There are a number of reasons why I decided to take on this project. My first reason has to do with my interest in birds. This began shortly after moving to Victoria ten and a half years ago. With our house backing onto a wooded area, the chirping of birds is a familiar sound all year long. I often glance out the window to see birds of all forms in the yard throughout the day. Frequently I will pull out the Birds of Victoria or Birds of North America reference guides we have on hand. Unfortunately, the drawings in the first aren’t overly helpful for identification and the number of entries in the second is overwhelming. My second reason has to do with a photography course I took a number of years ago. Since that time I have been trying to think of a practical reason to buy a new camera. Taking pictures of birds requires a powerful zoom lens which my previous point-and-shoot camera could not accommodate. Perfect! My final reason was my desire to take on a new project to welcome in 2011. Hence, bird of the day was born.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

Large hawk
Brown upperparts
Lighter V-pattern on back
Pale underparts with brown streaks
Dark “belly band” across the abdomen
Broad, rounded wings
Dark bar on underside of wings
Short, wide tail
Short, dark, hooked beak
Juvenile: (above)
   Brown tail above, with dark bars
Adult: (below)
   Reddish tail above, pinkish-white below

Listen to its call.

I required assistance to correctly identify this bird. Apparently, it has a classic buteo silhouette (see below), which ruled out either the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Goshawk, both of which I was considering.

This bird was perched in a tree by King's Pond today when a group of crows decided they didn't want it there. It was a relatively small bird of prey and probably fairly young by the look of it. The crows started dive-bombing it, trying to knock it from the branch. I guess it knew it was outnumbered because it didn't even put up a fight. It just flew off, made a couple of circles over the area and went on its way.

Learn more about the Red-tailed Hawk.

Additional photos -- Adult Red-tailed Hawk:


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Northern Pintail

Anas acuta

Medium-sized dabbling duck
Long, thin neck
Pointed tail
Bronze-green speculum with black band
     Brown head
     White neck and underparts
     White stripe up neck
     Gray sides and back
     Long, black tail
     Black rear end bordered by yellowish-tan
     Black bill with bluish-gray stripes
     Gray legs
     Mottled buff-brown
     White belly
     Gray bill
     Bluish-gray legs

Listen to its call.

    Esquimalt Lagoon was teeming with these ducks yesterday. The number of males appeared to significantly outweigh the females, or maybe they were just more conspicuous. As usual, the males were far more striking than the females who looked much like all the other females around them. Ever wondered why this is? The females are plainer to aid with camouflage when roosting or feeding the young. I guess that makes sense but it would be nice to see a few more distinguishing characteristics. It would make identification so much easier.

    Learn more about the Northern Pintail.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Common Goldeneye

    Bucephala clangula

    Medium-sized diving duck
    White flanks, breast and belly
    White patches on secondaries
    Yellow eyes
    • Black head, back, wings and tail
    • Round white patch on face below eye
    • White scapulars with black striping
    • Black bill
    • Chocolate brown head
    • Gray back, wings and tail
    • Yellow tip on black bill 

    Listen to its call.

    Continuing with my quest to learn more about ducks, I braved the frigid wind at Esquimalt Lagoon this morning. The area, which is a migratory bird sanctuary, was chockablock with ducks, geese, swans, gulls and herons. Had the weather been more favorable, I would happily have spent the day there. As it was, I only managed about twenty minutes before retreating to the warmth of the car. A small number of these ducks were scattered here and there. When I first saw the immature male (below), I thought it was a female with a bit of white froth from the ocean at the base of its bill. I realized my error when I noticed that the white patch was on both sides of its face. Once I finally located a female, the bill was a dead give-away that my earlier assumption had been incorrect. 
    young male
    Learn more about the Common Goldeneye.

    Additional photos:

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Green-winged Teal

    Anas crecca

    Very small dabbling duck
    White-edged green patch in wings
    Whitish belly
        Chestnut head
        Green ear patch
        Dark bill
        Gray flanks and back
        Buff chest with dark spotting
        White stripe on side of chest
        Buff outer undertail coverts
        Black central undertail coverts
    Female: (below)  
        Mottled, light brown plumage
        White breast spotted with brown
        Strong eyeline
        Gray bill

    Listen to its call.

    Recently, I've become aware that my duck knowledge was sadly lacking. Although Mallards far outweight the others (both in number and size), I am amazed at the variety of ducks I've seen in the local ponds lately. They differ significantly in size, as well as colour. This one is positively tiny. I felt sorry for him, jostling for a position to receive a hand-out today. The larger ducks bullied him terribly, pushing him, chasing him and even nipping at his tail feathers. No wonder they usually stay out in the middle of the pond when I see them at Rithet's Bog, probably to avoid being intimidated by their oversized tormentors. 

    Size difference: 
    Green-winged Teal (front) /Mallard (back) 

    Learn more about the Green-winged Teal.

    Additional photos:

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Trumpeter Swan

    Cygnus buccinator

    Huge waterfowl
    Long neck
    Short legs
    Heavy, wedge-shaped bill
        All white plumage
        All black bill
        Black legs and feet
        Gray plumage
        Gray-black bill
        Yellowish-gray legs and feet

    Listen to its call.

    Given that adult swans are typically glaringly white, I was a bit confused by the colouring of these ones I saw on the Saanich Peninsula. Although their bodies were pure white, the plumage of the heads and necks of these birds had a brownish-orange tinge. I have discovered that this staining is caused by feeding in areas with high iron content in the water.  Isn't that always the problem when you wear white?!

    Learn more about the Trumpeter Swan.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Slate-coloured Junco

    Subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco

    Junco hyemalis hyemalis

    Medium-sized sparrow
    Dark gray head, back and sides
    White belly and outer tail features
    Short, stout, pink bill

    Listen to its call.

    Technically, I probably should have just updated my earlier posting of the Oregon Junco, as this bird is another form of the Dark-eyed Junco. However, seeing as it was too snowy to find many birds out there today, I decided that this bird was different enough to deserve its own entry. After all, the two forms are quite different in appearance. I didn't even recognize today's bird of the day as the same species as the earlier one until I had searched my reference books multiple times. It had me totally stumped.  See for yourself.
    "Slate-coloured Junco"
    "Oregon Junco"

    Learn more about the Dark-eyed Junco. 

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Eurasian Wigeon

    Anas penelope
    Medium-sized duck
    Small blue-gray bill with black tip
    • Rusty head
    • Buff crown stripe
    • Mostly gray body
    • White belly
    • Black rear end
    • White patch on wing    

    • Brown head
    • Mottled gray-brown or rusty-brown body
    • White patch on wing

    Listen to its call.

    These birds, originally from Siberia, were with a flock of their American cousins in Beacon Hill Park. While the males are distinct, the females of the two species looked quite similar. I'm not sure if this is a picture of a female Eurasian Wigeon or not but she seemed to be paired up with the male above. Also, the head of this female was browner than the heads of the other females around her, further evidence to suggest she was of a different species. And finally, she didn't seem to mind the snow this afternoon at all, leading me to conclude that she definitely wasn't from around here.

    Learn more about the Eurasian Wigeon.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Bald Eagle

    Haliaeetus leucocephalus

    Large bird of prey
    Brown body
    White head and tail
    Large, yellow, hooked beak
    Yellow eyes and feet
    Dark brown and white, mottled
    White in wings in linings,
         not in flight feathers
    Blackish-gray bill
    Dark eyes
    Yellow feet and lower legs

    Listen to its call.

    Taking advantage of the sunny weather on the weekend, I was wandering around Swan Lake when I saw this bird in pursuit of a gull. After much swooping and squawking, the eagle gave up chase and retired to the top of a tall pine where he remained perched for some time, surveying the areaI know it's natural for birds of prey to kill other birds for food but, I'm not ashamed to say, I was definitely rooting for the gull.

    Learn more about the Bald Eagle.

    Additional photos --
    Bald Eagle's nest -- Victoria Golf Course
    Beacon Hill Park


    Immature Bald Eagle:

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Anna's Hummingbird

    Calypte anna

    Medium-sized hummingbird
    Straight, slender bill
    Iridescent bronzy green back
    Green flanks
    Pale grey chest and belly
    Dark tail
    Red crown and throat
    Green crown
    Some red spots on throat

    Listen to its call.

    I've always thought of hummingbirds as being in constant motion. These tiny birds never seem to stop hovering, even when taking a drink from a feeder ... or so I thought.  It wasn't until recently that I've noticed them perched in trees, chirping away. At first I thought this was a way for them to conserve energy in the winter months only. (Imagine the amount of energy require to flap those wings 40 or 50 times per second!) However, I've since read that hummingbirds spend about 85-90% of their time sitting, digesting their food. 
    In this picture, the crown and gorget look black. Apparently, when the mood suits it, this bird is able to 'turn on' its red coloring by aiming a beam of light from its iridescent feathers.

    Learn more about the Anna's Hummingbird.

    Additional photos:

    immature female

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Pileated Woodpecker

    Dryocopus pileatus
    Very large woodpecker
    Mostly black
    Red crest
    White stripe on neck
    White under wings
    Forehead and moustache 
        > red (male) / black (female)

    Listen to its call.







    When I awoke at 7:45 this morning, I was a little disappointed. I had wanted to join the Saturday morning bird walk but would never make it for the 8:00 start time. Instead, I lay in bed for a while longer before getting up to start my day. As I was brushing my teeth, I glanced out the bathroom window and saw this bird on a large pine tree just outside. I quickly grabbed my camera, which is always at the ready, and began to snap pictures. Soon it was joined by its mate and the two of them took turns chipping away at the bark of the tree between visits to our log feeder. As I watched, other birds began arriving at the feeders. Within twenty minutes, I had seen three woodpeckers (two Pileated and one Downy), three Spotted Towhees, one Bewick’s Wren, one Varied Thrush, a few sparrows of different varieties, three or four finches, the regular Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Oregon Juncos, and, of course, two squirrels and a rabbit. I know what you’re thinking but, no, I didn’t see a partridge out there (or a pear tree either for that matter). Anyway, who needs to get up early to hunt for birds when I’ve got such a parade right outside my window. You've got to love Victoria!

    Learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Tundra Swan

    Cygnus columbianus

    Small swan
    White plumage
    Black bill with yellow patch at base
    Black legs

    Listen to its call.

    Following the advice of the Victoria Natural History Society's rare bird alert, I drove down Island View Road this afternoon in search of geese and swans. Sure enough, there was a large wedge* of swans in a field precisely where they were reported to have been seen earlier this week. Amongst the group, I noticed these two with a yellow patch in front of their eyes. I feel a bit guilty about taking the easy way out today but I did get to see some new birds. 

    *Normally, people refer to a group of swans as a flock, which was what I was going to write. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the correct name for a group of swans is a wedge.

    Learn more about the Tundra Swan.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Brewer's Blackbird

    Euphagus cyanocephalus

    Long tail
    Round head
    Sharply pointed beak
    Males :
        Glossy black all over
        Iridescent head
        Yellowish-white eyes
        Dull gray-brown
        Dark eyes

    Listen to its call.

    A couple of questions came to mind when I found out the name of this bird. First, who is Brewer? Second, why is it called cyanocephalus when its head is black and not blue? And finally, why would anyone bake four-and-twenty blackbirds in a pie? I managed to find the answers to the first two questions. First, Audubon named this bird after his friend and fellow ornithologist, Thomas Brewer. Second, the male's head has a bluish-purple sheen to it in sunlight. Finally, although my last question remains unanswered, it reminded me of something very odd (and rather disturbing) I saw years ago at a market in southern France. Let's just say that baking whole birds in pastry isn't just something you read about in nursery rhymes and leave it at that.  No need for all of us to lose our appetites.

    Learn more about the Brewer's Blackbird.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011


    Bucephala albeola

    Small diving duck
    Small gray bill
    • White 'scarf' around black head
    • Black back and neck
    • White breast, belly and flanks
    • Inner wing white / outer wing black
    • Brown head and upperparts
    • Grayish-white underparts
    • White ear-spot and wing-patch

    Listen to its call.

    My bird watching today took me to King's Pond near Cedar Hill Golf Course. A large number of ducks of various types greeted me upon my arrival. They are obviously fed by visitors quite frequently. Every time a car pulled up, the ducks would rush over in expectation of a snack. A couple of times, I feared I would be flattened by stampeding waterfowl. In the end, I escaped unscathed except for a suspicious looking substance on my jeans (again).  Although the picture of the female was taken a few weeks ago near the Oak Bay Marina, I took the photo of the male today at the pond.

    Learn more about the Bufflehead.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Fox Sparrow

    Passerella iliaca

    • Large sparrow
    • Dark brown upperparts
    • Pale underparts, heavily marked by dark triangular spots
    • Two-tone bill - upper dark, lower yellow
    Listen to its call. I frequently see these birds scratching away at fallen leaves or under bushes, foraging for food. You'd think they were the size of a fox by the racket they make. Obviously they don't get their name from being sneaky or sly. However, their constant movement makes them tricky to photograph.

    This is the sooty variety of Fox Sparrow. There are three other sub-species, each occupying a different geographical region. Here's an interesting fact for you. The Fox Sparrow gets its name from the rufous-red plumage of the Eastern variety, which is the same colour as a fox.

    Learn more about the Fox Sparrow.