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 the new year. Hence, bird of the day was born.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Killdeer

Charadrius vociferus

Appearance:
Large plover
Large, round head
Short, dark bill
Large eye
Brownish-tan upperparts
White underparts
Two black bands on chest
White collar and forehead
Orange rump, visible in flight

Listen to its call.

I ventured back to the rocks by the marina today to see who was hanging about. Although the sun was out, the wind at the shore was bitter so I didn't last very long. I just managed to snap a few pictures of these birds before my hands turned completely numb.

Word history from the Merriam Webster Student Dictionary:
Killdeers are not vicious birds. They have no special hatred of deer, and they do not eat venison.

Whew ... I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Incidentally, both its common and Latin names come from its distinctive call, "kill-deear". Vociferus means shouting noisily.

Learn more about the Killdeer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

Appearance:
Large wading bird
Tall and thin
Long neck, legs and wings
Greyish-blue back, wings and belly
Gray or reddish S-shaped neck
Shaggy feathers on neck and back
White crown stripe
Black plume from eyes to back of neck
Yellow eyes
Long, thick bill

Listen to its call.

I know this isn't the typical shot you see of a heron but it was just so bizarre I had to post it. Driving down Beach Drive yesterday, I spotted this heron perched in a tree right next to the road.  Another one was in a similar position further down the road. I have no idea what they were doing (possibly taking a rest from fishing?).  While I was watching, one of them extending its neck fully and partly opened its wings as if it was about to take off.  Given its 'movement' afterwards, this seemingly odd behaviour had nothing to do with flight. 
 






Learn more about the Great Blue Heron.

New, more traditional, photo:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Greater Yellowlegs

Tringa melanoleuca

Appearance:
  • Large sandpiper
  • Long, yellow legs
  • Long, dark bill, curved slightly upward
  • Bill paler at base during winter
  • Mottled brownish-gray and white
  • White tail crossed with thin black bars
  • White rump 

Listen to its call.

 I came across a small flock of these birds hanging out on the rocks by the Oak Bay Marina this morning. (For anyone confused by the ambiguity of that statement, I meant the birds were hanging out on the rocks, not me. However, in retrospect, I guess I was doing the same thing. So, either interpretation would be just fine). Back to the birds .... They were bigger than the other shore birds around them but much more wary, being the first to fly away when I got too close. As far as identifying them goes, I found it difficult to determine whether the bill was significantly longer than the head, but given the height of these birds, I'm pretty sure they are the Greater and not the Lesser Yellowlegs.


Learn more about the Greater Yellowlegs.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bushtit

Psaltriparus minimus

Appearance:
Tiny, plain bird
Gray-brown upperparts
Brownish crown
Paler underparts
Long tail
Small bill
Males:  dark eyes
Females: pale eyes

Listen to their song.




This swarm of birds descended upon our feeder earlier today. I say 'swarm' as it was much more bee-like than the usual flocks of birds we see. It reminded me a bit of the Hitchcock movie, although I can't see anyone being frightened of these little guys. They were so small they could almost fit inside the holes in the feeder. Very cute!

Learn more about the Bushtit.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Varied Thrush

Ixoreus naevius


Appearance: 
Large thrush (robin size)
Dark gray upperparts
Orange throat, breast and eyebrows
Black chest band
Orange wing markings
White belly and undertail

Listen to its call.

There are frequently varied thrush in our yard, although never more than one at a time. Whether it is always the same one or not is hard to say. Maybe they're just solitary birds. They certain try to avoid my company. It's taken me ages to get a decent picture of one. I usually see this bird foraging around among the dead leaves or in the garden, where it somehow manages to blend in with its surroundings. It's rather jittery and constantly in motion. So, I was quite pleased yesterday when I managed to take a picture of one in focus. The photo below is a bit blurry, as it was taken on one of my first days with the new camera. Incidentally, I want to let my neighbours know that I've stopped taking pictures like this through your fence.

Learn more about Varied Thrush.       

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus


Appearance:
Female:                                                                       
    Streaky and brown overall
    Dark brown streaks on breast
    Buff throat
    Whitish eyebrow
Male:
    Black overall
    Red and yellow band on wing

Listen to its song.

I photographed these birds earlier this week at Swan Lake. There was a large flock of them crowding around one of the feeders. With only one male among about a dozen females, there was a definite imbalance of the sexes. The male sat in the branches of a tree watching while the females ate their fill. Perhaps he was feeling a bit outnumbered or maybe he was just keeping an eye on his mates. Talk about your polygynous relationships!

Learn more about the Red-winged Blackbird.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus
Red-shafted form

Appearance:
Large woodpecker
Brown back with narrow black bars
Black chest patch
Black spots on belly
Wing rump
Red under wings and tail
Gray face
Brown crown
Red 'moustache' stripe (male)

Listen to its call.

This fellow has been seen in our yard numerous times within recent weeks. He's usually perched on one of our large pine trees, although I've also seen him at our feeder on a couple of occasions. Northern flickers have long barbed tongues to lap up their prey. So, now I know who's been gobbling up the bark butter so quickly.

Learn more about the Northern Flicker.

Additional photos:

female -
 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Canada Goose

Branta canadensis
Appearance:
Black neck, bill and head
White strap under chin
Brown back and wings
Grayish-tan breast

Listen to its call.

Everyone knows the Canada Goose, right?  But did you know that there are actually eleven subspecies, each found in a different geographical location in North America?  The ones we see in western British Columbia are the Vancouver Canada Goose or Branta canadensis fulva.

In my experience, geese can be a bit hostile, so I was a little nervous when this one headed straight for me. Those teeth (or lamellae) on the outside of the bill look pretty sharp. I guess I should be thankful that Canada Geese are herbivores! 

Learn more about the Canada Goose.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Harlequin Duck

Histrionicus histrionicus


Appearance:
Small duck
Short bill
Male:                                                           
    Gray-blue plumage                                   
    Chestnut flanks                                         
    White striped on body and head               
    White at base of bill                                      
    Round, white ear patch
Female:
    Plain brown-gray plumage
    Dark brown head                         
    Two or three white face spots, including ear patch
    White belly with brown speckles

Listen to its call.

With the male's multi-coloured plumage, it is pretty clear where the harlequin duck gets its name. Seen at a distance, the male's bill blends in with his dark face giving his head a triangular appearance.  I've come across these birds numerous times at Cattle Point, if you want to get a closer look.  One interesting thing I've noticed about ducks is that they usually travel in pairs.  Anyone know if all ducks mate for life? I've read that geese are monogomous but there seems to be conflicting views about ducks.  One person noted they "may appear to pair-bond, but there's lots of fooling-around going on in the bushes".

Learn more about the Harlequin Duck.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta

Appearance:
Dark-streaked brown upperparts
Bright yellow underparts
Broad black V on breast
White flanks, streaked with black
Brown-and-white striped crown
Bright yellow line over the eye
Sharply pointed bill
Short, brown tail with white edges
Colours are duller in winter

Listen to its song.

This bird was perched on a bush, surveying a grassy field. It looked like he was standing guard, protecting his territory. I initially thought this was some kind of varied thrush because of its size and shape. However, the coloring was wrong. Although I didn't get a full frontal view of this bird, I'm pretty sure I've identified it correctly.

Learn more about the Western Meadowlark.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Brown Creeper

Certhia americana

Appearance:
Small tree climber
Brown upperparts with light spotting
White underparts
Long, thin bill with downward curve
Long tail

Listen to its song.


















I spotted this bird creeping along the trunk of a large pine tree. It was a bit difficult to see as its coloring blended with the bark. The bird would start at the base of the tree and, using its long tail and sharp little claws, would quickly ascend up the trunk. Once it reached the top, it would literally drop down to the bottom to start over again. Quite a feat since the tree was about 200 feet high.

Learn more about the Brown Creeper.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia atricapilla

Appearance:
Brown-streaked upperparts 
Plain gray face and breast
Yellow crown stripe, flanked by two black stripes*
Brown wings with white wingbars

*In winter, the yellow crown is muted with little or no black.

Listen to its song.

Yes, it's time for another sparrow. I've seen quite a few of these ones around, although none at our feeders yet. Apparently, the golden-crowned sparrow will claim a specific spot at a feeder as its own, which it then uses exclusively. Sort of like calling shotgun I guess.

The photograph on the right was taken at the same time as the white-crown sparrows featured earlier this month. As you can see, it was a bit windy that day.  

Learn more about the Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Regulus calendula

 

Appearance:
Tiny bird
Short tail
Greenish-gray upperparts
Pale yellow underparts
White wing-bar, with black bar behind it
Diffuse, bold white eye-ring
Male's ruby crown seen only during courtship and aggression

Listen to its song.

I photographed this ruby-crowned kinglet as it flitted back and forth to a suet feeder outside the Nature House at Swan Lake.  This has got to be the cutest bird I've ever seen. It was only about ten centimeters long with a round little body and a fluffy yellow tummy. I just wanted to cuddle it.

Learn more about the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

House Finch

Carpodacus mexicanus

Appearance:
Brown streaked back and wings
White underparts with brown streaking
Weakly notched tail
Male:
Red face, throat and rump
Female:
Indistinctly marked face

Listen to its song.

I encountered a flock of these birds while walking home from work today. (Apparently, the proper term for this is a 'development' of finches). Their musical chirping drew them to my attention. Luckily, I've taken to carrying my camera around with me for just such occasions.

Here's an interesting fact for you. The coloring of the male house finch can range from deep red to golden yellow, depending on its diet during molting.

Learn more about the House Finch.

Additional photos:
female

 male


Monday, January 17, 2011

American Wigeon

Anas americana

Male
Appearance:
Blue bill with black tip
White wing-patch
Black rear end, edged with white 

Male:
  • White / cream crown stripe
  • Dark green ear patch
  • Streaked gray lower face and neck
  • Dark brown back 
  • Pinkish-brown breast and flanks 
  • White patch at rear portion of flanks 
  • Black undertail coverts   
Female:
  • Mottled pinkish-brown body
  • Gray head   
female
Listen to its call.

Wigeons, like mallards, are dabbling ducks which feed mainly at the water's surface rather than by diving. That should make it easy to get a good shot, right? Unfortunately, like most days in the last couple of weeks, the weather was cloudy when I photographed this pair and it was raining by the time I left the shore. Luckily, ducks like the rain.  Me?  Not so much.

Learn more about the American Wigeon.

Additional photos:

 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

American Goldfinch

Carduelis tristis

 
Appearance:
Conical bill
Notched tail
Black wings with white wing-bars
Winter: 
   Yellowish-brown
Summer
Male: (photo below) 
    Bright yellow
    Black forehead
Female:
   Duller yellow-green

Listen to its song.



This bird was hanging out at our tube feeder this cloudy afternoon along with the resident chickadees and juncos.

On the subject of feeders, I purchased a new one last weekend. It's just a small log with holes drilled in it. As instructed, I've been filling these holes with bark butter. The birds absolutely love it, especially the woodpeckers. Already I've seen a Downy woodpecker at it a number of times, as well as a northern flicker and a pileated woodpecker. The chickadees and nuthatchers are also frequent visitors. The only problem is the feeder needs to be refilled every day or two to keep up with the demand.

Learn more about the American Goldfinch.

Additional photos:

male -- summer:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus

Appearance:
  • Black hood and neck
  • Black wings and back with white spots
  • White breast and belly
  • Rufus red sides
  • Red eyes

Listen to its song.










Prior to starting this blog, I had never seen one of these birds.  Now, I frequently see them in our yard.  Coincidence?  Probably not. It's likely I just mistook them for robins, given their similar colouring.  I've now learned that the two birds aren't even related, one being a thrush and the other being a .... sparrow.  Oh no, not again.  I really had no idea. Sorry about that folks.

Learn more about the Spotted Towhee.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos
Appearance:
Female:
    Mottled brown
    Purple-blue wing patch
    Orange bill
Male:
    Iridescent green head
    Chestnut-brown breast
    White neck-ring
    Gray sides
    Grayish-brown back and wings
    Purple-blue wing patch
    Yellow bill

Listen to its call.

My choices today were bad pictures of interesting birds, good pictures of not so interesting birds or another variety of sparrow. So, in order to keep my promise and not bore you with more sparrows, I went for a not so interesting, or at least an easily recognizable, bird. 

As this male mallard is in breeding dress, chances are these two birds are searching for a territory / nesting site.  Don't they make a cute couple?

Learn more about the Mallard.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia
Appearance:
  • Reddish-brown crown
  • Gray face with brown streak through eye
  • Brown upperparts with dark streaks on back
  • Brown wings with some rust
  • White underparts with dark streaking and central breast spot
Note: There is considerable variation in the colour of the plumage.

Listen to its song.

Do you ever feel like there are way too many sparrows in this world, or at least on this blog?  I promise this will be my last one for a while, if only because they are so difficult to tell apart. It took me a while to make up my mind on this one. I kept flipping back and forth between the song sparrow and the Lincoln's sparrow. The dark central breast spot in the photo on the right settled it for me, finally. 

Learn more about the song sparrow.

More photos:





Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Downy Woodpecker

Picoides pubescens
Appearance:
Small woodpecker
White and black striped face
Short bill
Red patch on back of head (male)
White under parts
Black upper parts with white bars on wings
White stripe down center of back
 
Listen to its call.


Looking for a bit of protection from the wind, I decided to avoid the water today and check out the woods behind our house instead. I didn't have far to go. This bird was foraging for food just outside our gate. He was climbing around the trees, moving up and down the trunks quickly, as well as on the smaller branches. One of the advantages of his size, no doubt.

And a bit of trivia .... The Downy’s name refers to the soft white feathers of the stripe on its back.

Learn more about the Downy Woodpecker.

female: