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Bird Feature: Purple Finch

Bird Feature: Purple Finch

Identifying Purple Finches:

These small stocky-bodied finches have large powerful conical beaks, shorter wings, and a seemingly short notched tail. Roughly 5 to 6 inches in length, these streaky grayish-brown finches are dimorphous, meaning male and female birds have different coloration. Male Purple Finches are a delicate dusky pink-red on the head and breast, mixing with brown on the back and cloudy white on the belly. Female Purple Finches have no pink or red coloration anywhere on the body. Instead, they are coarsely streaked on their undersides and have strong facial markings including a whitish eye band and a chunkier dark brown line down the side of the throat. Coloring can vary from bird to bird as the red of the male's coloring comes from pigments contained in its food during molt. This means the more pigment in the food, the more vibrant the male's coloration.

Top perch: breeding female Purple Finch. Bottom perch: breeding male Purple Finch. 

Attracting Purple Finches to Your Feeder:

Purple Finches eat mainly tree seeds such as those from coniferous trees and elms, tulip poplars, and maples, among others. They also eat soft buds, nectar (consumed by biting the bases off flowers versus inserting their beak into the flower like hummingbirds), and a wide variety of berries and fruit, including blackberries, honeysuckle, crabapples, juniper berries, cherries, and apricots. In winter Purple Finches can be seen eating seeds of weeds like dandelions, ragweed, and cocklebur. Including some or all of these plants in your landscaping when possible can help to attract these birds to your yard. These birds also eat some insects, including aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and beetles, so try to limit the use of broad-spectrum pesticides when possible to help increase these natural foodsources. 

As with most birds, Purple Finches will readily come to feeders filled with black oil sunflower seed. As is typical for finches, these birds are very social and are often found in large groups. To maximize bird viewing, consider placing feeders with a large number of feeding ports like a tall tube feeder, or wide open feeding access like a tray feeder

Nesting:

Purple Finch nests are often built far out on the limb of a coniferous tree or, in the southern portion of its breeding range, in deciduous trees such as cherries, oaks, and maples. An occasional nest may also be found in shrubs or among vine tangles. Nests are often build under an overhanging branch or structure for additional shelter and can be found as low as 2.5 feet and up to 60 feet off the ground. The female does most if not all of the nest construction using twigs, stick, or even root pieces as a foundation with an inner cup structure lined with softer animal hair and fine grasses. When completed, the nest will be approximately 7 inches wide and 4 inches tall. 

A typical clutch size can range from 2-7 eggs. Eggs are approximately 0.7-0.9 inches long, 0.5 inches wide, and are a very pale greenish-blue to white with fine dark speckles. Incubation period is typically around 12 days and hatchlings are ready to fledge in approximately 14 days in the nest. 

Distinguishing between a House Finch and Purple Finch:

Although these two finch species are similar in appearance they can be distinguished quite easily in the field. Both male and female house finches sport a more slender body with a longer tail sporting a shallower notch. The male House Finch's bold coloring is more of a red-orange limited to the face and chest area while the male Purple Finch is a rosier, pink-red coloring that extends past the face and down the back. The female House Finch have a more blurred streaking pattern in the brown and tan feathers on their flanks and also a plainer face. In comparison, the female Purple Finch is coarsely streaked below and has a pronounced darker brown line down the side of the throat and a whitish eyebrow. 

When identifying between similar species it is also important to note the location and time of year. While these two species do have territory overlap, Purple Finches are typically only found in the United States during non-breeding months with the exception of the Western cost and most northeastern states whereas the House Finch is found throughout most of the United States year-round. 

male purple finch and male house finch

Left: breeding male Purple Finch. Right: breeding male House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

female purple finch and female house finch

Left: female/immature Purple Finch. Right: female/immature House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Leave a comment to share with us your Purple Finch stories!

 

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Bird Feature: Northern Cardinal

Bird Feature: Northern Cardinal

Identifying Northern Cardinals:

This fairly large songbird is easily identifiable with its long tail, short thick bright orange beak, prominent crest, and long tail. Measuring between 8.3 and 9.1 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9.8 to 12.2 inches, the Northern Cardinal is a species with sexual dimorphism meaning the male and female have very distinct coloration. Male cardinals are a brilliant red all over with a black accent on its face directly around the bill. 

Female Northern Cardinal (above left) / Male Northern Cardinal (above right).

Attracting Northern Cardinals to Your Feeder:

The Northern Cardinal's diet consists of seeds and fruit, supplementing these with insects when available. These birds can easily be attracted to a variety of feeder types and they can also frequently be found feeding on the ground, usually in pairs, below feeders as well. Black oil sunflower and safflower are seeds commonly fed to attract these birds. 

Some common fruits and seeds that these birds eat that can be added to your landscape include dogwood, sedges, mulberry, hackberry, blackberry, sumac, and tulip-tree. Insects they feed on include certain beetles, crickets, katydids, leafhoppers, cicadas, flies, centipedes, and spiders so it is important to limit or avoid the use of pesticides in your landscape whenever possible. 

  

Nesting:

Nests are often found 1 to 15 feet off the ground in  a tree, shrub, or vine tangle, tucked into a fork of smaller branches hidden in the denser parts of the foliage. The breeding pair will often begin visiting potential nest sites one to two weeks before they start building. When the time comes, the female constructs the nest with the male sometimes contributing by bringing her materials which she builds into a cup consisting of four layers. The base layer consists of coarse twigs which is covered in a leafy mat, followed by grapevine bark, and finally topped off with a layer of grasses, stems, or pine needles. The finished nest is typically 4 inches across and 2-3 inches tall with an inner depression with a diameter of 3 inches.

Eggs are 0.9-1.1 inches in length, 0.7-0.8 inches in width, and are grayish to greenish white with pale gray to brown speckling. Clutches typically consist of 2-5 eggs and will hatch after an 11-13 day incubation period. Hatchlings will usually remain in the nest for an additional two weeks before fledging. While Northern Cardinals may have 1-2 broods per year, each nest is used only once. 

Northern Cardinal nest with hatchling

 Above: Northern Cardinal hatchlings in a nest located in a honeysuckle vine
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Backyard bird identification guide

Backyard bird identification guide

Whether you’re a beginning birder or a seasoned expert, identifying the birds who visit your backyard can sometimes be a challenge. This quick guide-at-a-glance can help you identify the most common backyard birds. Then, take a deep dive into each one to learn more about their distinctive features, how to attract them, how they nest, and more!

 

Jump to section

Northern Cardinal
Blue Jay
Eastern Bluebird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Mourning Dove
American Goldfinch
House Finch
Downy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pileated Woodpecker
Tree Swallow

 

Northern Cardinal

This fairly large songbird is easily identifiable with its long tail, short thick bright orange beak, prominent crest, and long tail. Measuring between 8.3 and 9.1 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9.8 to 12.2 inches, the Northern Cardinal is a species with sexual dimorphism meaning the male and female have very distinct coloration. Male cardinals are a brilliant red all over with a black accent on its face directly around the bill.

Female Northern Cardinal (above left) / Male Northern Cardinal (above right).

Click here to learn more about the Northern Cardinal.

Blue Jay

A large-crested songbird with broad, rounded tail, Blue Jays measure on average 9-12 inches from bill to tail with a wingspan of 13-17 inches (smaller than crows and larger than robins). With a white or light gray underneath, various shades of blue above, and a bold black "necklace", the Blue Jay is aptly named and can bring a wonderfully vivid pop of color to your feeders. Its tail and wings are barred with black, and it has a bold white wing bar (a distinct field mark on the top of a bird's wing caused by contrasting colors on the tips of the primary and secondary coverts).

blue jay

Click here to learn more about the Blue Jay.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebirds are small, beautifully colored thrushes. Averaging between 6-8 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9-12 inches (slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than robins), these blue beauties are fairly easy to identify.  They can often be seen perched in a somewhat "hunched" position on wires or fences in fields and open woodlands. The adult male bluebird has a vibrant blue back, head, and tail that are hard to miss, especially during breeding season. A rust colored accent across the throat and breast above the white belly clearly distinguish the Eastern Bluebird from its Mountain Bluebird relative. Female markings mimic those of the male but in more subdued hues - their "blue" can often look more like a shade of grey.

 eastern bluebirds

Top: Male. Bottom: Female.

Click here to learn more about the Eastern Bluebird.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Beating their wings on average 53 times per second, these quick little birds are a bright emerald green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct ruby red patch on their throat. The shade of red and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with the feathers sometimes appearing very dark until catching the light.

male ruby throated hummingbird female ruby throated hummingbird

Left: male. Right: female.

Click here to learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

These quick little birds are a dull metallic green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct black patch on their throat. The shape and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with a thin iridescent purple strip at the base, sometimes unnoticeable until catching the light.

male black chinned hummingbird female black chinned hummingbird

Left: male . Right: female. [Photo credits to: Joan Gellatly | Flickr & ©Marky Mutchler | Macaulay Library]

Click here to learn more about the Black-chinned Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

At just under 4 inches in length, Anna's hummingbirds are small in comparison to other birds but in the hummingbird realm they are medium-sized and somewhat stocky. Mostly pale gray on the underside with an iridescent emerald green back, tail, and wings (sometimes also extended around the abdomen), the Anna's hummingbird is distinguishable from the Rufous hummingbird because it lacks any orange or rust-colored markings. While sometimes appearing a dull brown without direct sunlight, the male's face and throat are covered with brilliantly colored fuchsia feathers.

annas hummingbird annas hummingbirds at hummingbird feeder

Left: male. Right: females.

Click here to learn more about the Anna’s Hummingbird.

Baltimore Oriole

Slightly smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore Orioles range from 6.7 to 7.5 inches in length and feature long legs, a thick neck, and long pointed bills. Adult male Baltimore Orioles have black feathers on their head and wings, bright orange tell-tale plumage on their chest and underside, and a single solid white bar on each wing. Females and immature males are a more muted yellow-orange with grayish shading on the head, and gray wings with two white bars on each wing. 

Female Baltimore Oriole on jelly feeder Male Baltimore Oriole on nectar feeder

Above left: A female Baltimore Oriole on a specialized jelly and orange feeder.

Above right: A male Baltimore Oriole on a specialized feeder offering nectar, jelly, and oranges.

Click here to learn more about the Baltimore Oriole.

Red-winged Blackbird

Roughly the same size as robins, breeding male Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty hard to mistake. Average length beak to tail ranges from 7-9 inches with a wingspan of 12-16 inches. True to their name, these stocky, broad-shouldered blackbirds have bold red and yellow shoulder patches on either side. The females look much different with a streaked brown and tan pattern. Nonbreeding male Red-winged black birds' pattern looks somewhat like a marriage of the two: paler, often incomplete red shoulder patches with some tan streaking showing through the black.

   

Left: Breeding male. Middle: Female. Right: Nonbreeding male.

Click here to learn more about Red-winged Blackbirds.

Mourning Dove

Plump-bodied and long-tailed birds with short legs, Mourning doves range from 9-13.5 inches from beak to tail with a wingspan of around 17.5 inches. These birds have a small bill, short reddish colored legs, and a head that looks small in comparison to the body. Their coloration is typically light grey and brown and generally muted in color with a dusting of larger black spots on their lower wings.

Click here to learn more about the Mourning Dove.

American Goldfinch

This small finch has a short conical bill and a short, notched tail. American Goldfinches are typically 4.5"-5" in length with a wingspan of roughly 7.5"-8.5". During early spring and summer months, breeding males have a vibrant yellow body with a black forehead and black wings with white markings above and beneath the tail. Adult females share the same color pattern but in much more dull tones that may appear more olive or tan in color.

During winter months, these birds are drab, solid olive or light brown with blackish wings and two pale wing bars. In fact, the American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. Spotting a male Goldfinch with brightening yellow feathers in early spring is one of the welcome signs of approaching warmer months!

Left: Male. Right: Female.

Click here to learn more about the American Goldfinch.

House Finch

These small bodied finches have large beaks, shorter wings, and a comparably long slightly notched tail. Roughly 5 to 5.5 inches in length, these streaky grayish-brown finches are dimorphous, with the males distinctly marked by rosy red coloring around the face and upper breast. Coloring can vary from bird to bird as the red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt. This means the more pigment in the food, the redder the male.

house finches

Pictured: Male and female.

Distinguishing between a House Finch and Purple Finch:

Although these two finch species are similar in appearance they can be distinguished quite easily in the field. Both male and female house finches sport a more slender body with a longer tail sporting a shallower notch. The male House Finch's bold coloring is more of a red-orange limited to the face and chest area while the male Purple Finch is a rosier, pink-red coloring that extends past the face and down the back. The female House Finch have a more blurred streaking pattern in the brown and tan feathers on their flanks and also a plainer face. In comparison, the female Purple Finch is coarsely streaked below and has a pronounced darker brown line down the side of the throat and a whitish eyebrow. 

When identifying between similar species it is also important to note the location and time of year. While these two species do have territory overlap, Purple Finches are typically only found in the United States during non-breeding months with the exception of the Western cost and most northeastern states whereas the House Finch is found throughout most of the United States year-round. 

male purple finch and male house finch

Left: breeding male Purple Finch. Right: breeding male House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

female purple finch and female house finch

Left: female/immature Purple Finch. Right: female/immature House Finch. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Click here to learn more about the House Finch.

Downy Woodpecker

Ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 inches in length and featuring a straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, and wide shoulders, the Downy Woodpecker is a small version of the standard woodpecker build. Compared to other woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker's bill is significantly smaller in relation to its head, however it is still a forceful tool for extracting insects from trees. Sporting a black and white checkered appearance, both males and females have a white underside, black upper wing and checkered lower wings with a boldly striped face and white stripe down the center of the back. The center of the tail is black, outlined by white border feathers that are typically lightly speckled with black spots. Males are easily differentiated by a bold red patch on the back of their heads.

female downy woodpecker on a tree male downy woodpecker on a tree

Left: Female Downy Woodpecker. Right: Male Downy Woodpecker

Distinguishing between a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpeckers are roughly two-thirds the size of Hairy Woodpeckers. Since this can be fairly hard to establish in the field, some birders use their feeders as indicator of size and scale. Another establishing feature of the Downy Woodpecker are distinguishable black bars on the white tail feathers in contrast to the all white side tail feathers of the Hairy Woodpecker. If the bird's bill is visible, the major difference in bill size. The Downy’s bill is roughly one-third the length of the bird’s head, while the Hairy’s bill is almost as long as the its head - a railroad spike in comparison. An additional, less reliable distinguishing feature is that the male Hairy Woodpecker's red patch is often split in two, while the Downy’s is not.

Hairy and Downy Woodpecker comparison image

Left: Hairy Woodpecker. Right: Downy Woodpecker. Illustrations from the book "A Field Guide to the birds" by Roger Tory Peterson.

Click here to learn more about the Downy Woodpecker.

Black-capped Chickadee

This tiny bird has a short neck and a large head, giving it a distinctive round body shape. Chickadees measure 4.5-6 inches from beak to tail on average with a wingspan of 6-8 inches. With a gray back and white belly, these birds have a very distinct black cap and "beard" accented by white cheeks, helping make them fairly easy to identify.

Click here to learn more about the Black-capped Chickadee.

Tufted Titmouse

This small songbird has soft silvery gray feathers above and white feathers below. A black patch just above the beak and a rusty or peach-colored wash underneath the wings are helpful identifiers. Tufted Titmice are roughly 5.5"-6.3" from beak tip to tail with a wingspan of 7.9"-10.2". These birds are regular visitors to bird feeders, and can be a treat to watch, the tuft of feathers at the front of its head communicating much of its emotions and "attitude".

Click here to learn more about the Tufted Titmouse.

White-breasted Nuthatch

The largest of the nuthatches, the White-breasted nuthatch is still a small bird averaging 5" to 5.5" in length with a wingspan ranging from 8"-10.5". With gray-blue coloring on the back, a white face, and white underparts this bird features a very short tail. Typical of most nuthatches, the White-breasted nuthatch has a large head and almost no neck. Its long, narrow bill is straight or sometimes slightly upturned. Males feature a black cap that runs from the beak down the back of the neck (on females this cap is dark gray). Most commonly found in woods and woodland edges of deciduous forests, these agile birds can often be seen creeping along tree trunks and large branches, often turned sideways and upside-down on vertical surfaces as they forage.

Click here to learn more about the White-breasted Nuthatch.

Pileated Woodpecker

This large woodpecker has a long neck, a distinctive triangular red crest that sweeps off the back of the head, and a long chisel-like bill. Average length from beak to tail ranges from 16-19 inches and the wingspan can be as large as 26-29 inches. Both male and female have black bodies with white stripes on the face and neck. Males can be distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek.

Pictured: Male

Click here to learn more about the Pileated Woodpecker.

Tree Swallow

These small, streamlined songbirds have a short slightly notched tail and long pointed wings. Measuring between 4.7 and 5.9 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 11.8 to 13.8 inches, these iridescent passerine are known for their aerial displays while foraging insects midair. Adult males have white undersides cloaked with shimmering blue-green feathers on their head and back with blackish wings and tail and a thin black eye mask. Females appearance varies only in the intensity of blue, with their feathers being somewhat duller at times with more brown feathers in their upperparts.

Click here to learn more about the Tree Swallow.

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Bird Feature: Tree Swallow

Bird Feature: Tree Swallow

Identifying Tree Swallows:

These small, streamlined songbirds have a short slightly notched tail and long pointed wings. Measuring between 4.7 and 5.9 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 11.8 to 13.8 inches, these iridescent passerine are known for their aerial displays while foraging insects midair. Adult males have white undersides cloaked with shimmering blue-green feathers on their head and back with blackish wings and tail and a thin black eye mask. Females appearance varies only in the intensity of blue, with their feathers being somewhat duller at times with more brown feathers in their upperparts. 

Tree swallows typically reside in fields, shorelines, wooded swamps, or marshes. They prefer to live near bodies of water that can produce a larger number of the flying insects that are the birds' diet. These birds will often be spotted in open spaces displaying their aerial acrobatic prowess as they chase insect prey in the air and will sometimes converge in larger numbers in an insect swarm. If you have ever been mowing the lawn and seen a group of birds appear continuously swooping down around there is a high probability this was a group of tree swallows gorging on the insects the mower was kicking up!

Attracting Tree Swallows:

The tree swallow's diet consists mainly of aerial insects such as damselflies, mayflies, months, beetles, and flies. Although they may eat some plant foods during inclement weather if prey is scarce, tree swallows are not birds that will be found at a feeder. To attract tree swallows to your yard, avoid spraying pesticides as these will deplete the birds' natural food source. Birders located in the typical breeding range (the northern half of the continental US, almost all of Alaska, and the southern two-thirds of Canada) can have success attracting tree swallows to their yard by erecting nest boxes. More information on selecting a location and mounting a nest box, see our blog.

Above: A pair of tree swallows bringing insects to their young in a Nature's Way Bluebird Box House w/ Viewing Window (Model# CWH4)

Nesting:

These birds are highly social and pairs will often nest close together if nest boxes are numerous. Tree swallows are cavity nesters, meaning they will nest in the natural cavities in dead trees and also nest boxes. The female constructs majority of the nest, taking roughly two weeks to complete the build. Nests are comprised almost entirely of grasses, but may also include pine needles, animal hair, or aquatic plants. Tree swallow nests are distinguishable from the nest of bluebirds who will also use these houses by the tidy lining of the nest cup with feathers. 

Tree swallow eggs are roughly 0.7 inches in length and 0.5 inches in width, are a very pale pink the first few days after being laid, and turn pure white by day 4. A typical clutch size ranges from 4 to 7 eggs depending on the location, time of year, and brood. Eggs will be incubated for 11 to 20 days and the hatchlings will spend another 15 to 25 days before fledging the nest. There may be up to two broods in a nesting season. 

female tree swallow sitting on nest

Leave a comment to share with us your Tree Swallow stories!

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Bird Feature: Allen's Hummingbird

Bird Feature: Allen's Hummingbird

Identifying Allen's Hummingbirds:

Allen's hummingbirds are rust orange and green all over. Adult males have a rust colored tail, eye patch and belly with a deep red-orange throat. Immature males and females have similar coloring with only small spots of iridescent bronze on their throats.

male allens hummingbird female allens hummingbird

Left: male. Right: female.

Similar Species:

Both Allen's hummingbirds and Rufous hummingbirds share many of the same physical characteristics and can be extremely hard to distinguish in the field, even by experienced birders. The only true way to decipher between these species is by subtle differences in the shape of their tail feathers. In the Allen's hummingbirds, all tail feathers are narrower than their Rufous counterpart. The Rufous hummingbird has a subtle but distinct notch at the top of the R2 feather (second from center). 

Where Allen's Hummingbirds Live:

When the earliest signs of spring begin to show, as early as January, Allen's hummingbirds make their appearance in their breeding grounds along the western coast of California and Oregon. Males can be found in open areas of coastal scrub where they can be seen perched conspicuously keeping a close watch on their territory. The females visit these areas to find a mate but will retreat into the forest or thickets to build her nest and raise the young. There are two subspecies of Allen's hummingbirds; one which stays in California year-round and a second which migrates to Mexico during the winter months. These two subspecies are not distinguishable in the field. 

What Hummingbirds Eat:

Allen's hummingbirds feed on nectar from tubular flowers and insects which they catch during flight or may even pull from spider webs or plants. Hummingbirds will also readily consume artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. Nectar can be made using a ratio of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. The use of dye or food coloring in artificial nectar is not necessary for attracting hummingbirds to a feeder and is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of these tiny birds.

How to Attract Allen's Hummingbirds to Your Feeder:

Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may help attract more
hummingbirds to your feeder. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season. Feeders with built in perches can help these tiny birds conserve energy and feel more comfortable feeding, prolonging feeding times and increasing hummingbird viewing. 

allens hummingbird at hummingbird feeder

Nesting:

Constructed from plant down from willows and plants in the sunflower family and held together using spiderweb strands, female Allen's hummingbirds build their nests anywhere from 2 to 50 feet off the ground. Nests are usually located on a branch near shady streams. Small strands of grass are woven together to form an outer layer which is camouflaged with pieces of lichen and moss. 

A clutch size is typically 2-3 eggs that are roughly 0.3 inches wide and 0.5 inches in length. The tiny eggs are white and weigh less than half a gram. Eggs hatch in 17 to 22 days and will fledge the nest after an additional 22 to 25 days. There can be 1 to 3 broods per year depending on weather and location.

Related Articles:

Are you ready for hummingbird season?

Common hummingbird feeders and solutions

Homemade hummingbird nectar recipe

Read more →

Bird Feature: Black-chinned Hummingbird

Bird Feature: Black-chinned Hummingbird

Identifying Black-chinned Hummingbirds:

These quick little birds are a dull metallic green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct black patch on their throat. The shape and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with a thin iridescent purple strip at the base, sometimes unnoticeable until catching the light.

male black chinned hummingbird female black chinned hummingbird

Left: male . Right: female. [Photo credits to: Joan Gellatly | Flickr & ©Marky Mutchler | Macaulay Library]

Where Black-chinned Hummingbirds Live:

These hummingbirds inhabit the Western United States during breeding season. They can be found in Texas, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and West to the Pacific Coast. They have even been found to travel as far North as the southern part of British Columbia. After the breeding season, some adults will first move to higher altitude mountain habitats where flowers are still abundant because making the long migration south to winter in western Mexico.

What Hummingbirds Eat:

Black-chinned hummingbirds feed on nectar from tubular flowers and insects which they catch during flight or may even pull from spider webs or plants. Hummingbirds will also readily consume artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. Nectar can be made using a ratio of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. The use of dye or food coloring in artificial nectar is not necessary for attracting hummingbirds to a feeder and is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of these tiny birds.

How to Attract Black-chinned Hummingbirds to Your Feeder:

Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may help attract more
hummingbirds to your feeder. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season. Feeders with built in perches can help these tiny birds conserve energy and feel more comfortable feeding, prolonging feeding times and increasing hummingbird viewing.

black chinned hummingbird at hummingbird feeder

Product shown: Mason Jar Hummingbird Feeder (Model# MJF1)

Nesting:

Most nests are typically located between 6 to 12 feet above the ground on an exposed horizontal branch well below the canopy. Roughly the size of a large thimble (1 inch deep and 2 inches wide), the female builds the nest out of soft down held together with strands of spider silk and cocoon fibers. Nests in cooler areas will typically have thicker walls than those found in warmer climates.

A clutch size is typically 2 eggs that are roughly 0.3 inches wide and 0.5 inches in length. The tiny eggs are white and weigh less than half a gram. Eggs hatch in 12 to 16 days and will fledge the nest after an additional 21 days. Black-chinned hummingbirds can have between 1 to 3 broods per season depending on the weather and breeding location.

Related Articles:

Are you ready for hummingbird season?

Common hummingbird feeders and solutions

Homemade hummingbird nectar recipe

Read more →

Bird Feature: Anna's Hummingbird

Bird Feature: Anna's Hummingbird

Identifying Anna's Hummingbirds:

At just under 4 inches in length, Anna's hummingbirds are small in comparison to other birds but in the hummingbird realm they are medium-sized and somewhat stocky. Mostly pale gray on the underside with an iridescent emerald green back, tail, and wings (sometimes also extended around the abdomen), the Anna's hummingbird is distinguishable from the Rufous hummingbird because it lacks any orange or rust-colored markings. While sometimes appearing a dull brown without direct sunlight, the male's face and throat are covered with brilliantly colored fuchsia feathers.

annas hummingbird annas hummingbirds at hummingbird feeder

Left: male. Right: females.

Where Anna's Hummingbirds Live:

These dazzling jewels can be found year-round along the western coast of the US and into Arizona. Occasionally Anna's hummingbirds can be seen in parts of New Mexico in winter months and in rare occasions they can be sighted north along the very coastal western strip of Canada.

What Hummingbirds Eat:

Anna's hummingbirds feed on nectar from tubular flowers, insects which they catch during flight or may even pull from spider webs, and sometimes tree sap. Hummingbirds will also readily consume artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. Nectar can be made using a ratio of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. The use of dye or food coloring in artificial nectar is not necessary for attracting hummingbirds to a feeder and is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of these tiny birds.

How to Attract Anna's Hummingbirds to Your Feeder:

Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may help attract more
hummingbirds to your feeder. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season. Feeders with built in perches can help these tiny birds conserve energy and feel more comfortable feeding, prolonging feeding times and increasing hummingbird viewing.

anna's hummingbirds feeding from the Nature's Way Vintage Blossom Decorative Glass Hummingbird Feeder

Product shown: Vintage Blossom Decorative Glass Hummingbird Feeder (Model# DGHF3)

Nesting:

Nests are typically built on a horizontal branch of a tree or shrub between 6-20 feet off the ground close to a nectar source. Roughly the size of a large thimble (1 inch deep and 1.5 inches wide), the female constructs the nest over the course of roughly a week using plant down held together with strands of spider silk and camouflages the exterior of the nest with lichen or moss. 

A typical clutch contains 2 eggs that are roughly 0.3 inches wide and 0.5 inches in length. The tiny eggs are white and weigh less than half a gram. Eggs hatch in about 16 days and will fledge the nest after an additional 20 days. Anna's hummingbirds will typically have 2-3 broods per year.

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Bird Feature: Rufous Hummingbird

Bird Feature: Rufous Hummingbird

Identifying Rufous Hummingbirds:

These small hummingbirds are roughly 2.8-3.5 inches in length and have fairly straight bills and short wings that don't reach the end of the tapered tail when perched. Male Rufous hummingbirds are fiery orange in good light with a bright iridescent red throat. Females are green on their backs with rust colored feathers on their flanks, tail, and often a small patch of orange on the throat as well. Both male and female Rufous hummingbirds are aggressive and can typically be found performing aerial launches to chase off any other hummingbirds that appear, even in areas where they're spending only a short amount of time passing through for migration.

male rufous hummingbird female rufous hummingbird

Left: male. Right: female.

Similar Species:

Both Allen's hummingbirds and Rufous hummingbirds share many of the same physical characteristics and can be extremely hard to distinguish in the field, even by experienced birders. The only true way to decipher between these species is by subtle differences in the shape of their tail feathers. In the Allen's hummingbirds, all tail feathers are narrower than their Rufous counterpart. The Rufous hummingbird has a subtle but distinct notch at the top of the R2 feather (second from center). 

Where Rufous Hummingbirds Live:

During summer breeding season this particular species of hummingbird resides mainly in the Pacific Northwest into the Southwestern strip of Canada in open or shrubby areas of forest openings, yards, and parks, and can also sometimes be found in thickets, swamps, and meadows ranging from sea level to about 6,000 feet. When in their wintering grounds in Mexico, these hummingbirds are found between 7,500 to 10,000 feet elevation in shrubby areas and thorn forests. These birds can also often be found in the Southwestern portion of the United States on their migratory path to Mexico although only for a short period of time while passing through.

What Hummingbirds Eat:

Rufous hummingbirds feed on nectar from tubular flowers and insects which they catch during flight or may even pull from spider webs or plants. Hummingbirds will also readily consume artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. Nectar can be made using a ratio of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. The use of dye or food coloring in artificial nectar is not necessary for attracting hummingbirds to a feeder and is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of these tiny birds.

How to Attract Rufous  Hummingbirds to Your Feeder:

Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may help attract more
hummingbirds to your feeder. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season. Feeders with built in perches can help these tiny birds conserve energy and feel more comfortable feeding, prolonging feeding times and increasing hummingbird viewing. 

Nesting:

Wasting no time, female Rufous hummingbirds begin constructing their nests within 3 days of arriving at the breeding grounds. Nests are typically located in large deciduous or coniferous trees roughly 30 feet in the air. Roughly the size of a large thimble (1 inch deep and 2 inches wide), the female builds the nest out of soft down held together with strands of spider silk and sometimes pine resin and camouflages the exterior of the nest with lichen or moss. 

A typical clutch size is typically 2-3 eggs that are roughly 0.3 inches wide and 0.5 inches in length. The tiny eggs are white and weigh less than half a gram. Eggs hatch in 15 to 17 days and will fledge the nest after an additional 15 to 19 days.

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Bird Feature: Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Bird Feature: Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Identifying Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds:

Beating their wings on average 53 times per second, these quick little birds are a bright emerald green on the back of the head down to the tail. While both male and female have a grey-white underside, only the males have a very distinct ruby red patch on their throat. The shade of red and size of the patch can vary from bird to bird, with the feathers sometimes appearing very dark until catching the light.

male ruby throated hummingbird female ruby throated hummingbird
Left: male. Right: female.

Where Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds Live:

This particular species of hummingbird lives in forest edges, meadows, grasslands, open woodlands, and in gardens, parks, and backyards. During the summer months of breeding season these birds can be found across the Eastern half of the United States and the southern portion of Canada. This is the only species of hummingbird found in the Eastern United States. Despite their small stature, most of these little birds make the amazing trek all the way to southern Mexico for winter months, while a small number may remain in the southern most tip of Florida.

What Hummingbirds Eat:

Ruby-throated hummingbirds feed on nectar from tubular flowers, insects which they catch during flight or may even pull from spider webs, and sometimes tree sap. Hummingbirds will also readily consume artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. Nectar can be made using a ratio of 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. The use of dye or food coloring in artificial nectar is not necessary for attracting hummingbirds to a feeder and is not recommended due to the sensitive nature of these tiny birds.

How to Attract Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to Your Feeder:

Placing feeders near flower beds or planters may help attract more
hummingbirds to your feeder. For the best chance of hummingbirds discovering your feeder, it is recommended to have it up and ready before they return from their winter migration. Be sure to research the migratory pattern of hummingbirds in your area to make sure you haven’t put your feeder out too late, since this can cause them to overlook it later in the season. Feeders with built in perches can help these tiny birds conserve energy and feel more comfortable feeding, prolonging feeding times and increasing hummingbird viewing.

ruby throated hummingbirds at Nature's Way Illuminated Hummingbird Feeder

Nesting:

Nests are typically built on a slender branch between 10-40 feet off the ground but have also been found in more surprising locations such as wire, loops of chains, and extension cords. Roughly the size of a large thimble (1 inch deep and 2 inches wide), the female builds the nest out of thistle or dandelion down held together with strands of spider silk and sometimes pine resin and camouflages the exterior of the nest with lichen or moss. 

A typical clutch size can range from 1-3 eggs that are roughly 0.3 inches wide and 0.5 inches in length. The tiny eggs are white and weigh less than half a gram. Eggs hatch in roughly two weeks and will fledge the nest after an additional 18-22 days.

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Bird Feature: Downy Woodpecker

Bird Feature: Downy Woodpecker

Identifying Downy Woodpeckers:

Ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 inches in length and featuring a straight, chisel-like bill, blocky head, and wide shoulders, the Downy Woodpecker is a small version of the standard woodpecker build. Compared to other woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker's bill is significantly smaller in relation to its head, however it is still a forceful tool for extracting insects from trees. Sporting a black and white checkered appearance, both males and females have a white underside, black upper wing and checkered lower wings with a boldly striped face and white stripe down the center of the back. The center of the tail is black, outlined by white border feathers that are typically lightly speckled with black spots. Males are easily differentiated by a bold red patch on the back of their heads.

female downy woodpecker on a tree male downy woodpecker on a tree

 Left: Female Downy Woodpecker. Right: Male Downy Woodpecker

Attracting Downy Woodpeckers to your feeder:

These small woodpeckers can be found in open woodlands and also frequent orchards, vacant lots, city parks, and backyards making them quite common at feeders. As with other woodpeckers and insect eating birds, suet is a safe bet when trying to attract these checkered visitors. Suet feeders with extended bases provide space for these bottom-heavy birds to prop their tail for comfortable feeding, much like they would naturally on the trunk of a tree. Peanuts and black oil sunflower are also favorites of the Downy Woodpecker. These can be fed in an open tray feeder or even a window feeder for up-close bird viewing.

In summer months, it is not unusual to see Downy Woodpeckers visiting Oriole feeders with grape jelly or even Hummingbird feeders with nectar. 

Downy Woodpecker on CWF1    Downy Woodpecker on cedar tray feeder

downy woodpecker eating from window bird feeder    Downy Woodpecker on cedar hopper feeder with suet

Products shown: Tail-prop Suet Feeder (Model# CWF1)Hanging Platform Feeder (Model# WWCF23)Clear View Window Feeder (Model# WIN-3)3 QT Hopper Feeder w/ 2 Suet Cages (Model# WWCF28)

Nesting:

Downy Woodpeckers are cavity nesters and nest in dead trees, often deciduous trees infected with a fungus which makes the wood softer and easier to excavate. Excavating the nest cavity takes roughly 1 to 3 weeks and both male and female share in the work. When complete, the cavity will be 6-12 inches deep, widening toward the bottom and lined only with wood chips. Pairs will have 1 brood per year with an average clutch size of anywhere from 3-8 eggs.

Eggs are roughly 0.8 inches in length and 0.6 inches in width and are completely white. Eggs typically hatch within 12 days and the young will fledge in an additional 20 days. 

Distinguishing between a Downy and Hairy Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpeckers are roughly two-thirds the size of Hairy Woodpeckers. Since this can be fairly hard to establish in the field, some birders use their feeders as indicator of size and scale. Another establishing feature of the Downy Woodpecker are distinguishable black bars on the white tail feathers in contrast to the all white side tail feathers of the Hairy Woodpecker. If the bird's bill is visible, the major difference in bill size. The Downy’s bill is roughly one-third the length of the bird’s head, while the Hairy’s bill is almost as long as the its head - a railroad spike in comparison. An additional, less reliable distinguishing feature is that the male Hairy Woodpecker's red patch is often split in two, while the Downy’s is not.

Hairy and Downy Woodpecker comparison image

Left: Hairy Woodpecker. Right: Downy Woodpecker. Illustrations from the book "A Field Guide to the birds" by Roger Tory Peterson.

 

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