American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Goldfinches are common throughout North America in grasslands, floodplains, second growth forests, and suburban gardens. Many of these birds migrate. As they prepare to do so, they form flocks and enter the autumn molt. In winter, they can be commonly found visiting bird feeders as other food sources become sparse. Their main sources of food are seeds; thistle seeds are a common favorite of these songbirds. They have a short nesting season, which often leaves only enough time for American Goldfinches to produce one brood per season.
During breeding season, males can be seen with familiar bright yellow plumage. Females have similar, though less brightly colored, plumage. Outside of breeding season, both sexes have muted plumage, which can lead to people misidentifying these birds as a different species.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Robins are abundant throughout North America. They reside in both natural and human-altered habitats, including forests, woodlands, and gardens. Their diet changes throughout the year; earthworms and other soft-bodied invertebrates are their preferred spring and summer diet while fruit is their primary autumn and winter diet. During the nonbreeding season, large flocks migrate to lower elevations and form communal roosts. In these flocks, American Robins can track fruit resources. In contrast to many other bird species, American Robins seem to have benefitted from urbanization, as their population is stable or increasing, depending on the region.
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
Originally, House Finches lived in hot, dry deserts. However, they now occupy almost every habitat in North America. Their diet consists of seeds, buds, flowers, leaves, and fruits, though they will occasionally consume larvae. They feed alone, in pairs, or in flocks. During courtship, males will give a flight display where they sing and slowly beat their wings while they ascend, then glide down to a perch. Their nests are often built in buildings or among urban trees. Males have distinctive red, orange, or yellow plumage on their foreheads and throats.
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
Western Meadowlarks are grassland birds, inhabiting any similar habitat from the great plains to sand flats along the ocean. They are the state birds of six states, including Oregon. They feed majorly on grains, seeds, and insects, and obtain this diet mostly by probing the ground. These songbirds rarely prey on other grassland birds, though sometimes they resort to eating the eggs and young of other grassland birds for unknown reasons.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Northern Rough-winged Swallows have a breeding range which covers the entire United States. They prefer habitats with open areas, like grasslands, open woodlands, and rocky outcrops. They nest in burrows and crevices, usually alone but sometimes in small colonies. They are often seen flying over fields, gullies, and other terrain foraging for food. They prefer to feed over water, catching insects both from the air and water surface. These Swallows are insectivorous, eating almost exclusively flying insects.
Rough-winged Swallows were once thought to be only one species. However, Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Southern Rough-winged Swallows are now recognized to be two distinct species. Only the Northern Rough-winged Swallow is found in Central Oregon.
Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
Named because of their coevolution with pinyon pines, Pinyon Jays are a species found across some of western America. These birds disperse the seeds of pinyon pines across long distances, and in exchange they receive a nutrient dense source of food. They bury their food in caches, retrieving the food throughout the year. They are social, and often cooperate with their fellow pinyon jays to breed. They can be found in mountainous regions and along foothills. Due to their dependence on pinyon pines, these birds have been declining in population for over 50 years, as logging operations and construction of mines cleared pinyon pine forests. For this reason, Pinyon Jays are now recognized as vulnerable by BirdLife International.
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
Steller’s Jays are found in forests, as well as human-made areas like parks and suburban neighborhoods. They are omnivores, feeding on arthropods, nuts, seeds, berries, fruits, and small vertebrates. They nest in the branches of trees, and form long-term, monogamous bonds. Their large variety of chirps and tweets indicate a complex method of communication within the species.
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
Central Oregon does not have a native blue jay. The California Scrub-Jay is the bird commonly confused with blue jays. California Scrub-Jays prefer to live in residential or wild woodlands. These birds are less social and cooperative than many other species, seeing other members of their species as competition rather than friends. Arthropods, fruit, and seeds make up the majority of their diet. They form pairs to breed, and remain with their partner year-round to defend their territory. New pairings usually occur only when one partner dies.
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)
Black-billed Magpies prefer to live in cold, western thickets in riparian areas, meadows, and grasslands. They feed on bugs, seeds, and carrion. In flight, they can change directions almost instantaneously due to their long tail. Until the mid-twentieth century, Black-billed Magpies were treated as a pest, and persecuted for this reason. However, they are now protected in the U.S. under the Migratory Species Act.
Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)
Clark’s Nutcrackers occupy alpine and forest habitats, preferring coniferous habitats with large seeded pines over anything else. They almost solely eat fresh or stored pine seeds, and base their life around these seeds. They nest at the end of winter and feed cashed pine seeds to their fledgelings. By the time fresh pine seeds are available, the juveniles are fully independent, and make their own caches to continue the cycle.
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
American Crows are present in all of the contiguous United States. They are one of the few species of North America that are now more abundant than they were before European colonizers arrived. They are considered incredibly intelligent, and are known to remember individual humans’ faces.
American Crows are found primarily in open habitats with some trees present. These habitats include agricultural land, urban and rural spaces, forests, and grassland. They roost communally in groups of sometimes more than one thousand individuals. They are omnivores, and have a diet that consists of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, eggs, grains, seeds, fruits, carrion, and discarded human food.
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Common Ravens are one of the most widespread naturally occurring birds in the world. They are found in every terrestrial habitat except rainforests. Though they look similar to crows, Common Ravens are larger, have a different call, and have a tail shaped like a wedge when in flight. They are omnivores. Their diet consists of carrion, arthropods, seeds, grains, and human food.
Common Ravens are a part of folklore in various cultures, and appear symbolically in much of literature.
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Deceptively, Tree Swallows live in marshes, fields, and meadows. They only use trees to nest, and occasionally to roost. When they nest, it is in abandoned cavities excavated primarily by woodpeckers. Tree Swallows compete intensely for these cavities, as they are often in short demand. This competition is shown by early season breeding and lining nests with feathers to defend against other Tree Swallows. Their diet consists almost entirely of insects, though they will eat plants when the weather is poor.
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)
Found in coniferous forests in mountainous regions, Violet-green Swallows are widely distributed yet not very well known. They often nest in inaccessible sites like holes in the top of old snags or crevices in cliffs. They are friendly and social when foraging, migrating, and out of their nest. Despite this, they sometimes nest alone. Like other swallows, they are insectivores, catching their prey mid-flight and often at high altitudes.
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)
As highly social land birds, Bank Swallows nest in colonies of 10 to 2,000 active nests. They can be found in riparian habitats ranging from the banks of streams to ocean shorelines. More recently, they have begun to nest in human-disturbed areas like gravel quarries. Like most swallows, they are insectivorous, consuming primarily flying and jumping insects. Flood- and erosion-control projects have eliminated much of Bank Swallows’ habitat and caused local population decline in California. Despite this, Bank Swallows are fairly common.
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallows are the most widely distributed swallow in the world, found in every continent except Antarctica. They can live in almost any habitat as long as three factors are present: open spaces for catching food, a nest sight, and a body of water to collect mud for nest construction. They originally nested solely in caves, but have now adjusted to nesting under roofs, bridges, and other human-made structures. Their nests are made out of mud rather than sticks or grass. They are almost entirely insectivorous, though if absolutely necessary may eat berries.
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Cliff Swallows nest in colonies of up to 6,000 active nests, making them known to be one of the most social landbirds. As their name suggests, Cliff Swallows nest underneath horizontal rocky ledges, and now under roofs and bridges. They have been known to lay eggs both in their own nests and in neighboring nests to increase the chances of successful reproduction. They are insectivorous, and sometimes eat bits of gravel to aid in their digestion process. Their original habitats include canyons, foothills, and river valleys, but human development increased their range into urban and suburban areas.
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)
Olive-sided Flycatchers inhabit coniferous forests. They form pairs to breed. When they nest, they prefer a territory with tall, prominent trees and snags and plenty of open space to feed. They are considered tyrannical, which means both members of a pair aggressively defend their nest territories. They are insectivorous, feeding almost solely on flying insects like bees. Olive-sided Flycatchers are a migratory species, traveling from northern Canada to Panama each fall and back each spring.
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)
Western Wood-Pewees breed throughout western North America and overwinter near Ecuador. They live in open forests and riparian areas. They build nests out of spiderwebs, sticks, and plant stems, placing the nest in tree branches. They are insectivorous, seeming to prefer beetles, ants, wasps, flies, bees, and moths. Western Wood-Pewees’ population is declining, likely due to urbanization, grazing, and the popularity of clearcutting.
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)
Willow Flycatchers breed in North America and overwinter from southern Mexico to northern South America. They look extremely similar to other members of its genus; its voice is one of the few distinguishing factors. Moist, shrubby areas are their favorite habitats. In Central Oregon, these birds can be seen in beaver meadows. They mostly consume insects, but will occasionally eat fruit. Habitat degradation and overgrazing by livestock has contributed to this songbird’s population decline. A subspecies of Willow Flycatcher was recognized as endangered in 1995.
Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)
Hammond’s Flycatchers can be found in forests and woodlands from Alaska to Central America, depending on the time of the year. In Oregon, they can be seen during breeding season. They nest high in trees and far from the trunk, which makes the nests difficult to spot from the ground. Males defend their nests while females brood, then both adults feed the young. These songbirds eat insects, including caterpillars, butterflies, and moths.
Gray Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii)
Gray Flycatchers can be found east of the Cascades in summertime. They then migrate down to northern Mexico for winter. In the winter, they overgo a complete feather molt. This songbird’s primary habitats are sagebrush steppes, juniper forests, and other semi-arid woodlands or shrublands. They are insectivorous. Though it is often confused with other flycatchers due to its similar appearance, it is a distinct species.
Throughout mountainous regions of western North America, Dusky Flycatchers can be found, sitting and waiting for flying insects to catch their eyes. They are entirely insectivorous. They nest in shrubs or low down in trees, never nesting more than a few meters from the ground. Each fall, they migrate from Canada to Mexico, avoiding bad weather. An unfavorable spring rain or snowstorm can cause mortality of entire groups of these songbirds.