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Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) Turdidae

National Bison Range, MT
April 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Most birds that posses such striking blue plumage typically get these gorgeous colors from tiny air pockets inside the feathers that scatter light in a way that makes them appear blue. Learn more.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) Turdidae

Walnut Creek, CA
December 25, 2015
Robert Niese

These rather unassuming birds have a hauntingly beautiful song that was beloved by Walt Whitman and the inspiration for the voice of the fictional Mockingjay. They also have a very interesting genetic history. There are five species of Catharus thrushes that are long-distance migrators (plus the closely related Wood Thrush in the monotypic genus Hylocichla), but the Hermit is not closely related to the others. Instead, Hermits are sister to the Russet Nightingale-thrush (C. occidentalis) which is non-migratory and endemic to Mexico. Along with the Swainson’s Thrush (C. ustulatus) and the Wood Thrush, these birds each evolved long-distance migratory behavior independently of the other thrush lineages. Learn more here.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) Parulidae

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Yellowthroats are among the most abundant and widely dispersed of the New World Warblers. There are 13 different races of these little birds, but all share their characteristic witchety witchety witchety song. Listen for these birds in any riparian or wetland habitat across the US and Canada.

Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) Icteridae, female

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Bullock’s Orioles are the only oriole species found in the Pacific Northwest. I caught this pretty lady mid-stretch. These rectricies (tail feathers) are really worn and she appears to be missing a feather on her right side. Normally, rectricies are molted symmetrically, so perhaps she broke this one feather or lost it in a battle with a rival. Regardless, she’s still quite a lovely bird!

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) Phasianidae

No Data Available
Specimen courtesy of the Slater Museum
Photo by Robert Niese

Pheasants are native to Asia, but they have been introduced by European hunters to nearly every continent as a game bird. Here in North America, they have done particularly well and stable populations can be found throughout the plains and northern states and Canada. In spite of being considered a pest in much of their range, the males have strikingly ornate plumage and they are loved by millions (they even have their own advocacy organization!).

Heerman’s Gull (Larus heermani) Laridae

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (BLM), OR
June 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Heerman’s Gulls

are often mistaken for jaegers due to their dark, pointed wings and their habit of chasing other birds (particularly pelicans) to steal their prey. They are the only gull species in North America to breed south of the States, but spend winters north of Mexico. Recently, perhaps due to a surge in southern populations thanks to Mexico’s increased protection for the species, a few individuals have attempted to nest in the US on Alcatraz Island.

Wilson’s Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla) Parulidae, male

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (BLM), OR
June 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Wilson’s Warbler was first identified by the father of American Ornithology, Alexander Wilson, in 1811. In his honor, the species was placed in a new genus, Wilsonia, in 1838 along with the Canada Warbler (W. canadensis) and the Hooded Warbler (W. citrina). But recent genetic evidence suggests that the genus Wilsonia should be split and merged with Setophaga and Cardellina. Although, considering that the methods used to determine these new relations are six years old, another revision of the Parulid family tree would not be surprising. Wilson’s Warblers are a common resident of moist forests throughout the PNW and perhaps best identified, like all warblers, by their song.

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) Scolopacidae

Seal Rock State Park, OR
June 11, 2015
Robert Niese

This Tattler was certainly wandering! It’s breeding season for most shorebirds this time of year, but this lone Wandering Tattler is hundreds of miles away from its typical breeding grounds in NE Russia, Alaska, and NW Canada. What’cha doing here, buddy?

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) Tyrannidae

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Western Kingbirds are well deserving of the genus name Tyrannus because they are truly tyrannical terrors. Any bird that happens to wander too close to a kingbird nest (even fearsome ravens and falcons!) will immediately be assaulted by a flurry of feathers. I decided not to test their patience with human intruders. This guy did not seem too pleased to be my subject for a photo shoot in the first place.

Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) Icteridae, male

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Bullock’s Orioles are the only oriole species found in the Pacific Northwest. They are members of the “blackbird” family which includes a very large fraction of not-black species including the meadowlarks, oropendolas, bobolinks, and, of course, the orioles. Icterid blackbirds are not, however, related to the European Common Blackbird which is actually a robin, which are not related to European Robins which are actually chats, which are not related to Yellow-breasted Chats which are actually New World Warblers in the genus Icteria, which is not to be confused with the genus Icterus, because, as previously stated, orioles are blackbirds which are not robins which are not chats, which are not Yellow-breasted Chats which are New World Warblers, not blackbirds. More reasons to hate common names…