Shape is one of the most important field marks you should consider when identifying a bird. While color and plumage condition will fluctuate, shape and proportion are much more consistent throughout the year and between individual birds of a given species.
That being said, the shape of a bird can change at any given moment due to the way they hold their feathers.
This Cooper’s Hawk had just bathed and was helping their feathers dry by fluffing them out. From a distance, this bird appeared to show a broad breast with rusty barring and a broad, banded tail. The drooping wings made the tail seem shorter. These are all great marks for a Red-shouldered Hawk.
After a while, the bird smoothed their feathers down, revealing a slender build and a long rounded tail typical of a Cooper’s Hawk. So shape alone is enough to identify this bird, but we had to observe the bird long enough to see what their shape actually was. This is another reason to take the time to study every bird you come across. A quick glance or a single photo can be misleading. (How many times have plastic bags been identified as Snowy Owls?)
I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Vanport Wetlands to check for migrants. The Smith and Bybee area was pretty slow. Water levels were high so some of the trails were inaccessible. Vanport had some really interesting birds, including several Redheads and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, both hard to find in the Portland area.
The small colony of Cliff Swallows at Smith and Bybee was active with nest building.
This House Sparrow had moved into an old Cliff Swallow nest.
American Bullfrogs were enjoying the spring weather.
Brush Rabbit scratching an itch
At Vanport, most birds were pretty far away, like this Yellow-headed Blackbird. His song was easily heard, even from across the lake.
This Ruddy Duck was doing his motorboat impression to impress the ladies.
This Cooper’s Hawk was atop a tall tree overlooking the racetrack. The loud engines did not seem to bother him. I can’t say the same for me.
A few birds, like this Cedar Waxwing, were down in the small trees along the near shore of the lake.
Bullock’s Orioles are often obscured by foliage in the treetops. This individual was low enough for a brief glimpse among the blossoms.
I went to Sauvie Island to scout areas for my Little Brown Birds class next week. The huge flocks of waterfowl that spend the winter there have dwindled, but there are still a lot of birds around. This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dust bath on the first dry sunny day we have had in a long time.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are still the most common species in the sparrow patches.
Song Sparrows are not as numerous, but are very vocal right now.
Raptors are still thick out at Sauvie. This Cooper’s Hawk did not make it any easier to find sparrows.
One of many Bald Eagles seen that day.
Red-tailed Hawk, scoping out the surrounding fields for rodents
A distant Greater Yellowlegs. It is a little early for shorebirds, but their migration should be picking up in the next few weeks.
There were Raccoon tracks all along Rentenaar Road.
Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, and Cackling Geese are still present in good numbers, but spring migration should bring big changes soon.
We made our first visit to Mt. Rainier NP in Washington last week. This park is an easy drive from Portland. I like getting above the tree line to the alpine meadows, seen here, but the park has large areas of forest, as well. The bird and mammal diversity was good on this trip, although the numbers of individuals were not as large as you usually find in parks such as Glacier or Yellowstone.
This American Dipper was swimming in one of the rivers; not very photogenic, but interesting behavior. The forested areas were too dark for bird photos, but Gray Jays, Varied Thrushes, and Red Crossbills were common.
Most of the birds in the alpine habitats were fast fly-bys. I did manage this photo of a young Cooper’s Hawk. The Prairie Falcon that was hunting the ridge was way too fast. I was hoping for White-tailed Ptarmigan on this trip, but perhaps the abundance of raptors was keeping that species out of sight.
This Black Bear spent many hours feeding on vegetation along one of the trails. We kept a respectful distance, unlike many other park visitors. The bear didn’t seem too concerned with his fans. He did get a little nervous when a couple was taking selfies with him.
Yellow-pine Chipmunks are common in the meadows.
Another view of the mountain. I definitely want to explore more of this area.
Here are a few birds I saw on a recent trip to Boulder, CO. There was nothing unusual, but there is always something to see.
This young Cooper’s Hawk was amazingly tame.
American White Pelicans
White-breasted Nuthatch. Despite the proximity to the Rocky Mountains, this individual appears to be of the eastern race (Carolina Nuthatch).
I heard a lot of Blue Jays, but this is the only individual that I got a look at.
Rabbits are everywhere around Boulder. I think this is an Eastern Cottontail.
Two species have brought fledglings around recently. Both were visiting bird feeders, but for different reasons.
This Lesser Goldfinch was eating the dead needles from a cedar tree near the feeder. The fluffy “horns” and general clumsiness reveal the bird as a youngster.
A Cooper’s Hawk with two young visited my neighbor’s feeder the other evening. Low light conditions only allowed this photo of one of the babies. They were constantly screaming and crashing through the branches, so I don’t think their hunting trip was successful.