Lets look at raptors today! Bald eagle or Golden eagle? The real hard question happens when we see immature Bald eagles, because they don’t have the obvious white heads. But, there are a few easy tips to distinguish the Bald eagle from the golden eagle: 1) The golden eagle is mostly brown. 2) When the golden eagle does have white, its at the base of its tail or on its wrists. 3) Immature bald eagles always have white armpits, regardless of how white the other parts of its plumage are. Another note, This is a west-coast centric raptor post. The Red-shouldered hawks, especially the juveniles, look different than the east coast variety. If you are curious what any of these look like compared to a Red-tailed hawk, check out this blog post.
West Coast hummingbirds typically come in two flavors: Rufous and Anna’s. Anna’s Hummingbirds are year round breeders and can be found in neighborhoods at hummingbird feeders in from B.C. to Baja. Rufous Hummingbirds are migrants that spend their winters in Mexico and fly all the way up to Alaska to breed. If they beat the flowers blooming, they will furiously guard sapsucker wells!
We have three falcons that grace us with their presence west of the Cascade Range. The most common is also the smallest – the American Kestrel. They can be found anywhere there is a powerline and a field. Merlins will only visit us in the Winter and love eating our songbirds. Look for them perched high on top of trees. And our third but most notorious falcon is the Peregrine. They nest in cities under bridges and on buildings and love eating pigeons When it is shorebird migration, look for them cruising mudflats in search of delicious peeps. Looking for more raptor guides? Check out my extensive Red-Tailed Hawk ID Guide, or my Cooper’s Vs Sharp Shin guide.
When you are ready to venture to your local wet spot, be it a pond or wetland, expect to see some of these guys there. Great blue Herons, and Great Egrets especially. Also, listen hard for a metallic rattle, and that’s a kingfisher calling as it flies from perch to perch. Wetlands offer lots of different feeding opportunities, from little fishes, to aquatic insects as well as flying ones. This biodiversity is very attractive to swallows and other migratory birds as well.
Another great set of migrants has arrived, and now its time to figure out how to identify them! Swallows and swifts can be tricky in flight, but these tips should help you ID them in the field. Trickiest, perhaps, is distinguishing between the violet-green swallow and the Tree Swallow. The main thing to look at on these birds is where the white is. On the violet-green, white goes above the eye, and goes very high up the back on the flanks just behind the wings. Looking for more ID guides on migrant birds? Check my west coast warbler guide.
Yellow throats, Tanagers and Grosbeaks all are very welcome and fairly common spring migrants. Cedar waxwings… they are here all the time, but I didn’t know where else to slot them in. Black phoebes are increasing their range yearly and spreading north and east, starting from California and the Oregon Coast. Lastly, look for olive-sided flycatchers on conspicuous snags and perches where they will return after catching a big insect. They say quick three beers, and are probably one of the easiest flycatchers to identify (besides the phoebe). For more warblers check my last post about common wood warblers.
Male blackbirds in good light are pretty easy to identify. This guide should help you with ID all of our most common blackbirds in Oregon and Washington. If you are in California, Grackles are something to lookout for. Good news, They are huge! The tricky blackbirds are the females, especially the female red-winged blackbird. Check my sparrow infographics to compare and make your ID life easier.
Our west coast finches are easy to confuse. In this little guide, I tried to put the similar male and female species together so you can scan back and forth to see the differences. The hardest birds for me were the American vs Lesser goldfinch females. I think looking at the wing bars vs that little white dot below the primaries on the Lesser goldfinch is really helpful there. Also, the Purple and House finch are difficult to tell apart as well without a bit of careful study.