By Kate Moore

I personally have been finding it difficult to practice social distancing, especially with the weather getting warmer in Vancouver and not being able to enjoy my normal spring activities like skiing, hiking, and soaking up the sun with friends. However, it is so incredibly important for public health that we all do our part, and stay home if we can in order to “flatten the curve.” 

These are unprecedented times we are living in, and it is normal to have an emotional response to our current uncertain situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. Whether it is anxiety, fear, stress, or depression, it is important to know that you are not alone, we are in this together.

It is widely documented that people who spend time in nature generally have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress1. There are also studies that show that even short periods (between 10-60 minutes) of being in an urban greenspace or by a window with a scenic view can lead to increased physical and emotional health2. In the Lower Mainland, we are lucky to live in a temperate rainforest ecosystem that is highly productive and home to an abundance of wildlife, trees, plants, and insects, many of which can be found in our own backyard.

I have decided to start a blog series, called Backyard Species, on the varieties of species that can be seen right here in Metro Vancouver, from our own backyards. So, whether you are observing from your window, balcony, or on a walk (keeping a safe 2 m distance from others!) this is a great time to start practicing your species identification skills!

The Lower Mainland is a haven for both migratory and resident bird species, as it consists of three important bird areas: the Fraser River Estuary, English Bay, Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound, and the Greater Vancouver Watershed. This week we will explore some of the most common bird species in Metro Vancouver, and how to identify them. So dust off your binoculars, open your windows, and get birding!

1. Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Red eyes
  • Wings are spotted
  • Rust coloured sides and white belly
  • Forage on the ground in shrubs and thickets

Fun Facts:

  • Spotted Towhees use dew on leafy vegetation to wash themselves.
  • Spotted Towhee can live for more than 10 years in the wild.

2. Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Pale brown on head and chest, fading into soft grey on wings
  • Waxy red feathers on tips of wings and yellow on tip of tail
  • Crest that droops over back of head
  • Can be found in suburban garden where there are fruiting trees or shrubs 

Fun Facts:

  • Cedar waxwings are highly social birds and live in flocks with a few hundred others. A group of cedar waxwings is known as "ear-full" or "museum".
  • During mating season, males and females hop, gently touch each other’s bills and exchange food during the courtship.

3. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Blue-grey on back, white below with black and yellow streaking
  • Black bill, eyes, and legs
  • Found in semi-open woods, parks, along creeks, and in residential areas

Fun Facts

  • Yellow Warblers are omnivores (eating both plants and meat). Their diet is mostly insects such as leafhoppers, beetles, wasps, midges and caterpillars. In the winter months, the Yellow-rumped Warbler often consumes berries and juicy fruit.
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers form monogamous couples which tend to last for more than one breeding season.

4. Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Fairly large woodpecker, with down-curved bill
  • Brownish overall, red undersides on wings and tail
  • Black spots over body
  • Distinct “drumming” sound when establishing territory

Fun Facts

  • The diet of a Northern flicker consists mostly of ants. One Northern flicker was once found with more than 5,000 ants in its stomach.
  • The nestlings stay with their parents for up to six weeks after hatching.

5. Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Size of a ping-pong ball
  • High pitched “clicks”
  • Attracted to red flowers
  • Males have bright pink head and throat

Fun Facts

  • During normal flight, the wings of a hummingbird beat about 40-50 times per second (that’s more than 2400 per minute)!
  • A hummingbird's egg is about the size of a small jellybean.
  • Female Anna’s Hummingbirds use plant down and spider webs to build their nests.

6. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

Distinguishing Features:

  • Distinct black cap and bib, white body
  • Found in residential neighborhoods and parks nesting in alder trees
  • Heard easily by their call, “chick-a-dee-dee”

Fun facts:

  • Black-capped Chickadees tend to mate for life.
  • The Black-capped Chickadee is the state bird of Massachusetts and Maine.

7. Northwestern Crow vs Common Raven

I have always been curious to know the difference between the crow (Corvus caurinus) and common raven (Corvus corax) since both are so common in the Lower Mainland, here are distinguishing features of each.

Fun Facts

  • Crows have an incredible ability to recognize human faces and ravens can use tools in many complex ways!
  • Crows and ravens are important in mythology, fables and native cultures. They are often identified as clever tricksters. In some cultures, they are symbols of good luck; in others, they bring bad luck.

Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus)

Common Raven (Corvus corax)

Generally smaller

Generally larger

Short “caw”

Deep “croak”

Straight beak 

Slightly curved beak

Flaps wings when flying

Soars through the air

Fan-shaped tail feathers

Triangular tail feathers

 

There are so many more bird species that can be spotted from the comfort of your own home. Let us know how many you can spot! Share your photos by tagging us on social media for a chance to be featured.

Sources:

  1. Cox, DTC., Shanahan, D.F., Hudson, H.L., Plummer, K.E., Siriwardena, G.M., Fuller, R.A., Anderson, K., Hancock, S., Gaston, K.J. (2017). Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature. BioScience, 67(2). 147-155. 
  2. Bratman, G.N., Hamilton, J.P., Daily, G.C. (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1249(1). 118-136. 
  3. http://www.vandusengarden.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/common-birds-in-the-garden.pdf
  4. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/
  5. https://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/
  6. http://naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/facts/northern_flicker_k6.html
  7. http://naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/facts/annas_hummingbird_k6.html
  8. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Annas_Hummingbird/lifehistory
  9. https://santarosa.wbu.com/chickadee-fun-facts
  10. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/year-of-the-bird-brains-intelligence-smarts/

Kate Moore is the Vancouver Water Monitoring Coordinator for Fraser Riverkeeper. Kate received her Master of Science in Ecological Restoration from Simon Fraser University and British Columbia Institute of Technology. She is passionate about conservation and restoration of aquatic waterways, particularly how human and ecosystem health goes hand in hand. 

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