Woodland Birds, Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is covered with a vast rain forest full of woodland birds. These are the songbirds that make a walk anywhere in BC so enjoyable.
My wife and I love getting on our bicycles and heading out one of the back roads looking for woodland birds. The knock knock knock of the woodpeckers or the crazy antics of the american dipper. The way the red-breasted nuthatch will land on a tree trunk, right beside you hanging upside down with his backward claw, looking you right in the eye.
The Black Headed Grosbeak can be viewed visiting feeders and bird baths here on the coast on a regular basis. Black headed grosbeaks are medium-sized songbirds with short, thick bills.
The male with its black head, rusty orange breast, nape, and rump, black back, white patches on its wings which are yellow underneath and the outer tail feathers that are white is easy to identify.
The female, on the other hand, is drab and streaked, but she also has yellow underwing linings. She has a dark crown, a white line above the eye and below the cheek, and two white wing bars on each wing. First-year males are streaked like females but have more orangey underparts.
They nest in open habitat in deciduous woodlands near water, such as river bottoms, lake shores, and swampy places with a combination of trees and shrubs. The female lays up to 4 greenish eggs in a loosely built stick nest lined with rootlets, grasses, and leaves. The nest is placed among the dense foliage of an outer tree limb. Watching them go about the task of caring for their young is fascinating. Both male and female will take on this job.
Black headed grosbeaks breed from Vancouver Island Canada east to western North Dakota and Nebraska and south to mountains of Mexico. They have a rich voice, not unlike a robin but a bit harsher. Black Headed Grosbeaks have very large bills that are perfect for cracking open seeds, they can also use these bills to crack open beetles, bugs or snails and indeed do. During the breeding season, their feed consists of up to 60% insects.
The Chestnut Backed Chickadee is a frequent visitor to our feeders on Vancouver Island and is a joy to interact with. They sometimes look comical when they land on a branch close to you and turn their heads almost upside down all the while calling with the cheep cheep cheep call.
They are very friendly and quite beautiful when observed up close. I have had them land on my shoulders as l fill their feeders, chirping at me loudly as if to tell me to hurry it up. They are a small energetic bird with a chestnut brown back, rump, and flanks. They have white cheeks, a black throat, and gray wings and tails. Their chest and bellies are all white. They have short bills and their average length is 10 cm. Male, female and juvenile chestnut backed chickadees all share the same plumage.
The female chickadee lays 5 to 7 eggs usually white eggs. Some eggs although white, are speckled. Both male and female chickadees tend to their young while nesting. The Chestnut Backed Chickadee build their nests in woodpecker holes or excavate their own cavities in soft rotten wood. They are also known to nest in man-made nest boxes. The nests are built using moss, lichen, fine grass, feathers, and plant fiber, and are lined using soft hair and fur. The nests are usually placed low and do not exceed 2.5 meters above the ground.
Little is known about the mating habits of these chickadees. So far there is no information available regarding their mating behavior or pattern for pair formation. What is known is that chestnut backed chickadees become territorial during the breeding season but otherwise freely join mixed-species flocks, especially in winter. Breeding season starts around mid-March to early April.
Although they are non-migratory they sometimes fly short distances in winter when their food supply gets low. They usually move to lower elevations in the same area when winter starts and move back up to higher elevations in late summer.
Chestnut Backed Chickadees use lots of fur and hair to make their nests. Their nests are actually 50% fur and hair. The most common hair they use comes from deer, rabbits, and coyotes. The adult chickadees also make a layer of fur about a centimeter thick which is used to cover the eggs on the nest whenever they leave the nest. When we brush our dogs in the spring, we place the hair in areas where chickadees and other birds can gather it to use for nesting material.
Woodland birds are heard just as often as they are seen. How many times have you heard a blue jay chattering in a tree without being able to see it, or heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree trunk and when you think you know where it is, you always seem to be wrong? It is no wonder really, the effects of the sound in the forest makes it hard to pinpoint the bird and when you get close, they will often just freeze on the spot so not to be noticed.
Then we have the brown creeper which is a very active bird and one would think it would be easy to see, but this is not the case because its brown plumage allows it to be well hidden when it climbs up trees. Did you know, this bird never climbs down trees but drops off and flutters down like a leaf.
The Steller Jay with its deep blue and black plumage and the shaggy crest is stunning and attractive, but very noisy. Its front part is black and its rear is deep blue.
The dark shade of the front part of its body extends down its back and down its breast and its wings have a faint dark stripe. One distinguishing trait of the Steller Jay is the vertical blue eyebrows present above each eye of the adult bird. The male and female jays look alike.
The steller jay generally likes to build its nests in dense coniferous forests. Both the male and the female birds help to build the cup-like nest from moss, twigs, weeds, and leaves held together with mud. The linings for the nest are normally provided by rootlets, pine needles, and other fine material.
Typically, the female lays up to 5 eggs which she incubates for up to 18 days. Feeding the young is the responsibility of both the male and the female. After 16 days, these young birds leave the nest to find their own food. They begin making short flights as a fledgling,s but after 30 days, they are capable of sustained flights. In spite of this, however, the adult birds continue to provide food for the fledglings for about another month.
Steller Jays form monogamous pair bonds that last for a long time. Once mated, the pair always move around their territory together. They help one another build their nest and while the female is incubating the male bird guards the nest and his partner. Once the eggs are hatched, both the male and female provide the young birds with food. The male bird guides his offspring as they learn how to fly.
They are often seen in parks and picnic areas loudly begging for food and scraps in a loud and raspy voice. Extremely vocal outside of the nesting season, these birds can be so extremely quiet when they are in the process of preying on their young. Intelligent and aggressive, the steller jay is very active at feeders especially those full of peanuts which it caches for later consumption. Their diet is made up of seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, bird eggs, nestlings, invertebrates, suet, small rodents, reptiles, and carrion. Steller jays also eat any leftovers or scraps that humans throw their way.
The steller jay will stash its food all summer long in the crotches of tree branches and then forgets where he put most of it. This is a great benefit to other birds that use these stashes during the Island winter.
Then you have their songs, this is such a wonder to hear, the forest birds are awesome. I could sit in the forest and just drift off into a relaxed meditative state listening to them sing.
A varied and rich bird biodiversity depends on the health of the forest. Tree species must have varying heights, a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees and seed production. Each bird species will find what it needs in the changing forest structure. Some birds will forage among treetops for bugs and spiders, while others will scour the bark of trunks and limbs. Some species forage only in the coniferous trees, while others search for food at lower levels. The various bird species will find suitable nesting sites from the ground up to the very tops of the trees, either in tree cavities or nestled at the base of two branches. The nests can be as incredible as the different birds are.
The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker in North America. They are very common on the south coast.
The Downy Woodpecker is very small, only up to 15 cm long and has black and white plumage. It has a very short pointed bill set on a mostly black head with a white band above and below the eyes. It has a black nape and rump but has white back and undersides. Its black wings have white spots and its black tail also has white outer feathers that are barred with black. The male downy woodpecker is easily distinguished from the female because of the bright red spot found at the rear of its head.
They excavate their own cavities in trees. They are not picky as to what type of tree they use except that the trees are usually partially decayed.
They also do not really mind the location of the tree and are known to excavate trees found in forests, orchards, farms, country homes, towns, and even cities. When excavating holes downy woodpeckers usually start several holes before they make the final choice. The entrance hole is usually found 3.6 m to 9 m above ground. The resulting hole is flask-shaped starting with a narrow entrance hole and short narrow neck at the top widening to around 12 to 15 cm wide at the bottom. The hole is about 20 to 30 cm deep. The male does most of the drilling until it is near completion wherein the female joins in.
Downy woodpeckers like to feed on insects and larvae found on infested trees. They also eat berries and seeds and feed on suet in winter. In winter downy woodpeckers do not cache food and instead spends most of its daylight hours drilling holes in trees to get at the insects that are wintering there.
The Gray jay (whiskey Jacks) is medium sized, gray songbirds with lighter gray bellies. They have a long tail and a short, black bill. The tips of the dark gray tail feathers are white. The head is grayish white with a gray crown and white forehead. The eyes are dark. The short legs and feet are gray.
Juveniles are entirely gray-black with a white mustache mark. The pale bill of the young eventually turns dark like the adult. The coloration of the juveniles helps them to blend in with the forests.
The Gray jay is found primarily in mature, humid, subalpine, spruce forests. They do not generally breed below 750 meters and are most often found from 1000 meters and above to the tree line. Vancouver Island has a very large population of them.
Grey jays are omnivorous, meaning that they eat plants and animals. They feed on fungi, small rodents, eggs, fruit, berries, insects and various vegetable substances. They are attracted to campsites where they steal as much food as possible. They are known by many people as camp robbers. As a young man, I logged all over the Island and the gray jay (also called the whiskey jack) was a visitor every day at lunch and would sit on your hat waiting for you to offer him lunch.
They cache food during the summer and fall, using sticky saliva to paste it in bark crevices and other hidden spots above the height of the eventual snowpack. The Gray jays eat this stored food during the winter when other food sources are scarce. It may be this food storage behavior that allows the Gray jay to survive, on the mountain tops of Vancouver Island, throughout the winter. Gray jays are gregarious and are often found in family groups. They can be very bold and will beg from campers, follow hikers, and go inside cabins to steal food. These jays forage from perches and fly from tree to tree, scanning for food.
Woodlands are very important habitats for our birds, and not only because of the large areas involved. the BC coasts fantastically rich old growth forests support an exciting and distinctive breeding bird population.
Getting out into nature is good for you both physically and mentally, so get on your boots and go for a walk, see what kinds of birds you can spot.