sound is slower and more deliberate. At this point some general hazing or application of sheet metal may be in order. But back to the positive qualities of this bird.... It has a wondrous combination of colors and patterns: from the tawny brown and gray head, red mustache (males), a sharp black crescent-shaped chest band, and below a field of pea-sized black spots!
Although first introduced to Oregon in the late 1800s, these populations died out. It wasn't until the 1940s when the westward expansion of eastern U.S. birds reached Oregon, and the 1960s when their populations reached high numbers. It is thought to have contributed to the decline of the Western Bluebird and several other cavity-nesting species in western North America. Nevertheless, the vocal abilities of this bird are impressive. As if forecasting spring, this species begins mimicking spring resident birds one to several months before they typically arrive. For example, imitations of Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewees often begin in February and March, while the birds themselves do not arrive until April or May. One who records bird detections on the basis of sound alone needs to be aware of the ways to distinguish these imitations from the real thing!
These blackbirds are most common in urban areas and most familiar as the birds wandering around parking lots in search of scraps. They may also be found in rural areas near concentrations of livestock and feed. If you put out seed, you may see this species at or under your feeding station. Otherwise, you may see them perched on utility wires or flying over from one location to another. If you have dense hedges in an otherwise open environment you may even have them nesting nearby. Male Brewer's Blackbirds will let you know they are nesting there by diving at your head or back.
Well, okay, it is debatable how "wild" these turkeys are, as they are descendents of introduced birds and keep just far enough away to convince us they are not our pets, but nevertheless, "wild" does seem a bit of a stretch. If you have these birds, you know that even the females are "gobblers" of everything in sight, including but not limited to bird seed, horse feed, cow feed, chicken feed, dog food, cat food, lizards, snakes, earthworms, beetles, garden vegetables, leftover sandwiches, and even cigarettes on occasion. The males (called toms) are impressive, or at least curious to watch as they strut around females or other males. One interesting habit of tom turkeys is their response (in the form of a "gobble") to different noises, such as the slamming of a car door, starting your car, dropping a piece of wood, or laughing out loud.
This is a large and pale nuthatch found especially in stands of medium to large oaks and other hardwoods, and sometimes in stands of larger ponderosa pine. As with chickadees, this species will briefly visit feeders and then dash away to hide its prize in the bark or other crevice or thick moss of a nearby tree. As with other nuthatches, this species has the ability to "walk" up or down or all around the trunk and limbs of trees. When pausing on their way down a tree they assume the classic nuthatch pose, with body vertical and head pointing directly horizontal, perpendicular to the trunk of the tree (the one to the left is traveling down the trunk). Although nuthatches do not have a strongly musical warble like some songbirds, this species does have a song that becomes more common in late winter and early spring. In our area it is a rapidly repeated "tueey-tueey-tueey-tueey-tueey-tueey-tueey-tueey," and is one of the first signs of spring.
Smaller than a chickadee, this relatively plain gray and brown bird is distinctive with its long tail and upside-down habits. Much of the year this species travels in flocks of 5-20 birds, but in spring the flocks break up and pairs find their own way. They make their nest of lichens and moss shaped somewhat like a fat sock with a hold in the side or top. In mid- to late summer, wandering family groups find each other again and the familiar flocks are again formed. If you get a really good look at the eyes of these birds, you can identify the males by their dark eyes and the females by their pale irises. These birds do not attend seed feeders but sometimes swarm on a block of suet! Some yards may only have this species in one or two seasons, but they are present year-round in our area.
Although small numbers remain in most winters, many more arrive in spring and summer. Their "mournful" song, heard beginning in early spring, is characteristic of mid-summer days when not many other birds are singing. These smallest of our Oregon doves are actually medium-sized in the dove family. They are still hunted as a game bird. They enjoy seed scattered on the ground.
This is the smallest of our woodpeckers, similar in length to many of our sparrows. This bird is partial to deciduous trees and so is at home throughout lower elevations of Douglas County, but is scarce to absent in vast expanses of conifer forest. At feeding stations, Downy's are attracted to suet feeders. The Downy's larger relative, the Hairy Woodpecker, is much less common in the central Umpqua Valleys, but up in the vast forested regions of the Coast Range and Cascades, where conifers dominate, their relative abundances are reversed. You can identify young of the year in mid-summer by noting the reddish cap on top of the head (left in photo) versus on the back of the head as on the male (right in photo)
If you live among or near oak trees, you will most likely be visited by this clowny woodpecker. In fact, my experience has been that this woodpecker is chief among feeder visitors, not even giving way to jays or starlings. Acorn Woodpeckers are colonial, so you will most likely have from 3 to 8 or more in the area, and your feeders may occasionally be visited by several at a time. Look closely at the birds that visit your feeder. You can tell the males from females by looking at the sequence of color on the top of the head. Males have a white forehead that directly abuts a red cap that extends to the back of the head. Females have a black band over the top of the head above the eyes, separating the white from the red, reducing the red cap to the back of the head. In summer and fall, one can also distinguish the young of the year from the adults, as the young have brown eyes for several months, rather than the bright white eye of the adults. All colonies have a "granary," which is a tree or trees in which the woodpeckers bore small holes just large enough in which to store acorns (and the larvae that inhabit them) for later foraging. If you follow their travels, you will likely find the granary, often on some dead limbs in the upper part of a tree, or on the bole of a large pine, or occasionally on a utility pole.
The first record of this species in Douglas County came in the early 1980s. Since then they have expanded dramatically throughout western Oregon and are now expanding in eastern Oregon as well. In Douglas County they are now common throughout the lowlands and to some degree up major river valleys into the mountains. Their consistent, loud, and distinctive call makes their presence all the more noticeable. They are a smaller hawk than the Red-tail, having similarities both with buteos and with accipiters, but the striking black-and-white and orange-red plumage of the adult Red-shouldered is impressive.
If you happen to live near a nest of this species, you may see and/or hear one frequently during spring and summer. Otherwise, due to an influx of migratory birds during fall, the species become more common in fall and winter. At that time, on sunny early afternoons, you may see one or more of these hawks flying overhead or soaring higher and higher adjacent to or over a nearby hillside.
Many years ago crows and ravens were not protected by law and were shot frequently near towns and farms; thus, they were once "uncommon." Today, enjoying their protection by state and federal law, and finding all sorts of "leftovers" from careless humans, they have become quite common in both urban and rural areas. While crows do not frequently attend feeders, they do "clean up" after us and they do utilize ornamental plantings of walnuts and other nuts. They are even known to place or drop nuts onto roads where, after being crunched by cars, the crows swoop down and obtain the nutritious contents. Crows are quite smart and will learn when you put out garbage, or feed the outdoor cat, in order to take advantage of these unintentional offerings. Crows can be distinguished from ravens in flight by their relatively even-ended tail.
Ravens, likely due to their large size, seem less comfortable alighting in the city than crows, particularly in areas dense with people or buildings. Rather, they seem more at home in the more open spaces at the edge of town and beyond where they cruise above roads for roadkill and pastures for leftovers. Although you will not likely have one perch in your yard, you will almost certainly see one fly over now and then. If you live anywhere near or north and west of Wildlife Safari--where ravens clean up grain and carcasses given to animals there--you may on occasion, especially in evenings of mid- to late summer, watch a procession of 10s or even several hundred flying overhead toward a roost. Ravens are much larger than crows, but when size is difficult to assess, the wedge-shaped tail of the Raven in flight is a sure identifier of this species.
Perhaps one of the most familiar birds in North America, the robin is famous for its worm-pulling abilities. They do not normally attend feeders, but they are frequently seen in yards where they search the ground for bugs and worms, and in shrubs and trees where they enjoy berries and fruits such as hawthorns, cherries, and plums. In winter they will also forage on ageing apples. Robins frequently nest in residential trees and occasionally on a ledge or lamp of a front or back porch. The song of the robin is beautiful, loud, and melodious and most commonly heard in early spring through summer. In fall, winter, and early spring, robins often occur in large flocks of from 10 to several hundred at sources of berries (fall) and in pastures and fields (winter). Males have blacker heads and deeper brick-orange breasts, whereas females have heads more concolor with their back and wings and lighter breasts.
Once in severe decline in much of western Oregon, this species has rebounded to be common again in many areas. Bluebirds nest in cavities and will readily use nest boxes constructed for them. If you put out nest boxes for them, be sure to make the opening barely large enough for the bluebirds (1.5 inch diameter), but too small for their cavity competitor the European Starling. If you live in town consider yourself lucky if this species visits your yard, but if you live on the edge of town, you more than likely will see this species now and then. Other species that will use these boxes include Violet-green Swallows and House Sparrows. During fall and winter, small flocks of bluebirds can be found foraging on mistletoe berries in oak trees.
This gregarious sparrow arrives in fall and leaves in spring. They spend the summer breeding and nesting in Canada and Alaska. While here they usually travel in flocks of 5 to 30 birds. They sometimes move in waves in and out of nearby brush to forage on nearby open ground. They will occasionally whistle their summer song, but more often emit a variety of squeaks and chinks and laughy little calls. In late winter and spring you may see this bird eating pieces of male catkins, or buds and petals on flowering trees, at which time you may also notice their plumage begin to change from the very plain-headed immature to the more boldly-striped adult.
Some folks only have Golden-crowned Sparrows in their yard, in season, some only White-crowned Sparrows, and some will have both. In general White-crowned Sparrows prefer more open brushy habitats, while Golden-crowned prefer some tree or thicker brush cover near their feeding areas, but these distinctions don't always hold. In any case, it is nice to have both. In some areas, folks have White-crowned Sparrows all winter, while other areas they only appear for a week or two during spring migration. In any case, they are partial to standard bird seed mixes and will utilize platform feeders, but simply prefer to forage on the ground.
While not a common bird in Douglas County, when it is found it is almost always associated with bird feeding stations from late fall through winter and sometimes into early spring. When it occurs with other crowned sparrows, it is most commonly associated with Golden-crowned, the one that prefers the greater amount of dense cover nearby, which the White-throated also prefers. Once learned, the strong "chink" call of the White-throated can alert you to its presence well before it is seen. Some birds, like the one pictured, are bright white on the head stripes and throat, while others, likely females or immatures, can be fairly dull and streaked.
This large, chocolate-brown, spot-breasted sparrow is a lover of dense brush. Thick, deep, blackberry patches are favored, but dense landscape shrubbery will also do. From deep in the shrubbery you will sometimes hear the distinctive call of the Fox Sparrow, reminiscent of the slap or tap of a typewriter (for those of you old enough to remember those). Sometimes in fall, and more often in late winter, on a nice sunny day, the Fox Sparrow will occasionally burst into a jumbled version of its beautiful spring song. Not many will have the habitat required to host this species, but if you feed, it may stop by for a snack. The birds we see here in the lowlands in winter are migrants from Alaska and Canada, and look quite different from the birds that breed high in our mountains in summer.
This dainty chickadee of coniferous and mixed forests wears a gorgeously rich brown vest (on back and sides) that is hard to see when they are high in the trees, but truly stunning when seen up close. This truly is a more dainty chickadee than the black-capped. When held in hand, the Black-capped Chickadee has the strength of a tiny raptor in its feet and "talons" while the legs and feet of the Chestnut-backed are less robust and cause much less discomfort. In summer they are mostly restricted to coniferous and mixed forests, while in winter they wander more widely and may be found in areas with few conifers. Most back yards won't find this species except in winter.
This little bundle of nervous energy will hardly sit still, rarely remaining at a single perch more than a second, flitting from one twig to the next. When foraging they will often hover briefly as they glean insects off the foliage of tree branches and shrubs. It is a tiny bird, mostly greenish-gray with a greenish-yellow patch on its wing. Seen up close the feet are bright orange-yellow, but good luck seeing that! If agitated or excited, the ruby patch for which it was named will be lifted up in display on top of its head. This kinglet will sometimes come to suet feeders. They are absent here in summer, but are present in fall through spring. Spring migrants graciously give us a sample of their wonderful song on their way through.
Creepers are named so because they "creep" along the trunks of trees. Typically they make their way from the bottom of a tree, up, up, up, to a point somewhere midway up the tree, and then they swoop down to the bottom of a nearby tree and begin the process over again. During the non-breeding season they are typically making high-pitched quavery notes and little "seet" notes while they forage. In late winter and early spring they begin their high-pitched beautiful song, which some have translated as "see see up-in-the-tree." Creepers are primarily insect eaters, and so don't attend seed feeders, but as with many other insectivores, they are happy to obtain suet from suet feeders, especially if it is obtainable from their favorite substrate--the bark of a tree.
This beautiful black, yellow and white bird is a wonderful sight during our often dull gray winter days. They typically spend their time foraging high in conifers, especially pine and cedar trees, but will sometimes come lower down to forage in deciduous trees and occasionally even on your lawn! The summer finds these birds breeding in conifer forests from northern Oregon and Idaho north far into Canada and Alaska. If you want to attract this bird into view in your yard, a suet feeder in winter is your best bet.
When I was a boy I called this the "winter robin," because winter is when they would show up, and they looked something like a robin. Although they breed in the coniferous forests in the mountains that surround us, they typically only visit lower elevation yards in fall through winter and spring, and their presence in winter is highly dependent upon current weather conditions. In very mild winters we may not see many Varied Thrushes at all in the lowlands where most people live. However, in cold, freezing winters, and especially when the snow level drops to the valley floor, these mostly ground-foraging birds (once all the fall berries are gone) are forced to low elevations to find open ground. It is then that we have the pleasure of these beautiful visitors. Look closely and you will notice the differences between the more boldly marked males and duller females (as in this photo).
This bird is a dark-blue-and-black rendition of the eastern Blue Jay, with a distinctive black top-notch or crest. As with most jays, the Steller's can be quite loud and aggressive. The Steller's Jay tends to be more associated with conifers, and so disappears during summer in some areas of the lowlands, and only appears again during winter or harder winters. In other areas, however, if you live near coniferous woods, you might have this species year-round. Even so, some falls and winters will bring increased numbers of this species to your neighborhood. These birds have a very wide variety of vocalizations that might be entertaining to listen to, including some imitations, such as of Northern Pygmy-Owl and Red-tailed Hawk. The latter imitation has led my son to refer to the bird as the "blue-tailed hawk." Since Red-shouldered Hawks have increased in our area, the Steller's here now imitate that species as well. So, if you are accustomed to noting the presence of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks by sound, learn to recognize the respectable imitation of this species.
If you have thick brush or a wet area nearby, or especially both, you may see this species. They do not travel in flocks like the Golden-crowned Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows, so one or two individuals, if any, is the norm at most feeders or yards. Their somewhat hoarse "yip" or "yep" call is very distinctive, as is their very melodious song (thus the scientific name Melospiza melodia). This species, and their song, are frequently depicted on bird clocks.
While this is typically not a common bird in yards or feeders, it does show up once in a while. Although the male is the epidemy of a well-named bird, the female throws many people for a loop! It's streaked appearance shouts "sparrow, sparrow, sparrow," all the while it is a mere blackbird, and you will never find the perfect likeness on the sparrow pages of your bird book. Unless you live near a pond, marsh, or wetland, this one will not stay for long; it is probably just moving through.
This is our most abundant and visible warbler during fall, winter, and spring. They are somewhat larger than all our other warblers, and have a habit of flitting about in the open and even flycatching from visible perches on occasion. There are two forms of this species, the "Audubon's" and "Myrtle," which have at times been considered separate species. The most obvious differences are that Audubon's has a more yellow throat and plain head, while Myrtle has a more white throat and a more distinct ear patch, but female and immature plumages can be difficult to distinguish in winter.
While this species is not really very common in backyards, it is nevertheless very distinctive and quickly noticed when it is around. In fact, evidence of its presence is noticeable even when it is not around--by that I mean its sap wells, small pencil-eraser-sized holes drilled in tree bark, often in horizontal or vertical rows. From these wells the sapsucker obtains sap as well as insects that visit the sticky supply. Interestingly, other species of birds find and utilize this source of food as well. Sap wells are made in all types of trees, but most often on those trees, or portions thereof, where the bark is not overly thick. We in Douglas County are in the transition zone of two subspecies of this sapsucker: "ruber" with a deeper, more solidly red head, and small patch of white at the base of the bill, typically breeds from central Douglas County north, while "daggeti" with a somewhat paler red head a pale stripe extending back from the beak under the eye, typically breeds from southern Douglas County and south. Depending on where you live and the time of year, you might see either, or an intergrade.
If you put out food for songbirds, your foraging congregation will eventually attract this or the next species of bird-hunting hawk. The Sharp-shinned is the smallest of the two, with aptly-named very skinny legs and spindly toes. Some male Sharp-shinned Hawks appear similar in body size to an average robin! Females appear about the size of a Mourning Dove or a bit larger. In your yard, Sharp-shins are more apt to take smaller prey such as a House Finch or goldfinch versus a dove or quail. Note that immature accipiters (the genus of the bird hawks) have streaked breasts like the one shown here, while adults have orangish horizontal barring, like the Cooper's Hawk shown below.
As with the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper's is a bird-eating hawk and will appreciate your efforts at baiting their prey. However, this hawk averages about three times the weight of the Sharp-Shinned, and if you see an "accipiter" (the genus of these two species) taking larger prey in your yard, such as doves, quail, or woodpeckers, it is more likely to be this species than the smaller Sharpy. While there is no overlap in size between the species, size is difficult to determine in the field, and they are notoriously difficult to tell apart. Noting a combination of features that point to one species is often necessary to obtain confidence as to the identification. During summer, this is the more likely species to be present in the Valleys, particularly in residential areas.
While not a common bird, and it does not attend feeders, it is nonetheless conspicuous when it is present due to its clear and distinctive call, as well as its habit of perching and feeding around outbuildings. The first record of this species for Douglas County was in 1981. Since then it has expanded to be a fairly common winter resident and uncommon breeder in summer. Most folks will only see this bird near their place in winter, but in a few locations you may find this species nesting in a shed or barn, or under a small bridge over a creek.
This large nocturnal predator can be heard on occasion nearly anywhere in the lowlands of Douglas County, especially in late winter when they are establishing territories and courting. They are most reliably heard at dawn and dusk. This large owl will prey on a wide variety of small to medium-sized animals, including those as large as cats and skunks. They nest on top of large piles of sticks that were once nests of a squirrel or Red-tailed Hawk. The young, in late spring and summer, can give a variety of hair-raising cries and shrieks. Additionally, as seen in the photo, they do not obtain the "horns" characteristic of adults until they have molted out of their downy plumage.
Mostly shy and unassuming, this subtle beauty will be found occasionally, fall through early spring, in areas with tall, dense brush, particularly with a few trees or at a woodland edge. They make a variety of simple calls that can alert one to their presence. To hear their beautiful and ethereal song, one must usually head to the hills and forests at moderate and higher elevations during spring and early summer. Note that the spotted breast is somewhat similar in pattern to the Fox Sparrow, but the spots are not so bold and dark, and the bill is much more slender on this thrush.
Arriving as early as February, males of this species are fiery and feisty defenders of hummingbird feeders throughout the spring. Females arrive on average a week or two later than males. Most males leave once nesting is commenced by the female, so the number of males often declines as summer approaches. If you keep hummingbird feeders and have Anna's Hummingbirds, it may be an interesting study to observe the behaviors of both species as the Rufous arrive. Most Rufous Hummers are gone by the end of September.
While a few of this species hold out for winter, usually among large blackbird flocks in stock yards, the majority arrive in spring and leave in late summer. This species frequents seed feeders and the ground underneath. Cowbirds, while native to North America, are nevertheless more common across the continent now probably due to the widespread raising of livestock. The unfortunate effect is the reduction in young produced by other native species that are not adapted to avoiding this nest parasite. It is a common sight in mid-summer to see young cowbirds following their host parent around--often a Dark-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, Cassin's Vireo, or Western Tanager.
At many peoples' feeders, this gorgeous large-billed finch shows up in late spring and summer, where it feeds on any seeds it can get its beak on, both in the feeders and on the ground. Females and males are quite distinctive, but it is also interesting to observe the different head patterns on the males that may indicate different ages or degrees of maturity---some with more black, some with more orange. Check them out the next time you get several of these at your feeder at once. Or if you are so inclined, take photos or make drawings of ones that come to your feeder, and compare them; you may discover several distinct individuals! Not only is the plumage of this bird wonderful, the song of the male is beautiful as well. It is sweet, rich, melodious, swirling, and bubbling; somewhat similar to an American Robin, but faster with many more warbles and twists.
While this species is present year-round in much of the county, it is decisively more common, and shows up at feeders more regularly, in early spring when some migrants move through the area. The male is most easily distinguished from the more common House Finch by the lack of distinct brown streaking on its breast and sides, and the female by its more distinct striped head pattern. However, if you study the two species for long, you will discover that there is no end to their differences. Both sexes of Purple Finch have a somewhat larger/longer bill. The "red" color of the male Purple Finch is more "purplish" or wine-colored than the red of the male House Finch. The streaks on the female Purple Finch appear more contrasting on the paler, less "dirty" background. For more on distinguishing these species, as well as the Cassin's Finch (rare in Douglas County except in the High Cascades), see this FeederWatch page. In addition to their plumage, all these finches have different calls and songs. While the House Finch song has a lot of extreme swings in pitch and quality (more buzzy parts), the Purple Finch's song is a more consistent musical rolling warble.
Although this species is present year-round in Douglas County, it is noticeably more frequent in yards and feeders in spring and/or summer. This goldfinch is slightly larger, more yellow (versus green/gray of the Lesser Goldfinch) on the back and head, and does not have the hoarse call notes of the Lesser Goldfinch. As with many finches, this bird will utilize many kinds of seed feeders, but prefers thistle feeders. Sunflowers and a variety of weed seeds attract this bird.
Highly variable in number from year to year, the Pine Siskin goes from being quite common one year to completely absent the next, particularly during winter. Often an influx occurs in spring, as often happens with goldfinches. As with goldfinches, the favored food of this species is the thistle seed, though they will sit much of the day in feeders cracking millet seeds as well, which is one reason why they, along with House Finches, are frequently observed with some sort of debilitating disease. Note the conical, but very sharp beak of this small striped finch.
If you live at the edge of town or in the country near some oaks and open hillsides, you may be fortunate to have this beautiful bird grace your feeders. While the male is a bright "lazuli" blue, the female is a relatively non-descript peachy brown and is easily overlooked.
This is Oregon's largest pigeon. For some, an occasional visit by one of these beautiful native pigeons is a treasured experience. For others, the voracious appetites of a dozen or more of these birds cleans out the bird seed in no time, and leaves the feeding station owner wondering what to do. Favorite native food soures of this bird include blue and red elderberries and cascara, but many other foods are utilized. Band-tails utilize mineral-rich waters and deposits most commonly located along rivers and estuaries. Birds typically arrive in April and depart by early October.
While not frequent at bird feeders (smile), if you take a few moments any time from March to September to scan the skies and skylines, you will likely see one or more of these carrion-seekers floating along the hillsides. Their buoyant and rocking (back and forth) flight and dihedral (V-shaped) wing angle makes them discernable at quite a distance. They often roost communally, so if you follow birds in the evening, you may discover a dozen or more in a large dead tree. In mid-summer, once young are flying, you can distinguish them from adults by their perfectly feathered wings and gray head, versus ragged molting wings and red head of the adults. In recent decades one or two individuals have sometimes wintered here in the Umpqua Valleys.
These "fish-hawks" usually arrive in mid-March to claim tree-top or utility-pole-top nesting platforms. Locally they sometimes compete with Canada Geese for these nesting structures when they are adjacent to a river or lake. They are typically not very noisy at the beginning of the nesting season, but as the young grow larger and when they fledge and begin flying farther and farther from the nest, their incessant cries can be heard all over the Umpqua Valleys. If you live anywhere near one of our Umpqua Rivers, or near a reservoir, you will be familiar with this species. They begin to disperse in late summer and are usually gone by early October. As with the Turkey Vultures, occasionally an individual will remain for winter.
Arriving each year faithfully in mid-April, these long-distant migrants find nightly roosts in brick, stone, or concrete chimneys in spring and fall, and nest in such chimneys during late spring and summer. Once nesting and roosting in large hollow trees, the abundance of these structures has decreased dramatically over many decades, and the birds have taken advantage of similar human-made structures. Each one of these flying insectivores consumes thousands of insects each day.
These large flycatchers are uncommon in cities and towns, but are more frequent at town edges and out in the wide open spaces of rural hay fields and pastures. Interestingly, one of their favored locations for nest-building in modern times is in the support brackets between transformers and the utility pole; thus they find "nesting substrate" both in the town and the country. Absent of transformers, their normal substrate for nest-building is the crook of a medium-sized limb often in the middle to upper parts of a tree canopy. They typically perch on and forage from power lines, fences, and fence posts, as well as bare twigs at the top of a tree. They usually arrive in mid-April and are gone by the end of August.
The irridescent colors for which this species was named are only obvious in good light. Absent such light, the birds look somewhat dull blue-gray on top and white below, but with the characteristic white "saddle bags" in flight. They begin arriving in numbers in March and are quite common by April. They nest in cavities, so they will check out nest boxes placed for other birds such as bluebirds, and they commonly look for and find nest cavities in buildings as well as rocky cliffs. In late summer and early fall, when most Tree Swallows have left our area, migrant flocks of Violet-green Swallows sometimes gather in the hundreds or thousands here and there on utility wires, especially in the first half of September. This can be a spectacular sight!
While not often at feeders, these beautiful birds are attracted to berries as well as water baths. Their high-pitched whiney trills are often heard in the trees even when the birds cannot be seen. They can be present year round, but are typically most common in the summer months, especially late May and again August through October.
Although not a yard bird for many, when a male Bullock's Oriole appears, its bright orange color will draw and hold your attention for some time. If they nest in your yard, you will be fascinated with their nest-building process in which they weave together a hanging pouch similar in shape to a thumbless mitten. Horse hair, grass fibers and the like are favorite materials, but old bits of feed sacks and dilapidated tarps will be used if available. When leaves are fallen in autumn, the nest will remain visible until it is eventually blown out of the tree by wind and rain. Some sturdy nests are visible for a second winter. This species has in the past been considered conspecific with the Baltimore Oriole, and together referred to as Northern Oriole. Although not frequent at feeders, they will sometimes visit hummingbird and suet feeders. Early orioles arrive in mid-April, but they become more apparent in our area in May. Numbers decrease during August and they are typically gone by mid-September.
As its name suggests, this swallow nests in barns, sheds, carports, and the like. In fact, nests on natural substrates have not been observed in Oregon except in lava tubes (but you might be the first to find one in western Oregon!). It's nest is essentially half of a "breakfast bowl," made of mud and grass, plastered to the side of a rafter, beam or such. By August, many fledglings and adults, both local and dispersing from elsewhere, become quite common, and if you know their call or can recognize their forked tail (not so pronounced on the young of the year), you will detect them from almost anywhere in the Umpqua Valleys at that time.
When I first saw one of these, among the dark green of a Douglas-fir when I was a teenager, I thought that somehow a bird from the Amazon Rain Forest had found its way here to Douglas County. Well, I was close. These birds winter in southern Mexico and Middle America and migrate north to the mountainous west of the United States and Canada to breed. They arrive in numbers in our area in May, when one might surprise you in a tree in your yard. Many remain to breed in mixed and coniferous woods throughout the county. Less obvious migrants are again more common in mid-August to mid-September. On rare occasion one will winter in our area, at which time they will sometimes visit a suet feeder.
Matthew G. Hunter
Wildlife Ecologist/Birding Guide
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