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Seattle Audubon advocates and organizes for cities where people and birds thrive.


Frequently Asked Questions about birds and bird behavior answered by Seattle Audubon MasterBirders. Visit here often, as new questions and answers will be added regularly.


From Jim Browne      6/4/2012 2:00 PM

I have an osprey nest in front of my summer cottage on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. We built it using a pallet suspended on laminated 2x4's and supported it with 4 guide wires sunk into the ground. It has seen 15 years of use with only 1 or 2 years of infertility. My question is this: do you have any recommended plans and/or requirements for osprey nesting sites? I would appreciate any help on this matter. Thank you

A: Lucky you!  Ospreys (http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/osprey) nest placement is usually between 10-60 feet up.  Just about any tree, post or piling or power pole with a large enough platform will do.  They've been known to nest on the ground.  Obviously your set up is working well.  Nests are used year after year and can become very large creating a weight problem for the tree or pole.  You might inspect the nest platform and pole(s) yearly and remove some of the nesting material in the fall after they've migrated to reduce the load on your pole.  You might also place some baffles on the pole legs to reduce the chance of terrestrial predators attacking the eggs or nestlings. - LB

From Amalia      6/4/2012 6:04 AM

I have picked up a baby magpie from the ground around my house. hie parents have nested at the very top of a sycamore tree in front of my house. The baby cannot fly or pick up food by itself he just asks for food every hour and sleep therefore I thing he has just fallen from his nest. Around here there are many cats and there are also his parents but i thought i had not choice if i wanted safe the chicken from the cats and so i am feeding him at home. I wish also release him at certain point back to the wild when he will be stronger, do you think their parents will take back him? Do you think I m interfering too much for which i should take the chicken were he was? His parents i think they knows that he is here with because when i took him they were tray to defend him from a cat. Any wise advice for me? I am quite worry ,thanks. Amalia

A: Corvids which include magpies are very smart and live in family groups. I've heard of people raising crows, but not magpies.  Crows that have been raised by humans will return to the wild but frequently return to their surrogate parent for years after being released. Feeding him (or her) remains your most difficult problem.  Magpie chicks are fed mostly a diet of meat, carrion, small vertebrates,  Meat purchased in a grocery store may not be the proper diet.  You might consider taking the bird to a rehab facility if there is 1 in your area, at least consult them on a proper diet and feeding procedures.  There are also legal ramifications to raising wild birds.  You should consider them also.  Good luck. - LB

From Dennis Osweiler      6/4/2012 1:33 AM
I live in northeastern wa on the pende oreille river adjacent to a wet land. I keep hearing a bird call that I can only describe as "haunting". It has 5 syllables and is a consistent note. The sound moves around rapidly indicating there are several individuals. I have never seen a bird that I can say goes with the sound,it's just there. Its much more pronounced in early evening and afternoon. Can you give me any help, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Dennis Osweiler 

A: Hi Dennis, thanks for your question! Many people describe the calls of thrushes as "haunting." Knowing their song is helpful because they are often hard to see in the dense underbrush. I would encourage you to visit http://www.birdweb.org for descriptions of Washington birds and their calls. Take a look and listen to Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Veery. All are possible in your part of the state and in the kind of habitat you describe. If it isn't one of those, take some time to explore the site for other ideas with your location and habitat in mind. Good luck!  - AS


From Kristen      6/4/2012 1:04 AM

Hi! I'm hoping you can help me. I am trying to find some detailed information, perhaps in a book, regarding birds of our region that is kid friendly. I live in Wilbur, WA. We have many bird feeders (6) and we are attracting a lot of birds. It seems as though we are on the border of the regions and I'm a bit confused as to what kinds of bird I am actually looking at. For example we have many birds (MANY) that look like song sparrows but that looks they belong in a more northern region. WE also have several calliope hummingbirds that come to our feeder and the listing says that they are uncommon. WE have been having a great deal of fun watching the birds and I'd like to give my kids accurate answers regarding them. Also, if there are any tips or suggestions that you have regarding making our yard more bird friendly I'd appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
A: You're lucky to live in such a bird rich environment. I was just through Wilbur returning from the Washington Ornithology conference in Spokane this past weekend.  There is a great diversity of both birds and habitats close to Wilbur.  There are numerous good birding books.  Many are also geared to children.  One I like is a book put together by Bob Morse: "Birds of the Inland Northwest and the Northern Rockies."   It is well written and has excellent pictures for you to look at when searching for the correct identification. It is available from the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop. Call 206-523-4483. - LB


From Kat      6/3/2012 9:34 PM
I live in Sumner, WA and for the duration of this spring there's been a loud bird that sings in my neighborhood in the morning that I can only identify as a tufted titmouse. I studied ornithology in college in the midwest and can find no other call that comes close to this bird in our region. It is the classic "Peter peter peter" of a tufted titmouse, but I've been unable to visualize this bird on multiple tries. Do you know of any other local birds to make a similar sound? Thank you for the input. 

A: Hi Kat, thanks so much for your question! When I think of a bird that sings loudly and is somewhat similar to Tufted Titmouse like the one you describe my first thought is Bewick's Wren. Their call is quite variable so you might want to search the web for several examples of their song. A good place to start is http://birdweb.com. If it isn't a Bewick's Wren, you might want to spend some time on BirdWeb to listen to other species found in our area. Best of luck! - AS


From SharonLea      6/3/2012 3:14 AM
we have a Say's phoebe nesting in our tractor. We discovered the eggs almost 13 days ago. the problem is I don't know how long they have been there since we used the tractor to plant trees off and on the past three weeks or more. My question is: how long will she set before she gives up if the eggs haven't hatched???

A: The Say's Phoebe (http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/says_phoebe) incubates 12-14 days and fledges in 14-16 days.  That will give you some idea of how long to wait prior to reclaiming you tractor. - LB


From Christine Casebolt      6/2/2012 2:04 AM

In our Covington back yard, we set out a new feeder with black sun flower seeds. It was swamped by a flock of about ten birds the size of a robins. The foreheads had a band above the eyes in a mustard color. The backs had a distinct v of white followed by a v of mustard, then black...or vise versa. Couldn't get a photo as they were very shy.They traveled with possibly the opposite sex which looked generic in a tan color....greyish tan. Any ideas what these were? Never seen before! Christine 
A: Hi Christine, thanks for your question. From your description, it sounds like you've got Evening Grosbeaks at your feeder - beautiful birds! To check this, you might want to visit
http://birdweb.com - it's a great site to help you identify and learn more about all of the great birds we have in our area. - AS

From: Jennifer Greenlees      6/2/2012 11:17 PM
UPDATE: I think I may have figured out what they are! Perhaps you could read my message below and tell me if you concur? My guess is that they are Bushtits. I found their description on Birdweb.org and the descriptions seem to match. Thanks! Hello, I have recently taken an interest in the birds that visit the bird bath and small (relatively new) trees right outside my kitchen window. I live in an apartment building on Capitol Hill (98112) in Seattle. So far, thanks to BirdWeb.org, I have been able to identify the American Robin and the Black-capped Chickadee as frequent visitors. There are other birds, though, that I have been unable to figure out what they are. I have a picture of some of them, but I don't see how to attach it to this message... These birds are very small and seem to bathe, if not travel, in "packs." At one time today there were at least 10 in the bath at once! It was an amazing sight and I would love to know what they are. They are, as I said, very small
A: Jennifer, your curiosity, enthusiasm, and use of Birdweb.org signal you are a birder!  Bushtits seem an accurate identification for the pack of small birds visiting your yard.  If they are gray/brown all over, have longish tails and flit around quickly, that would confirm it.  If you have binoculars and can get a quick, close-up look, you might be interested to know that the females have yellow eyes, the males dark eyes. -SY


From: Lynne      6/2/2012 6:54 PM
Do both the male and female feed their babies after they are born.....I have a nest in a boot on a shelf on my back porch and I see two birds take turns going into the nest.
A: Lynne, yes, for many species, both parents are needed to take care of the young.  Song birds, hawks, heron and other species' chicks are born without sufficient down to maintain body temperature, are blind, and weak.  These chicks require both parents to brood them (keep them warm) and feed them.  What fun to be able to watch this up close on your back porch.-SY


From: anna      5/31/2012 7:33 PM
Please can you inform me HOW magpies find my planted sweet pea seeds after nearly 2 weeks? I have been outsmarted by them numerous plantings and have searched the net with no HOW do they do it answer. I do not mind sharing so I over planted again just in case they found my new spot. I looked the area over to see if any were watching...had dog busy, quickly buried them and just as I thought I had won, I woke to a trench of peckings! I am curious as a magpie and have been out pea seeded AGAIN! Any help? Thank you for your time :) anna in Idaho
A: Hi Anna,  it is a good idea to plant enough sweet peas for you and the Black-billed Magpies and keep a sense of humor and admiration for the clever seed thieves in your garden.  Magpies are in the same family as crows, jays, and nutcrackers.  Most have a reputation for finding and caching large numbers of seeds and nuts -- and keeping track of where they bury them.  I imagine a garden store might have ideas of how to create a fabric barrier to protect the seeds until they sprout.  You can learn more about your garden raider at birdweb.org. -SY

From: J. L. Kane      5/29/2012 12:02 AM
I have a pair of Vaux's swifts nesting in my chimney. We won't be having a fire until they leave. I'd like to know if the nest will be a fire hazard at that time.
A: Thanks for asking about the swifts in your chimney.  Assuming you live in Washington, Oregon or Idaho, you have Vaux's Swifts nesting there.  They prefer nesting in hollow trees but, with the decline of snags, they have taken to roosting and occasionally nesting in chimneys.  According to Portland Audubon, the nests, which are made of twigs stuck together with saliva,  quickly disintergrate and do not create a fire hazard. http://audubonportland.org/issues/protect-wildlife/brochures/vauxsswift  If you live near Monroe, WA, and would like to observe thousands of swift entering a chimney to roost, find information at  http://monroeswifts.org/about/ -SY


From: Jeanne Larsen      5/31/2012 8:14 PM
We have a nesting Towhee sitting on 5 eggs. I think that the cowbird has laid eggs in it. One egg is smaller than the rest. If we measure the eggs, could we take the Cowbirds eggs out?
A: Towhees are favorite cowbird hosts.  Towhees rarely remove the offending cowbird egg from their nest.  The towhee eggs are the larger eggs 1 inch to the cowbird's 0.8 inch.  You can remove the cowbird egg, but you may also cause the bird to abandon the nest.  The call is yours to make.-LB


From: Elizabeth      5/31/2012 6:53 PM
Hello. we planted some trumpet-shaped hummingbird-attractors in a planter that hangs over our balcony railing. Yesterday, I saw the little guy feeding at around 11. I figured he'd come back at the same time today, and he did. I am wondering if hummingbirds will feed from the same plants more than one per day. My 8 year old son guesses that they know how long it takes for the flower to "refill" with nectar. Thank you, Elizabeth New bird enthusiast in West Seattle
A: Hummingbirds will use the same flowers as the nectar replenishes.  They often have a "trap-line" of flowers that they follow to get food.  The can be very possessive of "their" flowers and feeders defending them by chasing off rival hummers. – LB


From: Stacey Keller      5/31/2012 3:18 PM
I have seen a white heron-like bird in two places in Southwest Washington. Out on Frenchman's Bar in Vancouver and most recently in a marsh in nearby Kalama. They are often in the company of great blue herons and look about the same size.
A: There are 2 white heron-like birds known in Washington.  The Great Egret (http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/great_egret) has a yellow bill and the smaller Snowy Egret (http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/snowy_egret) has a black bill.The Great Egret is more commonly seen in Washington. – LB


From: Jodi Erickson      5/22/2012 4:58 PM
We have had a couple birds in our yard recently that have a yellow body, black wings and a red head. What are these? When I look up birds in Washington I see the Gold Finch but never read or see anything about a bird with red head. Thank you for any information. Jodi Erickson
A: Hi Jodi, thanks for your question. The bird you describe sounds like a Western Tanager - a beautiful bird that is here in summer but migrates south for the winter. It sounds like you have some bird identification resources but if you're interested in more information about Western Tanagers, you can visit http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/western_tanager - AS


From: Fran      5/21/2012 7:24 PM
Have there been any confirmed sightings of Black-Chinned Humming Birds in North Central Illinois. As of last year and again this year I believe I may have them visiting my feeders.
A: Hi Fran, thanks for your question. The most likely hummingbird for your area is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/ruby-throated_hummingbird). Sometimes, depending on the light, the ruby throat can look quite dark. A Black-chinned Hummingbird would be very unusual for your area but you could check with your local Audubon chapter. Serious bird watchers often post about rare species in their area and it's likely that your local Audubon chapter can tell you where these sightings are posted for your part of Illinois. If you can, take a photograph so you can share what you're seeing with someone local who can help you with identification. Good luck!  - AS


From: Anonymous      5/21/2012 5:08 PM
We have a black bird, with a red vest, we would like to know if you can identify it?
A: Hi, thanks for your question! I can't tell where you're emailing from but your description sounds like a Spotted Towhee. For more information about bird identification and geographic range, check out http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/spotted_towhee. - AS


From: Katherine Keagle      5/21/2012 4:17 PM
My cousin found a great horned owl in grass in her backyard. It appears to be sleeping all day and hasn't moved in 3 days. What should she do with it? She says it is the size of a large football.
A: Great Horned Owls don't usually roost on the ground but in a conifer tree close to the trunk.  This is the time of year when young great horned owls are moving from the nest.  They sometimes end up on the ground.  Be extremely vigilant if approaching a young great horned owl as the parents are usually close by and attack with vengeance if you should get too close to their young.  A short eared owl (would be more likely to nest or roost on the ground. You should also check out birdweb.org, they have some great pictures of Great Horned Owls and Short-Eared Owls. -LB


From: glenda porter      5/20/2012 1:05 AM
How many times a year do barn swallows lay eggs and grow young?
A: The Barn Swallows that nest in my yard usually have 2 clutches of eggs.  Often the first nestlings help the parents with the second hatching.  I've heard of Barn Swallows having 3 clutches per year.  -LB


From: beth      5/18/2012 9:21 PM
My husband and I noticed what we thought was a bat nesting in our roll-up shade on our covered porch every night last spring. We realized it wasn't a bat due to its tail that would hang out every night. In winter it disappeared. This spring (just a couple of days ago) we noticed it was back in the same place. After carefully looking at the tail I went on-line and found pictures of the pygmy owl. This bird had the exact same tail. Is it possible that this could be one? I live in Connecticut so it seems unusual. It is only active at dawn and dusk. I cannot see it during the day. I do not know if it is going inside the roll up shade and I really don't want to disturb it if it is. Last year it left right before winter, if that helps. Thank you for any info you can give me.
A: A Northern Pygmy Owl would be very unusual in Connecticut as the normal range is west of the Rocky Mts.  Your activity description seems correct.  If the bird is still present, you could take a photograph or contact your local Audubon chapter.  With such a rarity, someone should surely be interested in seeing the bird. –LB



From: Bill Kepley      5/18/2012 6:40 PM
I finally have some barn swallows nesting on my building. As I understand, they will nest a second time. Should I remove the used mud nest or will they re-use it.
A: Hi Bill, thanks for your question - lucky you to have nesting Barn Swallows! Barn Swallows will often reuse a nest either from the same season or from a previous season. According to the Birds of North America Online (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), there are nests that have been reused for 17 years. Each year, or with a new brood, the birds add mud and remove old feathers. So there is no need for you to remove the old nests. -AS

From: Vickie Haubrich      5/31/2012 7:16 PM                            

Good afternoon, I was hoping you could answer my question. I am from the Yakima Valley, in particular, the West Valley Area. Last year I had dozens of yellow finches and so did my neighbors. We have all tried new feeders and they are all gone! The neighbors that are 4 miles away have not sited any ss well. I have seen only two. What happened? Is it weather? I am afraid someone has captured them and are selling them. Is this possible or are there laws that will protect them?

A: Hi Vickie, thanks for your questions. It's difficult to know for sure why your finches haven't returned. Bird populations often vary year to year due to weather events, food supply, or disease. In addition, many factors cause them to change the exact location where they breed or spend the winter. It is not uncommon for people who regularly feed birds in their yards to report variations in birds numbers and species from year to year. You said you have "all tried new feeders" but it's not clear whether you're using different seed or a different style feeder. American Goldfinches are usually quite happy to eat sunflower seeds or thistle from a feeder. I'm happy to report that there are laws that protect song birds in this country. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell birds. It also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests. If you have evidence that someone in your area is capturing or killing song birds you should certainly let the police know. -AS

From: Ron      5/30/2012 6:24 PM                              

I was walking my dog this morning 30 May at around 09:20 when I heard what I can only describe as an off key (someone hitting a two hollow wood sticks). Curiosity got the better of me so I went to check it out. Didn't see anything at first but the bird was constantly calling. (Background), there is a part time swamp filled with water during winter months on the church property and a small lake year around lake year around on privet property adjacent to the church property.. Then the bird then appeared and landed on on a branch from a tree that had fellen into the swamp. It was about one to two hundred feet away. It was about the size of a large crow, it's back a pale blue or slate color, It's breast may have been the same color. It's beak was black, thin and long. It's neck maybe about the length of or slightly shorter then a mallard's neck. It may have had a crest but not quite sure.                       

A: Hi Ron, it sounds like you might have heard and seen a Western Scrub-Jay. Both jays and crows are members of the Corvidate family and are very intelligent, resourceful birds. They also have a wide variety of vocalizations. I would encourage you to look at photos and listen to some common vocalizations on http://birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/western_scrub-jay. -AS

From: Vicky Gee      5/16/2012 4:59 PM                                

I thought I just saw a golden eagle outside of Toledo, WA. He was sitting on a fence post, watching a large flock of chickens and ducks. I thought at first it was a vulture, because we have a lot of those here, but it was much larger, with a feathered head. We also have many eagles and osprey, but this one was different. I have seen goldens before, but never here. Do you think it may have been a golden eagle? What is their range in Western Washington, if any? Thanks for your time. -Vicky Gee Toledo WA                 

A: Thanks for your question, Vicky. You can check the map on Bird Web http://birdweb.org/BIRDWEB/bird/golden_eagle# to check the status of Golden Eagles in Toledo. It does look like they breed in parts of Lewis County.  Immature Bald Eagles, more common, are often confused with Golden Eagles because they lack the white head of adults and are very dark all over. Bird Web can also provide tips on how to tell the difference between the two species.  - AS

From: Anonymous      5/16/2012 3:21 AM                              

We always have Steller's Jays at our feeders and wonder what their lifespan is. Some years they are very friendly and will hop very close to our hands if holding walnuts and other years they are standoffish. We wonder if we are seeing the same birds each summer or offspring that don't "know" us.                

A: I checked the Cornell Lab website http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/stellers_jay/lifehistory and found out that the oldest recorded Steller’s Jay was 16 years 1 month old! I think we can assume that the average life span of a Steller's Jay is less than that. It's difficult to know if particular individuals are returning to your yard each year. Birds in the Corvidae family, like crows and jays, are very intelligent animals with excellent memories so it wouldn't be surprising if they returned regularly to a reliable food source. They form monogamous, long-term pair bonds and remain together year round. You can find out more about this visually striking and charismatic bird at http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/stellers_jay -AS

From: Leslie M      5/29/2012 6:15 PM                      

Hi - I saw a curious bird - I am not a birder so bear with my description! On Friday May 25th I saw a small light green bird (solid color, head, chest, back and upper wings) with a black marking on forehead and black stripes on the lower wings, perched on a railing at 80th and Sand Point Way NE (at a condo up on the hill above the Burke Gilman trail). The size and shape was close to that of a warbler but the beak seemed lighter in color and appeared to angle down more. I saw it in profile and was unable to see it from the front. While I could not see it's legs, I noted that it had a short tail, more like a warbler than a swallow. I checked the Seattle Audubon site and did not see any bird that really resembled this bird. I would love to know if anyone knows what species this is! Thanks, Leslie M.     

A: Hi Leslie, I can't think of any birds in our area that would be truly light green but some may look greenish yellow in certain kind of light. Two birds that come to mind would be an American Goldfinch and a Western Tanager. The male Am. Goldfinch has black on the forehead but the Western Tanager does not. Orange-crowned Warblers http://birdweb.org/Birdweb/bird/orange-crowned_warbler can also look greenish-yellow but do not have black on the forehead so I'm stumped! Check birdweb for photos of these three species that show variation between breeding (summer) and non-breeding (winter) plumage and between males and females. Good luck! -AS


From: Sheri  Davis      5/29/2012 4:58 AM                                               

I have had 3 or 4 house finches eating from my hummingbird feeders. I substituted plain water and they quit feeding from them. Is this normal behavior and should I be concerned? Never heard of this and can't find any info on this.     

A: Hi Sherri, it's not uncommon for birds other than hummingbirds to add a little nectar to their diet. I've seen both finches and chickadees on my hummingbird feeder at home and know that orioles and woodpeckers are a possibility, as well. I wouldn't be concerned about the finches and would guess that nectar would never replace their main diet of seeds. -AS

From: Tina      5/28/2012 7:33 PM                                              

I'm quite certain I spotted a Mountain Blue Bird at one of my feeders yesterday (May 27). I live in SE Iowa. Is this possible? I'm having a hard time finding maps showing migration patterns.

A: Hi Tina, Mountain Bluebird would be a very rare visitor to Iowa. It's more likely that you saw an Eastern Bluebird. Our Seattle Audubon website, www.birdweb.org, does not have information about birds that are found in the east but you can find photos and excellent range maps for North American birds at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/. Make sure to look at photos of juvenile and female birds since they look quite different than the adult male birds you usually see in photographs. You can also check with your local Audubon chapter about unusual bird sightings in your area. If you see a bird you can't identify in the future, if possible, take a picture so you can share it with someone who can help with identification.  Thanks for your questions! -AS

From: Caryl Utigard      6/1/2012 10:03 PM                                            

Can the bird calls on this site be downloaded to Itunes?               

A: Hi Caryl, many birdsongs on the web (I think you might be referring to BirdWeb in your question) are copywrited so can't be downloaded for free. You can purchase bird song CDs at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop or you might be able to check them out from your local public library. If they don't have birdsong CDs you can try requesting that they purchase them. Have fun building your bird song library! -AS





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