I swore I’d never become a bird watcher, and I still have no desire to travel around tallying up how many yellow-throated whatcha-ma-callits I’ve encountered. But I am interested in identifying the birds that pass through our yard, especially since we have several feeders now. I’m really bad at remembering which birds are which, so that’s why I started this page, which then grew into cataloging all the other animals that we find in our yard.
The birds are grouped and sorted by their taxonomic family.
Accipitridae – Eagles & Hawks
(Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – Dec. 28th, 2019 I was in our backyard admiring the blue sky when a large bird flew over. At first, due to it’s size I thought it was just the normal Turkey Vulture that we see all the time. But then I noticed it’s white head, and realized I had just spotted my first Bald Eagle outside of Alaska, in my own backyard! Audubon says they’re a rare winter visitor to this area, I hope we get a return visit soon.
Red Shouldered Hawk
(Buteo lineatus) – We see these hawks occasionally.
(Buteo jamaicensis) – I spotted this one circling with a group of turkey vultures. (spotted 7/23/2019)
(Elanus leucurus) A rare visitor. (spotted 12/15/2007)
Ardeidae – Egrets & Herons
(Ardea alba) – Great Egrets are seen often in the nearby fields, we rarely see them in our yard when they fly out of the creek or land in the trees on the bank.
Black-crowned Night-Heron(Nycticorax nycticorax) – There are at least a couple of trees in Ferndale where large colonies of these birds nest during the day. We occasionally see them fly over around dusk as they head off for their hunting expeditions.
Great Blue Heron
(Ardea herodias) – I spotted one of these taking off from out of the creek bed. It’s a big bird. (spotted 7/7/2019)
Cardinalidae – Cardinals & Grosbeaks
(Pheucticus melanocephalus) – We see these during the summer as they migrate south for the winter.
(Pheucticus ludovicianus) – This was one really lost bird. Obviously a male, he didn’t stop to ask anyone for directions, and somehow ended up on the western side of the Rockies rather than the eastern where he belongs. He showed up one day at the feeder at the same time we usually see the Black-Headed Gosbeaks. In shape and size he was just like the normal gosbeaks we see, but his coloring was completely different. At first I thought he must be some weird mutation, but after looking it up I found out it’s a related species normally seen on the other side of the country. I hope he found his way back to his southern home.
Cathartidae – Condors & Vultures
(Cathartes aura) – Our backyard used to have several old snags that the vultures loved to use as places to hangout. Those trees have all fallen down, one in particular was destroyed after the vultures exceeded its maximum seating occupancy.
Columbidae – Pigeons & Doves
Eurasian Collared Dove
(Streptopelia decaocto) – My least favorite bird that visits our yard, due to it’s incessant cooing.
Corvidae – Crows & Ravens
(Corvus brachyrhynchos) – Very common.
(Corvus corax) – As their name indicates, they are very common.
(Cyanocitta stelleri) – Lori and I heard a racket out in the backyard and since it wasn’t a bird noise I’d heard here before I was worried that one of the cats had gotten ahold of a bird and I was hearing a plea for help. Going out to investigate, I found a group of Steller Jays up in the trees, a very safe distance from our cats. This was the first time we spotted jays in our yard, and within a few minutes they had taken their noisy conversation elsewhere. I grabbed the camera and lens that was handy and it wouldn’t have been my first choice. Hopefully they’ll return so I can get better pictures. (spotted 7/26/2019)
Fringillidae – Finches
(Haemorhous mexicanus) – We originally thought we were seeing Purple Finches at the feeder, but this photo shows them to be House Finches. The two similar birds can both be seen in our area, so we might have both in our backyard. We’ll have to pay more attention when we see them to be sure.
(Spinus tristis) – Of the two goldfinch species, this is the brighter yellow one. But what makes identifying goldfinches confusing is that there are two closely related species, American and Lesser. In both species, the males are more brightly colored than the females, but they also have brighter plumage in breading season. Outside of breading season they loose their “golden” color.
Lesser Goldfinch(Spinus psaltria) – Similar to above, but here’s a good resource on how to tell them apart.
Hirundinidae – Swallows & Martins
American Cliff Swallow
(Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) – I’ve been trying to photograph the swallows around our house, but they are very quick, erratic, and don’t seem to land. Since they feed on bugs they have no interest in our bird feeder so identification is hard. Even getting them in the frame of the shot is hard. While this shot is pretty blurry, the coloration and lack of a forked tail provide the identification. (spotted 7/19/2019)
(Riparia riparia) – Photographed the at the same time as the Cliff Swallow above, this one appears to have the neck band indicative of the Bank Swallow. I could be wrong on either of these swallow identifications. Until I can manage to get clearer photos it’s only a guess. (spotted 7/19/2019)
(Hirundo rustica) – The barn swallow can be identified by it’s deeply forked tail.
Icteridae – Blackbirds
(Euphagus cyanocephalus) – These birds were never taught to not talk when their mouths are full. This male was chattering with a mouthful of caterpillars that he probably wanted to feed his young but he didn’t want to give away his nest location in my rose arbor. He was later joined by his mate, who had also been busy hunting, and she joined him in voicing their displeasure of my presence in the garden. The males are black with yellow eyes, while the females are dark grey/brown and have black eyes.(spotted 7/1/2019)
(Icterus bullockii) – We mostly notice the males, but with their bright orange plumage, they are more noticeable. The photo of the female is the only time I recall seeing a female. Sorry about the quality, it was way up in the tree. (spotted 7/19/2019)
Odontophoridae – Quail
(Callipepla californica) – We used to see these in our yard, but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen any here. I still see them around the area though.
Passerellidae – Sparrows
Dark-eyed Junco(Junco hyemalis) – A constant year-round visitor to the seed feeder.
Fox Sparrow(Passerella iliaca) – This is one of those brown birds that look like a lot of the other brown birds we see as visitors. Lori and I had both seen these brown visitors feeding on the suet, and we weren’t sure if they were birds we had already noted before or not. Looking at the possibilities, it was tough because the Fox Sparrow is very close to the Hermit Thrush, which we have also seen in the yard. But reading through the descriptions of both, I’m pretty convinced the ones we’ve been seeing lately are Fox Sparrows, based on their behavior. All of our sightings, the birds have only been interested in the suet, not the seed feeder. But more importantly, when they are pecking at the suet, they scratch at it as if they were trying to find bugs under a layer of brush. None of the other birds do that while feeding on the suet, and the description in the bird finder app says that feeding behavior is very characteristic for Fox Sparrows, even describing the exact steps of their little dance.
(Passer domesticus) – It turns out this bird has a very appropriate common name. Lori and I had been trying to identify the little bird who sleeps up in the corner of our front porch every night. He doesn’t have a nest there, he just tucks into the corner under the roof, making it hard to see what he actually looks like. Just as I was planning to set up my camera to remotely shoot him, I saw him in the rose arbor and manage to get some photos and we were able to finally identify him as a house sparrow. Since he’s also one of the few birds that I know is the same bird when we see him, I decided to name him Carlton, as he hangs out by our front door. (Rhoda TV show reference if you don’t get it.)
Watching Carlton, I noticed one night there was another sparrow in the other corner of the porch. I thought maybe Carlton found himself a girlfriend. Then a couple of nights later they were both sitting on the same side together. I thought it was so cute I tried getting another photo setting my D600 to ISO 6400 so I could photograph them by the porch light. This photo came out much better than my first attempt, and after looking at the photo on my monitor I realized we have two females. We’re going to have to come up with a new name for Carlton.
(Melospiza melodia) – These sparrows are the cleanup crew, they love to forage on the ground for seed, insects and spiders, so we have started seeing them at the base of the bird feeder eating the seeds all the rest of birds spill. Nice to know some of that seed is going to good use and not just turning into weeds I need to pull.
(Zonotrichia leucophrys) – Like the Song Sparrows, we see these scavenging around the bird feeder a lot. They seem to prefer the ones dropped on the ground rather than picking them from the feeder. (Spotted 5/8/20)
Pandionidae – Ospreys
Not a common bird in our yard, but we did have one sighting back in 2007.
Paridae – Tits and Chickadees
(Psaltriparus minimus) – Surprisingly considering how common the chickadees are, we rarely see bushtits. The one in the photo was spotted 11/10/22. Maybe had one sighting of them before.
(Poecile atricapillus) – Just slightly less popular than the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. They are at the feeder year-round.
Probably the most common bird we see at the seed feeder. They are here year-round.
Parulidae – Warblers
(Cardellina pusilla) – I had been trying to get photos of the yellow birds frequenting the willow trees in the backyard the last month. I thought they were goldfinches but they wouldn’t come to the feeder like goldfinches do, instead they hid and hopped around the trees making it impossible to photograph them. I finally got this on clear shot of a male, and using Seek to confirm the identity, I was surprised to find out it was a Wilson’s Warbler. They are insectivores, so of course they’re not interested in our feeder. (spotted 8/21/2019)
Picidae – Woodpeckers
(Dryobates pubescens) – Lori first saw a male on one of our fence posts but it flew away before we got a good look at it. She noticed the red on the back of the head, which sounded like a woodpecker to me. But was it a Downy or Hairy? A couple of days later I spotted a female in the willows, and using binoculars I was able to identify it as a Downy. It’s going to be hard to get pictures of these birds. I most often hear them lately, but they’re way up in the trees hidden from view. (spotted 8/12/2019)A week later I was in the backyard and heard the familiar knock of the woodpecker in a willow close to the house. After much searching I finally located him and was able to get a photo of one.
(Colaptes auratus) – We used to see these far more often when the two large Black Cottonwood trees were around. Now they are a rare sighting. After a long absence, we saw a pair of them in July 2019. Hopefully they’re making a return, as their flash of orange when they fly is fun to watch. Hopefully I can get a better picture, a car drove by right after I snapped this first shot as I approached it, and it flew off. (spotted 7/5/2019)
Phasianidae – Pheasants, Partridges, Chickens & Turkeys
(Meleagris gallopavo) – We’ve had groups of these roam through the yard a couple of times. It’s always been hens, never a tom.
Trochilidae – Hummingbirds
(Calypte anna) – These are very common in our yard, especially now that we have a feeder up and they are the only hummingbirds here year-round.
(Selasphorus sasin) – The Allen’s and Rufous are very similar, and both are migratory in our area.
(Selasphorus rufus) – It’s always a pleasant surprise to see these when they migrate through. They’re pretty bossy though and will try to dominate the feeder. While the males are easy to identify due to their orange head, the females look similar to Allen’s.
Tyrannidae – Fly Catchers
(Sayornis nigricans) – Males and females look alike.
(Empidonax difficilis) – Fortunately I had my camera ready the first time I spotted one of these and was able to grab a photo and identify it. I have since seen it once again in the backyard. (spotted 8/11/2019)
Western Wood-Pewee(Contopus sordidulus) – So far I have only spotted this bird once. It was hopping around in the fuchsia outside our bedroom window so I got a good look at it, otherwise I probably would have thought it was a Pacific Slope Flycatcher. (Spotted July 3, 2020)
Turdidae – Thrushes
(Turdus migratorius) – I do believe turdus is an appropriate name for the robin.
(Catharus guttatus) – One of those brown birds that I have to use the Audubon app to identify. (spotted 1/19/2020)