Thursday, July 21, 2011

Birds in Our Yard: Steller's Jay and Western Tanager

steller's jay in our driveway
We have so many birds in our yard.  I love to hear them and see them.  I don't always notice them as much as I wish I would, and I'm hoping to take the time to observe them more often. The ripe cherries from the cherry tree (I think it's a bitter cherry tree) in front of our house seem to be attracting a lot of birds, and near the tree is an especially good place to see them.

One type of bird we can hardly help but notice is the steller's jay. We've seen a lot of them flitting around the yard, amongst tree branches and on the ground.  They are such a pretty blue color, and they look so distinguished with their crest.   They have a loud, distinctive, rather harsh cry, but they don't always sound the same.  Wikipedia's page on the Steller's Jay says,

One common call is a harsh "SHACK-Sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck" series; another "skreeka! skreeka!" call sounds almost exactly like an old-fashioned pump handle; yet another is a soft, breathy "hoodle hoodle" whistle. Its alarm call is a harsh, nasal "wah." The Steller's Jay also imitates the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, causing other birds to vacate feeding areas. Some calls are sex-specific: females produce a rattling sound, while males make a high-pitched "gleep gleep."
I had forgotten that they can imitate the cry of a hawk.  We had been excited thinking perhaps we'd been hearing a hawk lately, and I wonder if it's only been a steller's jay!
 
This afternoon my younger daughter and I decided to sit on a bench on our porch to watch for birds in the cherry tree. We didn't have much time to spend, but we were rewarded quickly by seeing a beautiful yellow bird with a red head and black wings.

(above picture taken by my 10-year-old daughter)

I looked it up on Google and found out that the colorful bird is a male western tanager in breeding plumage. Here is some information about the western tanager from Wikipedia:
The Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). The species's plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.

Adults have pale stout pointed bills, yellow underparts and light wing bars. Adult males have a bright red face and a yellow nape, shoulder, and rump, with black upper back, wings, and tail; in non-breeding plumage the head has no more than a reddish cast and the body has an olive tinge. Females have a yellow head and are olive on the back, with dark wings and tail.

The song of disconnected short phrases suggests an American Robin's but is hoarser and rather monotonous. The call is described as "pit-er-ick".

Their breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed woods across western North America from the Mexico-U.S. border as far north as southern Alaska; thus they are the northernmost-breeding tanager. They build a flimsy cup nest on a horizontal tree branch, usually in a conifer. They lay four bluish-green eggs with brown spots.

These birds migrate, wintering from central Mexico to Costa Rica. Some also winter in southern California.

We will be keeping our eye out for birds, and hopefully I'll be able to post about more birds soon!

(Correction:  I'm sorry I misspelled "steller's jay" as "stellar's jay" at first!  The German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller was the first to record them in 1741, and it's named after him.)

3 comments:

  1. Lovely birds, neither of which I've ever seen in my yard. They must we western types. ;) Cherries are bird magnets!

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  2. Those Stellar Jays are so bossy! When we go camping, they eat all the dog food. At home, they are one step under the squirrels in the pecking order of the birdbath feeder.

    I love the picture that your girl took of the Western Tanager. I have seen them, but didn't know what they are called.

    Thanks so much for stopping by to say hi, and you are so lucky to have an original Baby Island. I have an original Five Little Peppers and How They Grew that I just now thought about. Have you read those?

    Kathy M.

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  3. Thank you both! :)

    Kathy ~ I was so excited to see that she had gotten a picture of the Western Tanager! I've read the Five Little Peppers and How They Grew; it's a great story! :)

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