Open Field Birds, Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest has many types of birds and the ones who frequent the open fields and forest edges are simply amazing to watch. There are over 500 different kinds of birds that live or visit the Coast and many of these are Open Field Birds. Take a walk at the forest’s edge and see for yourself.
Take a walk along our many rivers and lakes and you will the open field birds, stroll along our beaches and you will see them, hike our mountain trails and you will find them in the open spaces. These are the songbirds of the open fields. Their songs will keep you entranced as you walk along.
Introduced to the Bahamas in about 1974, this species made it on its own to Florida about 1980 and spread across the North American continent. The first Oregon record was in 1998 and first Washington state record was in 2000. They are now common on the extreme south coast of the Pacific Northwest. We have had a pair of return to our feeders for the last 4 years. They arrive in late April and stay until the fall, they come to our feeders almost daily.
Like mourning doves, the Eurasian collared dove likes agricultural areas and can be found in residential and urban area feeders. Often they seem to choose nest sites in dense conifers in yards in small communities on the edge of agricultural areas.
They frequently perch on telephone wires, looking like mourning doves bulked up on steroids. They produce a loud, unique coo coo coo that sounds just like an owl hooting. I have grown to really like these sweet birds, they are so beautiful. Their call is so haunting and melodious.
Male displays by flying almost straight up, then they will glide down in spiral motion with his wing and tail feathers fully spread out, calling in a deep harsh voice as they glide back down. They will also call softly to them while bowing his head repeatedly. After pairing up, the male will show the female several potential nest sites with her choosing the one. They will build the nest in a tree about 3 to 15 meters up out of sticks and twigs, the male gathers the nesting material while the female constructs the nest. These are the little birds, the open field birds, birds like the robins and doves, the flycatchers and sparrows, the hummingbirds and swallows, to them the open fields offer a variety of habitats.
Logging slash to farmers fields gives open field birds a great place to breed and live. We have natural open spaces, places like river banks and open meadows, swamps and hillside bluffs, these too have a variety of birds the rely on this type of habitat.
To each of them, these environments are a special place. Each has its own living conditions and each has its own type of wild birds that use it.
The Common Redpoll is a fairly small bird that is usually found in open subarctic coniferous forest and scrub during the breeding season. In winter it favors open forest, overgrown fields, and urban areas.
It generally avoids deep forest areas and migrates in an irregular pattern, migrating only every few years during the winter months, possibly because food is scarce in their normal wintering grounds. Although they usually winter in lower parts of Canada, they have been known to travel as far away as Europe and Asia. Some years they can be seen all over the south coast.
This little bird is up to 14 cm in length and has a wingspan of up to 22 cm. They weigh only about 20 grams and have highly variable plumage characteristics. Generally speaking, the common redpoll is a small finch with a small, conical shaped yellow bill. It has a black chin, red forehead. Males may have a pink to deep rose wash across their chest. Females do not have this pink coloration. I think they are beautiful with their red foreheads, yellow beaks, and Charlie Chaplin mustache.
The common redpoll feeds on a variety of small seeds such as birch, willow, alder, grasses, and weeds. They generally feed on small branches, using their feet to hold the food down while they pick it off with their beaks. They also have food pouches which they can use to temporarily store seeds, allowing them to gorge themselves quickly before they fly away to a safer spot to enjoy their food at leisure. The common redpoll has also been known to frequent bird feeders. During the winters they are here, they certainly visit ours on a regular basis.
Their nests are made of fine twigs, rootlets, and grasses which they weave together into a cup-like shape. They may use feathers or animal hair to line the nest which is usually found in a small tree or shrub. The female may lay up to 6 spotted eggs that hatch a few weeks later. Once they have lost their down feathers, the immature Common Redpoll resembles the adult birds.
The Savannah Sparrow is a very pretty little bird with a short notched tail. The head seems small for its fat body, and the crown feathers often flare up to give the bird a small crown. The thick bill is small for a sparrow. Savannah sparrows are brown above and white below, with sharp streaks over most of its body, except its belly. Their upper parts are brown with black streaks, and the underparts are white with thin dark brown streaks on the breast and flanks. Look for a small yellow stripe on the face over the eye.
Savannah sparrows eat seeds on or near the ground, alone or in small flocks, they are constant visitors to our feeders on Vancouver Island.
When startled, they usually fly up, flare their short tails, and circle around to land some yards away. In spring and summer, males sing while sitting on low perches on fences and trees.
These sparrows breed in open areas with low vegetation, we see them in the yellow grass, running in groups, you see one and as you look at it you realize that there are many of them.
The male sings to defend his territory and to attract a mate. Polygyny is common in many populations, but many are also monogamous. If both members of a pair survive, they are likely to pair up again in the following year. The female builds the nest on the ground, usually in a depression and well hidden in thick grass or under matted down plants. Overhanging vegetation can act as a tunnel, giving the nest a side entrance.
The nest itself is an open cup made of coarse grass and lined with finer grass. The female incubates up to 5 eggs for up to 13 days. Both adults care for and feed the young, which leave the nest at by 12 days of age. The fledglings run short distances, but can’t fly well for another week or so. The parents continue to feed and tend the young until they are about three weeks old.
The starling is a very common sight over most of North America. They were imported to New York in 1890 and spread across the continent from there. The starling song is quite complex, including a series of whistling notes, chatter and a clear “wolf” whistle. Starlings belong to the family of birds which includes vocal mimics known as myna birds. These birds are adept at exploiting urban, suburban and agricultural settings. They are one of only a few birds that tolerate areas of high human density and disturbance.
Starlings have wide-ranging food tolerances though they prefer insects. Spring flocks of starlings often descend on lawns much to the dismay of homeowners who feel they are doing damage when in fact, they are consuming insect pests and doing the homeowners a big favor.
Male and female starlings look similar. Both are glossy black with purplish and greenish iridescence on the head, back, and breast. The juvenile Starling has a grayish brown plumage. Starlings molt their feathers in the fall. The new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird a speckled appearance. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.
Starling beaks are yellow during the spring breeding season. By fall the beak becomes brown, and it remains brown through winter. Their beaks are short and are designed to open with force, different from other birds who have stronger muscles to close down their beaks. The strong opening beak is an adaptation for probing in the soil for insects and worms, pushing rocks and soil out of the way.
Starlings are monogamous; they court and mate in the early spring. Most of the spring and summer is spent by paired birds in nesting and raising young. Up to 8 eggs are laid in each clutch. Adults can lay 3 broods a year. The young fledge between two and three weeks of age.
The American Robin can be found throughout North America. Male robins have a dark gray to almost black back and tail with a rusty red colored breast. The female is paler all over. The juvenile robins have a spotted breast. Robins can live up to five years.
Only the male robin sings, but both sexes have calls and alarm notes. You typically hear the robin in the spring first thing in the morning and last thing before dark. When l hear them in the new year, it is a sure sign that warm weather is almost here.
Robins can be found feeding on open lawns and gardens with mature bushes and trees. They eat a variety of insects and berries, and they can eat up to 4 meters of earthworms in a day. Robins find earthworms by cocking their head to the side and looking for them, they have monocular vision, which means their eyes are on the sides of the head, and each eye can be used independently. They don’t hear the earthworms but instead use their eyes to see them. You will find robins in your yard after a rain, after the sprinkler has been on, early morning in the dew or even after the lawn has been mowed, as this brings out the worms and insects.
Robins will lay 3 to 4 eggs and the female will incubate them for up to 14 days. Both parents guard the nest against danger. The babies are fully feathered in about 10 days and leave the nest by 16 days of age.
Most of these birds are known as the songbirds. These birds make up over half the species that live on or visit our coast and make a walk along any trail a real treat. A forest wouldn’t be the same without these birds. What pleasure it brings to see a redwing blackbird sitting in a tree singing its heart out or a collared dove, first thing in the morning, sounding like an owl hooting.
What would a forest meadow be like without the sounds of birds like the robin that makes sweet melodies or the Pacific wren that can be heard throughout the year singing all day long?