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Cliff Swallow in mud nest.jpg

Class Aves (Birds)

INTRODUCTION: Encountering many interesting wild birds is an everyday experience in Shelter Cove.  Finding and identifying bird species requires that one knows a few things about their biology.  If they migrate each year, then you might not find them for several months - some will be here in the Spring and Summer, while others may migrate here to over-winter, avoiding cold winters such as in Alaska.  Another consideration is what type of habitat the bird needs - some species live high up in trees, others may need bodies of water with the insects or fish that they eat, while others need flowers and green plants.  Also, males and females typically have very different colors and patterns on their body feathers (plumage).  Since males typically show the most characteristic patterns and colors, it is easier to identify which species they are - the pictures shown here are mostly males for this reason.  Females often have muted coloration that helps them to avoid being seen, which makes sense when they are nurturing the young!

The following descriptions and pictures highlight some of the most common bird species found in and around Shelter Cove, which are mostly 'terrestrial' species found on land.  Keep in mind, however, that there are many more bird species that may appear throughout the year.  The short descriptions here will help you to know a few facts that can help you find and identify different bird species - they also include some interesting additional facts and provide links to the photo and other sites that provide further information.

When you go out birding, make sure you have the following:

1. Is this the right time (season) of year for the species you are interested in observing? (find out below!)

2. What type of habitat will the bird most likely be found? (find out below!)

3. Is there a typical sound to listen for? (find out below!)

4. Do you know the coloration patterns of males vs. females? (find out below!)

5. Bring your binoculars and camera!

 Quick-Links for each bird listed in the Shelter Cove Wild Animals Guide given here:

Sh C bird Quick-links
Canada Goose.jpg

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)*; common; FW; black head/white cheeks and chin; herbivorous, found on or close to water; winters in USA/breeds in Alaska & Canada; highly adaptable, but have established permanent residence along Pacific coast down to San Francisco; forage by grazing while walking on land, eating almost entirely plant materials; they make characteristic honking sounds while flying overhead! (pic)

Order Anseriformes (swans, geese, ducks):


Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)*: common in both FW and SW wetlands; breeds in Alaska & Canada, but have fall migration for overwintering across USA (male-female pairs are formed during this time); males have green head with white ‘necklace’, bright blue stripes on open wings, and red/orange legs and feet; forages in water, submerging head and neck into water; omnivorous, eating water plants and small animals; very adaptable (pic)

Surf Scoter flying.jpg
Surf Scoter in water.jpg

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)*: abundant; the male has a white blotch of color on his head between the eyes, an orange-red-white colored beak, and conspicuous white eyes set upon a black body; overwinters along Pacific coast, then migrates to breed in the interior of Alaska and northern Canada; forages by diving and swimming underwater, gliding in water using half-opened wings; eats benthic invertebrates including picking out Blue Mussels, Pacific herring eggs, small crabs, many insects, various mollusks, and even some plant material

They sound like this: (pic-Jason Otto) (pic)

Buffleheat flying.jpg

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)*: common FW duck in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests around ponds and lakes; overwinters in protected coastal regions and inland waters of North America, and breeds in wooded lakes and ponds in interior of Alaska and western Canada; black and white coloration with green and purple/blue highlights on neck and bulbous head; forages by diving underwater (all birds in a given flock are likely to dive at the same time); primarily eats aquatic insects (summer) and mollusks (winter) (pic) (pic)


Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)*: commonly seen in wooded lakes and rivers in North America; overwinters across USA until early spring when they migrate to breeding grounds in inland Canada and Alaska; forages by diving and swimming under water to find fish, its principle diet; mom is often seen carrying her young on her back as she swims along! (pic) (pic)

California Quail

California Quail (Callipepla californica brunnescens)*: common, permanent residents of the far-western USA; heads have a characteristic forward-curving plume of six feathers, black in males or brown in females; California State Bird (est. 1932); very social including a daily communal dust bath with their covey (small flock) that leaves circular indentations in dirt (a sign they’ve come through the area!); forage mainly by scratching and picking up items from the ground, and eat seeds, leaves, berries, insects; nests are shallow, typically on the ground under a shrub or other cover; two females may share a nest

sounds: (pic) (pic)

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Order Galliformes (quail, grouse, turkeys):

Western Grebe.jpg

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)*: common; bright red eyes and yellow beak with a black head-top set above a white neck; breeding occurs in the interior west of USA, with overwintering along entire Pacific coast region; forages by diving and swimming underwater to catch fish; floating (but anchored) plant-based nests are found in shallow marshes; mom carries young on back while swimming (pic)

Order Podicipediformes (loons):

Order Suliformes (frigatebirds and cormorants):


There are 3 common cormorants (Phalacrocorax species) in our region.


​Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)*: common year-round Pacific Coast ocean bird (almost never found inland) that is most commonly found on seawater and possibly estuary mouths;  bright blue eyes set upon a black body, with white ‘cheek whiskers’ and a downturned upper beak; deep divers (to 150 feet depths) to forage for wide variety of fish, possibly shrimp and crab; seaweed, eelgrass and algae make up the nest, placed on ground (pic) (pic)

Double-crested Cormorant.jpg

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritis)*: abundant; dark, long-bodied diving bird with a strongly downward-bent upper beak (beak is yellow-orange); breeding in central northern USA and Canada, overwintering in southern USA and Mexico; seen year-round on Pacific Coast; forages by diving and swimming underwater to catch fish and various other invertebrates and vertebrates (pic (pic)

Pelagic Cormorant.jpg

Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)*: common, year-round residents of the entire Pacific shoreline from Alaska to San Diego, typically close to shore; smallest cormorant of the Pacific Coast, with the least downturn of its upper beak; adults are fully dark-colored including their eyes; forages by diving and swimming underwater to catch principally fish and crustaceans; nest is made of seaweed, grass and moss, placed in difficult-to-access locations to make up for the parents ineffectiveness at defending eggs or young

Order Pelecaniformes (pelicans, herons, bitterns, egrets, ibises)

Brown Pelican flying.jpg
Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)*:  common on Pacific Coast of USA during summer breeding season in northern California, then migrating south to southern California to over-winter; this ‘prehistoric’ bird is mostly seen in SW bays/beaches/ocean where they typically fly low over waves in single file, flapping and gliding in unison; forages by dramatically diving/plunging head-first into water to catch fish, then it tilts head sideways to drain excess water, following by flipping its head backward to swallow the meal!!; they nest in colonies, making a shallow depression in substrate; in the 1970s, widespread use of the pesticide, DDT, led to their endangered status, but they have made a come-back in the decade since DDT was banned in the USA (pic over Hum Bay)

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Great Blue Heron.jpg

Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias)*: common in SW and FW marshes/shores/tideflats/slow-moving rivers; year-round residents in California; often called ‘cranes’, adults have blue head-tops with bright-blue to dusky-blue wings; forages by standing still or walking very slowly, waiting for fish that they rapidly thrust their bill to catch; big stick-based nests are often above water or ground by up to 100 feet.

Great Egret.jpg

Great Egret (Ardea alba)*: common in Pacific Coast of California in the winter, while in summer they breed in northern inland areas like Oregon; year-round residents in California’s central valleys; they prefer SW and FW shallow lagoons/estuaries/lakes; beautiful; a tall, snow-white water bird; forage by standing or walking in shallow water waiting for prey to come by when they rapidly thrust their bill; eat mostly fish, but also snakes/frogs/salamanders/aquatic insects/rodents/other birds.  This species was nearly lost in the late 1800s when its feathers were used for fashion-wear; its come-back inspired the National Audubon Society to use it as their symbol

Order Accipitriformes (hawks and eagles)

Turkey Vulture -roadkill.jpg
Turkey Vulture -roadkill.jpg
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture or Buzzard (Cathartes aura)*: abundant, most call it ugly!, with its black scruffy plumage and bright blood-red beaks and eye sockets; along the Pacific Coast of California, they are year-round residents, while areas of USA with freezing winters see northern summer breeding season with southern migration to overwintering sites as far as South America; seeks dead animals (“carrion”) using a keen sense of smell (not typical of birds), commonly seen flying over virtually all kinds of habitat except for densely forested regions; little or no nest is built, but they various protected locations such as cliff or cave crevices, dense thicket, even old buildings; their ‘hissing grunt’ sounds are used during defensive posturing and resemble mammalian sounds


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Western Osprey

Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)*: common, fish-eating hawk found along coastlines/estuaries/lakes/rivers; Humboldt County is the southern limit of their northern breeding season (spring/summer) and the overwintering areas that some may fly to in fall –therefore, we may see ospreys all times of year; they forage by flying slowly over water, pausing to hover if a fish is spotted –then they plunge feet-first to catch fish with their strong talons, followed by rising heavily over water to fly away…but bald eagles may chase them in hopes they will drop their prey! Nests are made of a bulky pile of sticks, which may be placed on cliffs or vegetation or on the ground if a small island is used


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Western Osprey_birdguides_DSC_0771a.jpg
Bald Eagle.jpg

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)*: common year-round residents of the north Pacific Coast, while in California many may also be overwintering after northern breeding seasons during summer in Alaska and Canada; a strong and proud-looking raptor, it serves as an emblem of the USA; it is an opportunistic forager, varying from a powerful predator that watches from a high perch catching prey in air or on ground, to scavenging for carrion (dead animals), to stealing prey caught by other birds like ospreys; nests are typically made of a mound of sticks up in trees, and used year after year


By Andy Morffew, CC BY 2.0,

By Peter K Burian - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

12 October 2021: Thanks to Ms. Kathleen Fuentes and her bald eagle enthusiasts (Chelsea, Sarah, Jarod & Erin) from for offering this additional link to more on bald eagles!


Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk.jpg

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)*: a common a woodland hawk often heard before seen; yellow nostrils and mouth with a short powerful black beak, dark eyes and yellow talons; year-found resident of California Coast region (between beach to Coast Range, but not typically seen in the Sierra Nevada Mountains) preferring deciduous or mixed forest with streams or wetlands; hunts by watching from a perch and swooping down, flying low and catching prey by surprise; nests located 35-65 feet up in conifer trees, typically in fork of main trunk or where trunk and branch meet



Red-tailed Hawk.jpg

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)*: common year-round resident in most of the continental USA, inhabiting most all kinds of habitat from forests to plains; commonly seen perched on fence posts or poles, or sailing effortlessly soaring overhead; commonly have bright yellow eyes with large black pupils, and its reddish-brown tail is its trademark, given the plumage can be variable depending upon chosen habitat; does most of its hunting by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to seize prey with its powerful talons; food is commonly mammals (from voles and mice to rabbits and ground squirrels) but also other vertebrates (snakes, amphibians, birds); tree nests can be up to 120 feet high, but they may choose other sites like cliff ledges or human structures; nests are bulky bowl of sticks lined with softer leafy greens; call is a high-pitched descending scream


Order Gruiformes (rails, coots):

American Coot.jpg

American Coot (Fulica americana)*: abundant year-round residents of the western and southern USA and Mexico; prefers FW ponds, lakes and marshes, also seen in SW marshes, bays and out at sea; often seen walking in open settings including golf courses and park lawns; duck-like with a bright-white beak, red eyes and forehead, set against a dark black plumage; forages by swimming and diving, as well as grazes on land, and eats mostly plant materials (stems, leaves, seeds, grasses, algae) but will also eat small animals (insects/tadpoles/snails/worms/crayfish/bird eggs); nest built from wetlands grasses and plants float anchored to standing plants



Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous)*: abundant and widespread in North America, year-round residents in California; it calls its name “kill-deer” as it flies; brown mottled body with black and white bands on head; found open areas (including fields/lawns/golf courses/airports/shores) often around water, SW or FW; many folks are fooled by its “broken-wing” act when trying to lure you (or a predator!) from its nest site!!; forage by running a few steps and then pausing to peck at ground if they see something edible, mostly insects; nest is a shallow scrape on open soil or gravel, with good visibility for the parents to watch and protect


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Order Charadriiformes (shorebirds, gulls, auks, puffins):


Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)*: common; this shorebird has a distinct downward turn of its long beak; breeds in Alaska in spring/summer, over-winters along Pacific coast shorelines down to Baja California; forages on open flats, picking up insects, crustaceans and even berries/does not probe deeply despite long beak; nesting in Arctic occurs on ground in shallow depressions; it call is a fluttering series of sounds



Marbled Godwit.jpg

Marbeled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)*: common; large cinnamon-colored sandpiper with a long straight bill; breeds in the northern Great Plains (in Montana and the Dakotas, partly up into Canada) and over-winters in coastal regions mostly in California (in salt meadows/coastal wetlands); forages mudflats mostly by probing with its long bill which, when it detects food by touch, eats mollusks, crustaceans and insects; its call is a common sound at the winter beach



Sanderling (Calidris alba)*: common but may be seriously declining (estimated 80% drop in population since 1970s); medium sized shore bird in both SW and FW, mostly found on sandy beaches, but also tideflats, lake shores, ponds; white body with wings and back showing brown/black/white streaking patterns; straight, strong black beak; and black legs, feet, and eyes; in spring, adults migrate all of the way into the Arctic Circle for breeding, using non-stop flights each day in order to reach same nesting sites year after year –on rocky tundra; they overwinter along the coastal beaches of North America and globally, where they are well-known to amuse people when they chase waves to find sand crabs and other invertebrates that emerge in the sand when waves recede

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Least Sandpiper.jpg

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)*: common and widespread, found in coast wetlands and shores but more common in muddy edges of marshes, ponds, rivers and damp meadows; in coast areas they are likely to be found in narrow tidal creeks and edges of mudflats; smallest of the sandpiper family; migrate to Alaska and Canada for breeding and in winter are found in coastal areas of the USA and in Mexico; forages by walking slowly and picking up tiny crustaceans (amphipods and copepods), snails, and insects

Western Sandpiper.jpg

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)*: common; migrates to western Alaska and Siberia, Russia, for breeding, and over-winters on both coasts (especially Pacific Coast) of the USA and Mexico; dull gray sandpiper commonly found on our coastal beaches in winter; forages by walking in shallow water or mud, probing mud with bill to find crustaceans, mollusks, worms and insects

Heermanns Gull.jpg

Heermann’s Gull (Larus heermanni)*: common; gull with bright red beak and white head; in summer, flocks move northward along the Pacific Coast from their breeding grounds in western Mexico –at the same time Brown Pelicans come (late May), since Heerman’s Gulls are ‘thieves’ and take fish caught in the pelicans pouch; they go back to Mexico in January-February; not a large gull, but is aggressive in harassing other birds to drop their catch; otherwise, they may forage plunging into water to catch fish; cup-type nest is on ground among colonies in west coast of Mexico

Four Common Gulls:

Mew Gull.jpg

Mew Gull (Larus canus)*: common; bright-white head with small yellow beak, and grey sides and black wingtips; said to have a ‘gentle expression; summer breeding occurs across inland Alaska and western Canada, while long summers along entire Pacific Coast last until October; forages while walking or swimming, or when flying, dips to surface of water; omnivorous, eating mostly small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, even sometimes rodents or young of other bird species -may eat berries and grains in summer; shallow open-cup nests found on high ground, on top of stumps, or in dense spruce trees up to 20 feet up

Western Gull.jpg
Western Gull

Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)*: abundant resident year-round, only gull that nests along most of the Pacific Coast from southern Washington to Baja California; an opportunist that commonly nests around colonies of other seabirds so that it can steal chicks and eggs; they will also be found nesting near colonies of California Sea Lions where they can scavenge any that may have died; also forages while walking, swimming, or diving during flight, in order to catch fish, may drop hard-shelled clams and crabs on rocks (to open them), and will commonly be found at dumps and docks for scavenging purposes; shallow nests are located on ground, cliff ledges, or on human structures

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California Gull.jpg

California Gull (Larus californicus)*: abundant; mostly white body with grey wings, black tail-feather tips, and a strong yellow beak with a black tip;  overwinters principally on the Pacific Coast of USA and Mexico, but have interior breeding grounds ranging from Colorado up through central Canada; found on seacoasts, docks, lakes, human areas including dumps; forages while walking, swimming or flying to catch a varied diet of insects (like grasshoppers), fish, other birds eggs and young, rodents, dead animals, human refuse

Caspian Tern standing.jpg

Caspian Tern (Sterna hirundo)*: common; larger than gulls, with white body, grey wings, a black ‘hat’ and a prominent red bill; nesting across five continents, around large bodies of water; inland breeders over-winter in coastal Mexico south to northern South America; forages by flying high over water, hovers, and then plunges to catch fish under water –like shiner perch in California coast

Common Murre.jpg

Common Murre (Uria aalge)*: abundant; a striking seabird that looks between a gull and penguin with dark-black back and head and a white “vest” from the chest to the black feet; swims and dives with skill, while its flight appears labored; permanent resident in many areas, like Humbolt County, but they sometimes hang out in southern California’s winter; forages while swimming underwater (to 150+ feet depths) to catch mostly fish of different kinds, but may eat squid, crustaceans, marine worms; breeding first occurs at age 4-5 years, no nests are made and eggs are laid on bare rock on cliff ledges or stony surfaces near water; many breeding pairs are tightly packed within touching distance of each other; calls include trumpet-like and croaking sounds

Tufted Puffin.jpg
Tufted Puffin clumsy flyer.jpg

Tufted Puffins (Fratercula cirrhata)*: more common heading up northern Pacific Coast, however has disappeared from southern California decades ago; a large and chunky ocean bird of mostly a black plumage over body, highlighted by a strong, bright-orange beak, bright-orange eyes, legs and feet, white head, and yellow-white head feathers above each eye (breeding males); nests on offshore islands where they can be observed sitting in upright posture; works hard when taking off from water (often thrashing water) but flies strongly once airborne; forages for fish by diving and swimming underwater using its wings to “fly” through the depths; does not make any known calls, but may growl and grown around nest sites

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Tufted Puffin
Rhinoceros Auklet.jpg

Rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata)*: common in California coastal ocean waters while over-wintering, while in spring/summer they go northward into coastal Alaska and beyond; chunky dark seabird related to puffins, with a horn above bill (grows annually in early spring) that is why it has its name; flies strongly but has a clumsy and laborious take-off; can fly fast and long distance to get to feeding areas daily; forages underwater to catch fish and crustaceans; nests are burrows under grassy ground mostly on islands; makes a human-like growling call


Band-tailed Pigeon --fanned tail feather
Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata)*: common year-round residents of the Pacific Coast, lives in oak woodlands and mountain forests; moves around nomadically to find a variety of plant foods (berries/acorns/ ); very social and forages in flocks on the ground or in trees—unlike many doves they climb well and feed up in trees, and are effective at plucking berries; nest are typically 15-40 feet up in either conifer or deciduous trees, and look like a loosely built platform of sticks; sound reminiscent of a cooing baby

sounds: (P. LaTourette,

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Order Columbiformes (pigeons, doves):

Mourning Dove.jpg

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)*: rare in Shelter Cove, they make mournful cooing sounds; not typically in coastline areas except where forest is close to water as in the Lost Coast


Barred Owl.jpg

Barred Owl (Strix varia)*: common year-round resident; likes wooded swamps and river/creek bottoms; pairs of birds will call back and forth to each other, typically at night, when they are most active hunting; they forage by watching from a perch, also by flying low through forest, and catch varied prey with their talons (mice/squirrels/rabbits/reptiles/amphibians, sometimes aquatic invertebrates and fish too); Humboldt County is the southern end of its Pacific Coast range, but the range has been expanding through Canada and is believed to be displacing endangered Northern Spotted Owl populations in the north coastal area; nest sites are tree hollows or old nests of hawks/crows/squirrel; makes “hoo” sounds that most associate with owls and Halloween!

Order Strigiformes (owls):

Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)*: rare, federally endangered species of the Pacific Northwest; year-round resident seeks undisturbed old-growth forest (especially Douglas Fir and Redwood) in order to thrive; hunts mostly at night, typically watching from a perch and then swooping out to capture mostly small mammals with its talons; nesting typically in a sheltered site (inside hollow trees in deep forest/caves/cliff crevices) and no distinct nest is built; they make a dog-like barking sound


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Spotted Owl.jpg
Northern Spotted Owl
Vaux's Swift.jpg


Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi)*: common during summer along the northwestern coast from Sonoma County to British Columbia Canada) for its breeding season, and then migrates in Autumn to Mexico to overwinter; hard to see since it typically flies very fast (and aerobatically) high over northwestern forests or low over lakes and rivers/creeks; forages in rapid flight, catching mostly flying insects; nests are a shallow half cup glued inside hollow trees typical in old growth forests, but may also be seen in old woodpecker nests or even chimneys


Order Apodiformes (swifts, hummingbirds)

Annas Hummingbird.jpg
Anna's Hummingbird hovering.jpg
Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)*: common year-round resident of the Pacific Coast from northern Washington State to part of Baja California; only hummingbird present during winter; found in a wide variety of habitats, including human zones—its range and population numbers have increased likely due to garden flowers!; males typically iridescent magenta colors around head and neck, with a greenish body); forages flowers, feeding on nectars while hovering using a long thin beak and an even longer tongue; also seen to catch small insects and may do this in flight; males during breeding season are a spectacle, attempting to interest a female with a courtship display that begins with a buzzy song followed by flying very high then diving directly toward the ground (and female) with a long buzz sound before turning up (just before crashing into her!) ending with a loud explosive popping sound made by the tail feathers; nests are typically placed 4-25 feet up in trees or shrubs and is a compact open cup made mostly of small plant materials and feathers

See male courtship display:

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Allen's Hummingbird sitting.jpg
Allen's Hummingbird hovering-feeding on

Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)*: common by early spring (breeding season in Spring/Summer in Coastal California) after migrating from Mexico where they overwinter; males have orange colorations on neck, head and body which dominate among a variety of colors (by contrast, Anna’s Hummingbird males have iridescent magenta on head and neck); seen in brushy and semi-open forested habitats (both natural and human-impacted); feeds on a diversity flowers while hovering and extending its straight and long tongue inside to take nectar; they will also catch tiny insects; like Anna’s Hummingbirds, males courtship display includes a high-diving flight ending in a metallic whining sound derived from tail feathers; cup-shaped nests made of mosses and plant fibers are typically placed in shrub or tree branches not higher than 90 feet from ground

Acorn Woodpecker.jpg

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)*: common year-round resident of western California and Oregon; bright-red crown on head with black and white plumage; lives exclusively where oaks are present—if you see a woodpecker is in another type of tree, it may be a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy Woodpecker); eats and hoards acorns, drills small holes in tree bark to store acorns in fall for use in winter (some trees have tens of thousands holes that are re-used every year); unlike other woodpeckers they dont excavate wood for insects (however they do eat insects, particularly ants); nest sites are almost always in a cavity of a dead tree or dead branch of live tree, typically 10-30 feet high


Order Piciformes (woodpeckers):

Hairy Woodpecker.jpg

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)*: common and widespread in North America—into northern California Coast region; year-round residents; habitat consists of large trees in diverse types of forest; does more pounding and excavating than other woodpeckers in effort to consume wood-boring insects and their larvae; nests are found in aspens or dead conifer trees, typically an excavated cavity 5-60 feet above ground

Downy Woodpecker.jpg

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)*: common and widespread through USA (except arid southwest), most well-known member of woodpecker family, smallest woodpecker in North America, found in diverse forested areas with preference to areas of deciduous trees like aspens and willows; forage for mostly insects all over a tree foliage including even twigs, climbing acrobatically and even hanging upside down; in winter they use more pecking and excavating to look for food; nests are excavated cavities in dead trees or limbs, typically 10-30 feet above ground

Northern Flicker.jpg

Northern Flicker or “Red-shafted Flicker” (Colaptes auratus)*: common year-round residents in most of USA, inhabiting a wide range of forests from Alaska to Central America; brown in color and flashes bright colors under wings and tail when it flies; forages by hopping on ground as well as in tree branches, sometimes flying out to capture insects; may also eat fruits and berries especially in winter; cavity nests in dead wood of trees, typically 5-20+ feet above ground


American Kestrel.jpg
American Kestrel


American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)*: common, permanent residents across USA and Mexico; smallest falcon in America; prefers open to semi-open areas like wood edges or forest clearings; hunts from high perches, swooping down to capture large insects/birds/bats/reptiles/amphibians/crayfish (especially like grasshoppers); orange-yellowish in color with speckled black stripes/spots; nests are cavities in dead trees or branches, or sometimes in dirt bank or cliff


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Order Falconiformes (falcons):

Peregrine Falcon.jpg

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)*: uncommon, but more prevalent in winter in coastal California (breeders from northern Canada and Alaska); also year-round residents in northwest coastal areas; this species failed between 1940s-1970s due to pesticides like DDT, but reintroduced populations across North America are now stable and increasing; one of the world’s fastest birds, power-diving from great heights reaching up to 200 mph!; prey upon birds mainly, and sometimes small mammals; highly territorial and mating pairs remain intact for life;  very simple nests are typically on cliff edges (sometimes buildings or bridges) and are used for many years


Pacific Slope Flycatcher.jpg
Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis)*: abundant in summer in humid forests along the Pacific Coast, California to south Alaska, often seen in alder trees within coniferous forests; overwinters in western and southern Mexico lowlands; favors deep shaded areas along streams, and often places its mossy nest under bridges or eaves of cabins and homes as well as small trees, streambanks, or fallen trees; green in color over the head and back, with yellowish chest, and dark eyes set inside yellow eye rings; upper bill is black while lower beak is yellow or orange; forages by watching from a perch in shady forest, flying out to catch insects in the air; feeds mostly on insects including flies/bees/wasps/caterpillars/moths/spiders; cup-type nests made of moss, grass, leaves and other vegetation are on ground or not more than 10 feet up in tree branch forks, stumps, or streambanks.

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Order Passeriformes (perching birds):

Black Phoebe.jpg

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)*: common, permanent residents; rarely found away from water/shady streams/ponds (needs mud for nest building); forages by watching from a perch low over water, slowly wagging tail, and then darts out to catch insects just above water’s surface; open-cup mud-and-grass nests are often plastered to sheltered spots (cliff faces, under eaves of roofs) and are used year after year.

Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni)*: common, permanent resident of California’s coast, preferably in oak or pine-oak woodlands; and in Humboldt County, they may be found in the shrubby understory of humid Douglas Fir and Redwood forests; yellowish-to-greenish coloration (similar to flycatcher) with compact brown bill; may be confused with Ruby-crowned Kinglets (see pic below), so look for differences in color and pattern of wing bars between the two species; forages by hopping about actively in trees from twig to twig, pausing to look for prey; eats mostly insects, including caterpillars/crickets/beetles/spiders and some berries/small fruits/some plant galls; cup-shaped nests are most often in oak trees 6-25 feet up, built from bark, moss, grasses, etc.

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Hutton's Vireo.jpg
Hutton's Vireo
Stellar's Jay
Stellar's Jay.jpg

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)*: abundant year-round resident, with striking blue colors on back and body, and a dark tuft of head feathers pointing up and posteriorly; found throughout western forests including NW Pacific Coast and Humboldt County; lives in flocks except when nesting; forages mostly high in trees, but may also forage on ground; omnivorous—opens acorns and nuts by hitting them with its strong bill, but also eats insects, spiders, small mammals, reptiles, and bird eggs;  bulky, ragged cup-shaped nests are typically found 10-30 feet high in conifer trees.

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American Crow.jpg

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)*: common, year-round residents across continental USA; among the most intelligent birds, successfully adapts to human impacted areas; fully black foliage; opportunistic omnivore, mostly eating at ground level; eats anything it can find including dead animals, and is known to drop hard-shelled prey from high above ground to rocky, hard areas in order to break them open; nests are bulky baskets of twigs, bark, weeds and mud, with softer materials lining the inside.

Common Raven.jpg

Common Raven (Corus corax)*: abundant, permanent resident of the western USA and Canada; found in a wide variety of habitats including coastal cliffs and forests locally; fully dark plumage with dark, strong bill and talons, larger than American Crow; makes a deep croaking call; omnivorous from scavenging to predatory pursuit—often found foraging in pairs who work together to flush out nests to eat eggs or young; nests are a bulky basket of twigs with lining of grass/moss/hair, typically located on ledge of rock cliffs or high in conifer trees.


Tree Swallow.jpg

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)*: common in spring and summer during northern breeding season, while overwintering occurs in coastal Mexico; brilliant blue-colored head and back with a white throat and front; forages mostly in flight, often low over water, eating insects predominantly; cup nests are made of grass, moss, and pine needles and are located in holes in trees and sometimes on human structures.

Violet-green Swallow.jpg

Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)*: common during spring/summer breeding season throughout western USA, and then migrates to Mexico and south to overwinter; brightly colored with green on crown of head and down its back, a white face, throat and chest, and blue wings; forages in flight catching a wide variety of insects in the air, often as part of a flock; cup-shaped nest made of grass and twigs is typically located in a hole or cavity like an old woodpecker hole or natural (or human-made) crevice.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow.jpg

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)*: common early spring to late summer, found in any kind of open country, most commonly near water; an early migrant in spring to North America for spring/summer breeding season, and overwinters in Mexico and south; brown-colored over head and back; forages mostly in air over water and fields, catching a wide variety of flying insects; nests are typically at end of burrows (1-6 feet long) dug into vertical dirt banks. 

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Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)*: common in spring/summer in North America, after undertaking a long distance migration from South America where they overwinter; forages by catching insects in flight; prefers semi-open land especially near water; brown wings with a rust-colored neck and black and white crown; builds jug-shaped mud nests under roofs of many Shelter Cove homes(!!) let alone many other human-made structures (bridges/buildings)—use of human sites has helped the species to be very common across North America; often colonies of multiple nests will be built on one structure, and they defend the nests against larger bird predators as well as other cliff swallows threatening the nest; invasive house sparrows also threaten nests since they take over completed nests


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Barn Swallow.jpg

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)*: abundant across North America, Canada to Mexico, in spring/summer for breeding, and then in August migrates south to overwinter; prefers open terrain especially near water; orange to red face and chest with bright blue crown and feathers; food is mostly captured and eaten in the air, mostly insects; courtship involves aerial chases; cup shaped nests are made of mud and dried grass, typically attached to human structures.

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Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)*: abundant, permanent residents of Pacific coastal forests; only chickadee species in humid coastal belt and wet forests typical of Humboldt County; chestnut coloration makes it hard to see, but it produces a particular sound letting you know its there;  forages by hopping among twigs and branches to find insects/conifer seeds/berries; nests are excavated typically in dead wood or in old woodpecker holes, lined with soft materials.


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Brown Creeper.jpg

Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)*: common year-round residents of the Pacific Coast from California to southern Alaska; found in any habitat with at least a few tall trees, including in human-impacted environments (preferably mature coniferous or deciduous forest); splotchy brown and white head, back and wings, with white throat and chest; forages on trunk and limbs of trees, climbing  slowly with tail braced against surface of trunk; eats mostly insects up in the tree canopies (climbs all way up, then goes all way down, then goes to next tree!); nest site is typically behind a large strip of bark, up to 1-50 feet high; nest is made of twigs, bark, moss, leaves.

Pacific Wren.jpg
Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus)*: abundant, permanent residents favoring coniferous forests; breeds most commonly in moist coniferous forest with a dense understory in Pacific Northwest; brown-colored with lighter speckles; they are easily missed as they move around like mice near the ground in dense tangles of understory, but you can find them by their “kep-kep” call notes and ringing tinkling songs; forages on ground and in vegetation, feeding mostly on insects/millipedes/spiders; nests made of grass, weeds, roots, and moss, are located close to ground, often in downed trees or rock crevases.


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Marsh Wren.jpg

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)*: common, widespread across North America, lives in marshes both FW and SW/estuarine typically among reeds and aquatic grasses, mostly insect diet

Golden-crowned Kinglet.jpg

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)*: abundant; one of the tiniest birds; green-colored; males have a yellow-orange crown with a black base (can be difficult to see) and a white ring around eye; ranges down Pacific coast to Mendocino County; may include permanent residents locally, while others migrate to northern Canada in early spring for breeding and then migrate southward in late fall for winter residence; nests and breeds in dense coniferous forest especially spruce/fir/hemlock (less often in Douglas fir or pine); nest is a hanging cup (build from twigs and diverse items for bedding) on branches; in winter, they may also choose deciduous trees; forages high in trees, sometimes including hanging upside-down from twigs to catch insects (rarely flies out to capture insect) 

​     The related Ruby-crowned Kinglet (R. calendula) will also be in our

     region in winter, but instead moves around in lower parts of forest,

     streamside thickets, etc.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.jpg

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)*: common; small round-bodied green-colored bird with white eye ring; males have a ruby-colored crown on top of their head, but these may be difficult to see; they can be confused with Hutton's Vireos (see pic above), so look for the differences in color and pattern of wing bars between species; they migrate in late spring (up to Alaska and Canada) and in early fall (to our coastal region); hard to see in summer since they live high in coniferous trees (spruce/fir/Douglas Fir/pines), but in winter (along Pacific Coast) they may move about low in woods (typically deciduous and mixed forest) and streamside thickets-flicking wings; eats mostly insects

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Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata)*: common; permanent residents found along the Pacific coast from Oregon to Baja California; often found in chaparral of Pacific seaboard (often in poison oak bushes and coast sage scrub); brownish/greenish in color and therefore hard to see, but you can hear their familiar songs; rarely fly in open areas and may live entire life within just a few acres; forages in dense low growth for insects and berries (including poison oak berries)


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Swainson's Thrush.jpg

Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)*: common; spring breeding and summers in dense coniferous forest of Northern Canada and Alaska and coastal Washington, Oregon, and California (to Santa Barbara); winters in tropical forests of Central and South America; bulky open-cup nests; in North America, nests are typically seen in deciduous trees and shrubs; feeds on ground as well as in trees, eats a wide variety of insects and other invertebrates, as well as berries and fruits in summer (North America)/winter (tropics)

American Robin
American Robin.jpg

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)*: abundant and widespread including commonly around humans; breeds in the spring in Alaska and Canada, winters in USA and Mexico; eats insects and various other invertebrates (e.g., earthworms/snails/spiders) mostly during summer up north, while it eats mainly wild berries in their southern winter; adults have yellow beaks, dark body and tail feathers, with colorful orange/red chests. 

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Varied Thrush
Varied Thrush.jpg

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)*: abundant; bright orange and black coloration; haunting songs (at dawn, dusk, and after rain) can echo through the dense, humid forests of the Pacific Northwest (including north coast of California), where they can be permanent residents; others migrate for breeding in Alaska and Western Canada, and winter mostly in the coastal US states; forages on ground under dense cover, using bill to toss leaf litter aside as it mainly looks for insects and invertebrates (summer) and winter berries/fruit/seeds; open-cup nests typically seen at base of branches against trunk of conifer trees


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European Starling.jpg

Alien Species

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)*: common; non-native, brought in 1890 and has spread across all of North America where it has had a negative effect on some native hole-nesting bird species a (e.g., bluebirds, red-headed woodpeckers); often has purple/blue plumage with a thick yellow beak

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Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)*: common; trademark yellow rump seen as it flies away; most warblers migrate to tropics in fall, for the winter, but this species generally stays year-round in North America; lives in conifer forests; in the Western USA, it may breed (spring/summer) in mountains as high as 12,000 feet elevation; in winter, they are commonly found in streamside woods; forages on ground level and eat insects and berries; catches insects by hovering over foliage or will fly out to catch flying insects.

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Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)*: abundant; small, bright yellow body with light green wings; moves actively on ground in semi-open areas with bushes and trees (typically does not go into dense forest areas);  Breeds in summer along Pacific Coastal areas (and up into Alaska and Canada), over-winters in Mexico’s coastal regions; feeds mostly on insects; along Pacific Coast, bulky open-cup nests are typically about 3 feet above-ground, in shrubs and vines

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Song Sparrow.jpg

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)*: common; widespread in North America; winters in the USA and breeds in thickets, marshes and gardens in Canada; forage mostly on ground, sometimes scratch soil to uncover insects, other small invertebrates, and seeds

White-crowned Sparrow.jpg
White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)*: common; its white crown (with black streaks) is commonly seen as they summer in the mountains and north (western Canada and Alaska) for breeding, and winter in the south and western USA; permanent residents of Pacific coastal regions in thickets/chaparral/scrub; eat mostly seeds and vegetation, also insects especially in summer; forage (often with flock of other sparrows) while hopping and running on ground; open-cup nests (made of grass and leaves) are almost always on ground hidden under rocks, exposed tree roots, logs, dirt banks

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Dark-eyed Junco -green bkgd.jpg

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyematis)*: abundant, widespread across North America; in West, they exhibit different color patterns with reddish-brown on back or sides; in winter, flocks of juncos are seen around woodland edges, common in human areas; most populations are migratory, going to northern Canada and Alaska’s interior in spring/summer for breeding; may have permanent populations along Pacific Coast; forages while hopping and running on ground, scratching to uncover seeds and insects.

Lazuli Bunting.jpg

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)*: common in summer around thickets and streamside trees; sky-blue head often with white chest blue patterned wings; typically in July they, migrate to Mexico for over-wintering; spring and summer they breed in California to Great Plains; forages on the ground and low growth plants, eating seeds and insects; open-cup nests (made of grass and leaves) are typically 2-4 feet from ground and tethered firmly to vertical stems or to forked branch.

Red-winged Blackbird.jpg

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)*: abundant and widespread across North America, breeding in Canada in spring/summer and wintering in the USA and Mexico; in USA, many populations are year-round including in California; top of wings have a bright red-colored patch highlighted by yellow and white—this colorful patch is set dramatically against a black plumage on most of the rest of the body; flocks forage together (except during breeding season) mostly while walking on ground to find insects and seeds; open-cup nests placed in marsh growth or in dense grass areas.

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Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)*: common in grasslands/meadows/praries across North America; body is patterned with brown and white, with a bright yellow chest and black collar in adults; year-round populations in western USA; forage by walking on the ground, often probes soil with its bill, to find insects and seeds; has a characteristic flute-like song with descending; domed nest with side entrance is placed on ground in a depression hidden by dense grass cover

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Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)*: common and widespread across western USA where it is a year-round resident; seen in many semi-open areas with shrubs, streamside vegetation; darkly colored body and head but with streaks of purple/blue/green often evident; often seen walking on ground making short forward jerks with its head; sometimes catches insects in flight but typically forage on ground looking for insects, seeds, and berries (they will also scavenge for crumbs of human foods); open-cup nests usually 20-40 feet up in trees

Red Crossbill.jpg
Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)*: common; year-round resident seldom found away from conifer trees; mottled orange coloration on head and body; bill is crossed with half of beak to the right and lower half to the left; as they fly overhead they make hard “kip-kip” callnotes; they use these bills to eat mostly seeds from cones of conifer trees; bulky open-cup nests are placed on horizontal branches (well away from trunk) usually 10-20 feet up

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Americam Goldfinch.jpg

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)*: common and widespread; in summer they are active flyers up and down, having strikingly bright yellow body and head, with black head-top and wing highlights; in winter they are have subtler brown coloration; found in semi-open areas having open weedy ground and bushes for shelter; forages by actively climbing about on daisy/weeds/grasses/thistle to reach seeds; nests in mid-summer; open-cup nests typically placed into deciduous shrubs and trees

House Sparrow.jpg

Alien Species

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)*: common and widespread world-wide; non-native species from Eurasia and Africa (introduced in 1851), affecting some native bird populations by competing for food and nesting sites; permanent residents across USA; forages while hopping on ground, eating mostly seeds, but also some insects in summer; scavenges human food crumbs; enclosed (often globular) nests have an entrance on side and are often placed in cavities or under/within structures (often human)

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