Songbirds

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Known formally as passerines (“perching birds”), this incredibly diverse and expansive group comprises more than half of all known bird species worldwide. Distinguished by their three front-facing toes and single backward-facing toe (the hallux), passerines can grasp branches and similar scaffolds and thus perch. Some are known for singing from such perches, though this behavior is by no means absolute within the group. 

Marshes and estuaries abound with songbirds of every stripe—the confluence of fresh- and saltwater creates a myriad of habitat niches, each attended by its coterie of specialized perchers.

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

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    Yellow-rumped Warblers are year-round residents on the Oregon coast, inhabiting a variety of cover types including spruce-pine copse and riparian thicket. Like most New World warblers, this lively bird captures insects by gleaning vegetation or from mid-air sorties, similar to those of a flycatcher. But what makes the Yellow-rumped species unique among warblers is its ability to digest fruits from the Myrica genus of shrubs—which includes our native wax myrtle. The ceraceous berries of myrtles and their ilk provide critical forage to these birds through the winter, while bugs are scarce.

  • Belted Kingfisher

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    Perched regally at vantages overlooking water, the Belted Kingfisher is a common and commanding resident of wetlands, rivers, lakes, and estuaries across the country. Its outsized head and beak, rakishly spiked crown feathers and chattering, swooping flight conspire to draw the attention. Watch as kingfishers hover over the water, keen and intent; soon prey is spotted and the bird dives fully into the drink, emerging a moment later to fly off with fish in beak. This it takes to a comfy perch elsewhere to swallow whole, head-first.   

  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee

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    These sprightly little birds inhabit conifer and hardwood forests on the Oregon coast year-round, gleaning insects from leaves and boughs all the live-long day. Often found foraging in mixed flocks with Black-capped Chickadees, Bushtits, Brown Creepers, kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches, the Chestnut-backed Chickadee is bold and often indifferent to human attentions, allowing for up-close observation as it hangs upside-down from branches, flitting from tree to tree. In spring, look for chickadees nesting in snags or other old, cavitated wood. If a previously-dug recess isn’t available, the female will excavate a cavity and line its interior with soft bark, moss, even animal fur if handy.

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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    The small and feisty Ruby-crowned Kinglet reigns all winter at Siletz Bay, Nestucca Bay and Bandon Marsh Refuges. Often concealed in underbrush, observers are treated to the ruby crown of the male only if he is agitated or near a female during the breeding season. Once mated, a female can lay up to 12 eggs—the largest clutch of any North American songbird for its size.

  • Dark-eyed Junco

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    Despite being abundant and common across much of North America, birds of the Junco genus exhibit stunning diversity in feather color, body shape and size, and behavior among the various species, subspecies, and races across their range. This diversity likely emerged very rapidly and very recently, as juncos re-colonized North America after the most recent ice age. This rapid diversification among junco groups is similar to Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands or the Cichlid fishes in Africa–but it’s happening across the backyards and parklands of millions of North Americans.

  • Spotted Towhee

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    This large sparrow, red-eyed and furtive, is a familiar presence in brushy thickets across the American West. Because of the bird’s inconspicuous habit of scratching about in the shaded leaf litter for insects—and ducking into thick brambles for cover—it is perhaps better known for its screechy, mewing call, as well as the male’s trilling song, broadcast loud and proud over the understory.  

  • Evening Grosbeak

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    A massive, blunt beak signals the Evening Grosbeak as a seed-eater. In fact, the various large finch species known collectively as grosbeaks owe their name to the French grosbec, which literally means “big beak”. These showy birds are year-round residents in Oregon, frequenting mixed forests and backyard feeders alike.

  • Steller's Jay

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    Contrary to very popular belief, this is not a Blue Jay. (Blue Jays occur further east.) These raucous and lively birds live in coniferous forests across the West, attendant to picnics, campgrounds and backyards everywhere. Males and females form monogamous, long-term pair bonds; are highly territorial; and do not migrate. Meaning if you are feeding peanuts (a favorite food) to a few Steller's Jays, be prepared to have the same individuals around your yard for years and years to come.