Large Land Birds, Pacific Northwest
Walking out in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, you might just get to see the large land birds. These are the Ravens, crows, quails, grouse, and pheasants. These are the large land birds that live on or visit our coast.
There was also a release of mountain quail and they could be seen at higher elevations but there has not been a sighting since the 1990s.
The Pacific Northwest has a very large population of Common Ravens. Their beak is thick and straight with a curved tip, quite large compared to head size, They are up to 65 cm long and can have up to a 120 cm wingspan, similar in size to small hawks. All black bill and plumage may appear glossy or dull, All black coloration does not have any distinctive markings, but the feathers on their chin and throat are longer and shaggy. The tail has a clear wedge shape that is visible in flight. Their diet consists of human trash, bird eggs, insects, small animals, fruit.
The Common raven has a deep voice that sometimes can seem to echo. Their vocabulary is large and includes croaks, knocks, gurgles, whistles, and screams that sound hoarse or raspy, always a joy to listen to them chat.
Believed to be the smartest of the crow family, common ravens will follow predators to scavenge from a kill. When one bird discovers carrion such as road kill or an abandoned kill from other predators, it will call other birds to the corpse to overwhelm potential competitors by sheer numbers of feeding birds. Early fall, 2014, l saw over 100 in an area no bigger than a good sized yard feeding on a deer that had been hit by a vehicle, was an amazing sight.
These birds are acrobatic flyers and can perform long glides, swift turns, rolls and may even fly upside down. They will often soar over highways looking for road kill.
Male and female birds mate for life and work together to build a complex basket or platform nest made from wool, fur, grasses, and other materials, often lined with mud. Pairs raise one brood of up to six nestlings per year. Females incubate the eggs for up to 21 days and the fledgling bird stage lasts around 40 days while both parents feed the young birds. Pairs will reuse the same nesting site year after year.
When I go mushroom picking in the fall I usually attract a Raven who will hang out all day chatting with me, using its huge vocabulary.
Ravens are found in a range of habitats throughout all of Canada and Alaska and in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains south to Mexico and Central America. Small but growing populations are also found in the Appalachian Mountains and northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York. They can be found on all of the coast, on Haida Gwaii and in the Qualicum area on Vancouver Island along with Haida Gwaii, you can see the white raven, these birds are incredible to see, pure white and beautiful. These birds do not migrate.
The sooty grouse is found from British Columbia south to California. The sooty grouse was called the blue grouse until 2006 when the blue grouse was split into two species, the sooty grouse and the dusky grouse. The dusky grouse is found in the Rocky Mountains, from the Southern Yukon and Northern British Columbia, south into northern Arizona and western New Mexico. The sooty grouse is found in bush areas in coastal rain forests, burned areas, mountain forests, and subalpine forest clearings.
In warm months, the sooty grouse eats seeds, berries, and insects. In the winter, the sooty grouse eats conifer needles. Some sooty grouse are short distance migratory and, depending on where the food is, travel to either higher or lower elevations.
With its exotic plumage and long streamertail, there is no denying the aesthetic appeal of the ring-necked pheasant. It is also highly regarded on the table, so it is no surprise that humans should attempt to keep them closer to hand.
The plumage ranges in color from light grey to a reddish brown. The colors are related to their habitat with dark-colored grouse who’s territories are in our old growth island forests and lighter colors on those living in second growth areas, this ability to be different colors in different areas helps camouflage them from predators.
Males have a larger tail with a bigger bar of dark in it than the females. In the spring, the male ruffed grouse makes a drumming sound with his wings, he cups his wings and rapidly beats them against the air to make this sound. This drumming noise is made to attract hens when they are ready for mating and to let other males know that this is his territory. They may have a special log that is hollow that they stand when drumming to amplify the sound, a drumming log.
The ruffed grouse is common throughout most of Canada. It does not migrate and, once established, lives all its life within a few hectares. When startled, it will fly with a distinctive burst of movement and sound.
One time when l lived in the interior, l was moose hunting on an early winter morning, l was walking on top of the snow, slowly, watching for moose when all of a sudden two grouse burst out of the snow right at my feet, snow flying, wings beating with the drumming sound. scared the heck out of me. I had to sit down and laugh after that one.
The ruffed grouse is specially adapted to handle winter weather. Where the snow is deep, soft, and persistent, they will create tunnels under it where they can forage for food, keep warmer and hide from predators.
The ruffed grouse feeds on buds, leaves, and twigs. Catkins and the buds of deciduous trees such as willow, maple, and alders are its staple food on the island.
Spring is mating time. The male Ruffed Grouse can get rather stupid at this time and l have even had them challenge my truck. Hens are attracted by drumming. Both males and females mate with any grouse that presents itself at this time.
In autumn, when the young are almost fully grown, there is another period of relatively intense activity. Males begin to drum again, and young grouse disperse throughout the forest, seeking a place of their own to live. Some may establish themselves on the territories of old birds that have died.
Grouse populations are sparse in some regions and dense in others, for example, the forests around Campbell River are relatively lacking in ruffed grouse but go west to the gold river area and there is an abundance of them.
A native of Asia, the pheasant was first introduced to British Columbia in 1882. There have been many introductions in various parts of the province, with birds coming from England and China. Many of the introductions have failed, and today viable populations are found mainly in the Fraser Valley, Southeastern Vancouver Island up to Campbell River area, the Okanagan Valley, and the Creston and Salmon Arm areas. In some cases, the populations are augmented on a regular basis.
The crows and ravens are my favorite birds, they are, in my opinion, the smartest birds in the avian kingdom. The Northwestern Crow that lives on the Pacific Northwest Coast is an awesome bird to observe. You can see the intelligence in their eyes as they look at you.
The Northwestern Crow is a large black bird with long, solid bills. You can tell them apart from the common raven by their smaller size, slightly rounded tails, and high pitched voices. The northwestern crow is smaller than the closely related American crow and has huskier voices.
They are non-migratory and stay within their breeding ranges. Winter ranges are more or less identical to breeding ranges. Except on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the crows that breed on the little outer islands will move to the larger land areas around local communities and join the crows there, for the winter months, increasing their populations dramatically.
The Story Of Merlin The Crow
In 1987, my wife Georgina and I were doing some spring cleaning in the yard, picking up paper and raking up winter debris, my wife was just reaching down to pick up a piece of pink paper, when it rolled over and gave her a tiny but startling squawk, my wife screamed and fell back onto the ground and called me to come quick and look.
The pink paper turned out to be a just-hatched baby crow that must have been pushed from the nest by an older sibling. It looked so weak and helpless just lying there. My first thought was to get this baby crow back into its nest, but as I looked up at the giant fir tree before me, I realized there was no way to get this hatchling back to its nest.
My next thought was, let’s raise him. So the bird whose name became Merlin was moved into the house and a great and wonderful adventure was started. I had no idea what crows ate in the wild, so l got on the phone and got hold of every organization and bird society that l could think of and asked them what l needed to do to feed and care for this little bird. Most told me it was too young and that l should just let it die.
So Merlin got a nice warm nest area right beside the wood heater where he would be warm at night and he got constant care all day long. We kept Merlin warm at night and got him to eat and over the next few months, he grew into a full grown crow. He lived on a perch in our living room and was very inquisitive about everything. If a person he had not seen before walked in, Merlin would tilt his head from side to side, checking them out and then with a loud caw he would launch himself towards the visitor and with flashing wings would land upon their head for a better look. This came as a great surprise to many of our visitors.
As he was leaving, Merlin flew around our yard a couple of times and then flew off with the other crows cawing away, almost like he was saying goodbye. He visited several times over the next few years, then we moved and l lost contact with him, l hope all is well with Merlin, he was a true friend of mine.