Saturday, July 11, 2009

What bird is that?... Questions and answers

Question: (June 6) "This bird was sighted in Montesano, Washington. Do you know what kind it is?"

Jennie in Montesano, Washington

Answer: This bird is a Black-headed Grosbeak. If you don't have a field guide that shows multiple plumages, you may have trouble identifying this bird. This bird is a first summer male. It is just barely one year old. It will not attain full adult breeding plumage until April of next year.

Question: (June 7) "Hi Greg,
We live outside of Deming, WA on the what is called the VanZant Dike. We are classified as Foothills with weather forecasts and predictions. There was a small bird that had a nest on the ground in a small tall grassy area right next to one of my raised beds in the garden. I only caught a glimpse of it, but it looked gray and small like a finch. I have lived here for 25 years and have never seen a small bird like that build a nest in the ground here before. Do you know what bird this would be?
P.S. Our puppy being the curious one she is, accidentally stuck her nose in the nest to smell it, before we knew what she was doing, she had smashed the three eggs that were in the nest. It was a sad moment. I had no idea the nest was even there.
Thank you,"

Jan in Deming, Washington

Dark-eyed JuncoAnswer: The Dark-eyed Junco builds its nest on or near the ground. I suspect that it what it is. It will probably build another nest this year as this one has failed (a common occurrence). See In the backyard... Dark-eyed Junco.

Question: (June 11) "Hi Greg,
I appreciate your answers to all "our" questions. In an article a while back, you mentioned that you have to get up early to hear many birds. I get up early...say 3:45 a.m. and go walk the dogs right away. To echo your earlier article, I usually first, hear a song sparrow then the Robins join in (there must be scores singing around Garden Home Park). Every so often, I'll hear a lonesome Mourning Dove but the only other birds I'll hear will be Towhees. In the past few weeks, however, I've been hearing what I'm sure are Violet-Green Swallows en masse twittering all over the neighborhood before even, the Song Sparrows awake. Could this be that Violet Green Swallows are partially nocturnal? It's dark and there are only streetlights and ambient light to give light. They are not flying through the streetlights but are above twittering away. Quite vocal they are: are they keeping in touch through sound? Do they have night vision? and...can they catch insects at this hour in the dark? I know birds migrate overnight but I watch Violet-Green Swallows cavorting all day long while I'm at work in Salem. Do some stay up at night and the others during the day? So many questions....thanks for your input,

PS...when do the warblers start to sing..I never hear any!"

Steve in Garden Home, Oregon

Violet-green Swallow Answer: Yes, Violet-green Swallows can be heard singing at night. In the spring it is not unusual to hear any bird call or sing at night. White-crowned Sparrow, Sora, Killdeer, American Robin, Violet-green Swallow, Common Loon, Yellow-breasted Chat, Ring-necked Pheasant... any of these may be the first bird heard on a Big Day, a crazy birding event starting at midnight and going 24 hours to detect (hear or see) the most birds possible. By June, most birds are feeding young and no longer so enthusiastic about singing to defend their territory or attract a mate. But they will sing periodically through the day, but especially at dawn.

Warblers often sing during migration, April and May, just passing through on their way to their breeding grounds. Once on their breeding grounds they sing regularly. Singing warblers are few in town, they like riparian forest clearings, forest, wetlands, and other places with lots of mosquitoes. Nearby (to Portland) damp forested areas and brushy clear cuts should have Wilson's, MacGillivray's and Orange-crowned warblers. Oak groves will have Black-throated Gray Warblers, as will mixed maple/Douglas-fir woods. If you get above 600 feet you should find Hermit Warblers on up to 3000 feet in Douglas-fir/Western Hemlock, then Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler above that in the true firs. Common Yellowthroats are in the lowland pond blackberry tangles and perhaps Yellow Warblers in willow wetlands.


  1. I live in the Entiat Valley,close to Wenatchee, Wa. Last night this one bird sang all night. I have lived here for 20 years and have never heard a bird sing after sunset.
    Please could you help me identify this bird.He or She was still singing this morning.
    Thank you very much.

  2. Susan,

    Many birds sing all night during spring. Here are some birds in your area that might sing all night: American Robin, White-crowned Sparrow, Swainson's Thrush, Yellow-breasted Chat. Many others are possible.

    1. Thank you so much, you just helped me figure out who my night singer was!

  3. I have a song bird outside right now (Missoula, MT) that has been singing all night. Never heard one do that before. Since I'm a night bird also, it's nice. It's almost light, maybe I'll be able to catch a glimpse of him.

  4. Wow! I love all this information. What birds sing at night in Cheshire, Oregon? We do have swallows & Robins so given previous answers it might be them.
    We also have Huge Ravens, that of course don't sing, but do steal our baby ducks. They are so big you can hear their wings flap. Does anything work to scare them away? They are really smart which makes them hard to fool. They are beautiful birds, but I have come to hate them every spring when baby ducks hatch. Too much land to cover with a net. Never tried a "scare crow" because I'm pretty sure they would just sit on it and laugh.

  5. Hi we recently moved into a house in the hills north of Tacoma (the country) and the past several nights have heard some kind of bird, we think, that sounds like a dog's squeaky toy, for lack of a better description. I've lived within 30 min of here my whole life and have never heard anything like it. Haven't been able to see what it looks like and searching online have not been able to find anything that sounds the same. It sounds like a dog chewing on a squeaky toy at a pretty quick pace. Any ideas?

    1. We have that as well, it's actually a frog!

  6. Dear Greg, I live near Beaverton , Oregon right next to a farm. In the morning and evenings I watch thousands of birds swarm and flock together. They will all fly to a tree and tweet tweet away, and then be silent for a moment and then off they go, almost doing figure eights in the sky. Now that it's almost spring, I am hearing them outside my window at night and wondering what's going on with them? From research I guess it's normal and that they are mating or staking their territory, but can you please help me know what species I get the pleasure of watching fly in such beautiful succession every day? Thank you!!

  7. I found a nest under one of our pine trees, the grass is tall under there, our terrier kept sniffing around there when I looked a saw a small dark bird and a nest with a tiny light blue egg. Could you tell me what it could be. I live in Columbia Falls my it's the end of July. thank you Annette

    1. Annette, Dark-eyed Junco would be my first guess--it nests in just the habitat you describe. Eggs are spotted, though. Next, White-crowned Sparrows with blue-green eggs could fit. House Finches usually don't nest all the way on the ground, but they have blue-green spotted eggs. Those are my first guesses. Robins and bluebirds have blue eggs but nest in cup nest and cavity, respectively, so not those. So many possibilities!