Backyard Birds PNW

You will be asked to collect bird data for the purposes of studying ecological trends. It is necessary for you to first learn to identify the species you are likely to encounter. There is considerable variaty of habitat preferance for native birds; some birds prefer tall older trees while others prefer small shrubs. Some eat seeds, some eat insects, and some eat primarily fruit. There are different birds in Portland yards in wintr than in summer. The fact cards below contain a breif discription, picture, and will soon also provide a link to sound clips of each birds song. Print these out and use them as  fact cards in the field to help with bird identification as you study them at home. Remember that the bird's overall size, shape and color pattern are three important cluse to its identity. The bird's habitat and behavior afer also important cluse.

Most Frequently seen yard birds of the Portland Metropolitan area are:


Black capped Chickadee  

     image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They can be found in a wide range of habitats, some of which include deciduous and mixed forests, open woods, parks, willow thickets, cottonwood groves, and disturbed areas. For nests they can use nest boxes, small cavities, or holes left by Downy Woodpecker. With nest boxes they prefer ones with wood shavings or sawdust. They often use alder or birch trees and use rotten branches or dead snags as their nesting site. They use moss or other coarse material as a foundation for the nest, and then they line it with softer material such as rabbit fur.

Ecology : During winter half of their food diet comes from seeds, fruit, and other plant material. The other half comes from animals such as insects, spiders, suet, fat and meat from dead frozen animals. During spring, summer, and fall pretty much all of their food diet comes from insects, spiders, and other animals. If they eat out of feeders they prefer sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, peanut butter, and mealworms.


Chestnut-backed Chickadee 

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They mostly live in thick coniferous forests in wet areas. Some of these forests include Douglas-firs, Monterey, ponderosa, sugar pines white firs, incense-cedar, and redwoods. They also can live in deciduous forests, particularly willow and alder stands along streams, eucalyptus groves, open patches of madrone and shrubs, and sometimes along the edges of oak woodlands. They have also been known to frequent backyards with a lot of shrubs and trees.Nests are usually made in holes in rotten trees or holes left by woodpeckers

 Ecology: Most of their food intake comes from insects and other arthropods, including spiders, caterpillars, leafhoppers, tiny scale insects, wasps, and aphids.They feed their young caterpillars and wasp larvae for the most part. They have also been known to eat seeds, berries, and fruit pulp.


Red Breasted Nuthatch

image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They prefer coniferous forests of spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, larch, and western red cedar. During winters they have been known to use orchards, scrub, parks, plantations, and shade trees as habitats. They use cavities in dead parts of trees as a nest and they like to use aspen trees because of the softer wood. While they sometimes reuse nests, they never use nest boxes. 

Ecology: During the summer they mostly eat insects and other arthropods such as beetles, caterpillars, spiders, ants, and earwigs and they also feed these to their young. During the fall and winter they mostly eat conifer seeds that they may have stored from earlier in the year. They also eat from feeders. Given a choice they typically choose to eat the heaviest food available and if it’s too large to eat they’ll jam it against the tree bark until they can break into smaller pieces.


Dark eyed Junco 

Image cortesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They are often found in coniferous forests including pine, Douglas-fir, spruce, and fir. They can also be found in deciduous forests such as aspen, cottonwood, oak, maple, and hickory. During migration they use a wide variety of habitats. They make nests out of twigs, leaves, and moss, and they line it with softer material like grass, hair, or fine pieces of moss. They usually build their nests on the ground, in depressions on sloped surfaces or rock faces. They can also nest inside or under buildings, window ledges, or in hanging flower pots.

Ecology: They eat mainly seed such as chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, sorrel, and similar such seeds. At feeders they prefer millet. During breeding season sometimes they also eat insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.


Northern Flicker

    image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Habitat: Look for flickers in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. In the West you can find them in mountain forests all the way up to treeline.

Ecology: Flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill.


Downy Woodpecker

 image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Habitat: They prefer open woodlands, mostly deciduous, near streams. Also can be seen in parks or orchards. They nest in dead trees or dead parts of live trees and line the nest with woodchips. Nestiong trees usually deciduous having fungus which softyens the wood, making it easier to create nesting holes.    

Ecology: They mostly eat insects, like beetle larvae, ants, and caterpillars, which live inside the wood or tree bark. They also eat corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. Berries, grains, acorns, and other plant material make up a quarter of their diet. They also can eat out of feeders.


Song Sparrow

image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Habitat: They can be found in a variety of habitats such as deciduous, mixed woodlands, tidal marshes, arctic grasslands, desert scrub, pinyon pine forests, aspen parklands, prairie shelterbelts, Pacific rain forest, chaparral, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, freshwater marsh and lake edges, forest edges, and suburbs. They build their nests in grasses or weeds where they are hidden, and the nests are usually near water. The nests are built out of grasses, weeds, and bark and then lined with grass, roots, or animal hair.

Ecology: They eat mostly fruit and seeds such as buckwheat, ragweed, clover, sunflower, wheat, rice, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, and wild cherries. They also eat some insects such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms. Their dietary sustenance varies greatly with what’s available to them.


White Throated Sparrow 

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Habitat: White-throated Sparrows are found in woods, at forest edges, in the regrowth that follows logging or forest fires, at pond and bog edges, and in copses near treeline. In winter you can find these birds in thickets, overgrown fields, parks, and woodsy suburbs. They readily come to backyards for birdseed.

Ecology: White-throated Sparrows readily visit feeders or peck at fallen seeds beneath them. They feed on millet as well as sunflower seeds.


Golden Crowned Sparrow 

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab oif Ornithology

Habitat: Golden-crowned Sparrows are most visible during migration and winter, when they frequent forest edge, shrubs, chaparral, and backyards of the West Coast. They nest much farther north, in low, shrubby areas of tundra or at the edges of boreal forests.

Ecology: Golden-crowned Sparrows will eat seeds from ground feeders as well as fruits, buds, and flowers from garden plants. They may  also nibble on garden cabbages, beets, and peas.


Spotted Towhee 

image courtesy of Cornell Lab oif Ornithology

Habitat: Look for Spotted Towhees in open, shrubby habitat with thick undergrowth. Spotted Towhees are also at home in backyards, forest edges, and overgrown fields.

Ecology: Spotted Towhees are likely to visit – or perhaps live in – your yard if you’ve got brushy, shrubby, or overgrown borders. If your feeders are near a vegetated edge, towhees may venture out to eat fallen seed. If you want to attract towhees to your feeders, consider sprinkling some seed on the ground, as this is where towhees prefer to feed.


American Robin

image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: You can find these birds in a variety of places including lawns, fields, city parks, woodlands, forests, mountains up to near treeline, recently burned forests, and tundra. During the winter they move to areas where berry’s and shrubs are common such as wet woods. They usually put their nests on the branches of trees where they have good leaf cover from predators. They also can place their nests on gutters, eaves, on outdoor light fixtures, and other man-made structures. The nest is made out of grass, twigs, paper, feathers, rootlets, or moss and is then lined with fine dry grass.

 Ecology: During spring and summer they eat mostly earthworms, insects, and snails. They also eat a lot fruit such as chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits, and juniper berries. They like to eat fruit that has insects in them.


House Finch

image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They like man made habitats some of which include buildings, lawns, small conifers, barns, stables, and urban areas. They can also live in a wide variety of areas such as dry desert, desert grassland, chaparral, oak savannah, streamsides, and open coniferous forests. They have many different types of nesting sites including deciduous trees, coniferous trees, cactus, rock ledges, street lamps, ivy, hanging planters, and nests left by other birds. The nest is typically made out of leaves, twigs, wool, string, feathers, and other such material.

Ecology: They eat mostly plant materials such as seeds, buds, and fruits. A few of these are wild mustard seeds, knotweed, thistle, mulberry, poison oak, cactus, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, and figs. At feeders they prefer black oil sunflower.


Anna's Hummingbird


Habitat: They live in both urban and suburban areas and some other habitats include chaparral, coastal scrub, oak savannahs, and open woodland. They build their nests in tree branches or shrubs somewhere near a source of nectar. They often build their nests in oak trees, sycamore trees, eucalyptus trees, vines, shrubs or even poison oak. They build their nests out of cattail, willow, leaves, thistle, or small feathers and bind the material together with spider webs or insect cocoons.

Ecology: They eat nectar out of plants like currant, gooseberry, manzanita, or eucalyptus.They also sometimes eat midges, whiteflies, leaf hoppers, and other small insects. They also eat sap leaking out of holes made in trees by sapsuckers.



Lesser Goldfinch

Image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: Lesser Goldfinches feed in weedy fields, budding treetops, and the brush of open areas and edges. Depending on food availability, they may concentrate in mountain canyons and desert oases, but they are also fairly common in suburbs.

Ecology: These finches primarily eat seeds of plants in the sunflower family, and they occur all the way south to the Peruvian Andes.



American Goldfinch 
image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They like overgrown areas like weedy fields or open floodplains, also places with a lot of sunflower, aster, thistle plants, shrubs, and trees. They are often found in suburbs, parks, and backyards. They build nests in shrubs or saplings in open areas. It’s typically located higher up in the shrub, hidden from above by leaves or needles. The nest is made out of rootlets and plant fibers. It’s attached to the branches using spider silk.
Ecology: They eats  only seeds. These include seeds from sunflower, thistle, aster, grasses, alder, birch, western red cedar, and elm. At feeders they prefer nyjer and sunflower.

Stellars Jay

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They live in coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forests. Nests are made in the branches near the trunk snd typically near the top. Nests are made of leaves, moss, and sticks glued together with mud. The nest is lined with pine needles, soft roots or animal hair.

Ecology: They are generalists and will eat almost anything including insects, seeds, berries, nuts, small animals, eggs, nestlings, garbage, unguarded picnic items, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet. They will steal from other birds and accept handouts from humans freely.

Western Scrub Jay 

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They can live in scrub, open woodlands, and suburban yards and they like living near oak trees. Nests are usually located in oak, pinyon pine, or other tree or shrub. Nests are typically hidden among foliage, vines, and mistletoe. Nests are made out of twigs lined with rootlets, fine strands of plant fibers, and livestock hair.

Ecology: During spring and summer they eat mostly insects and fruit. During fall and winter they eat mostly nuts and seeds. Some of these include acorns, pine nuts, juniper berries, grass seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, cultivated corn, almonds, walnuts, and cherries. They also eat small animals such as lizards and nestling birds.


Ruby Crowned Kinglet 

  image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They mostly live in spruce-fir forests, but they also live in mixed woods, single trees in meadows, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, mountain shrubs, oak forests, pine forests, spruce forests, or aspen forests. They prefer older, taller, denser forests to new ones because the like to build their nests in tall trees. They build their nests in trees, close to the tree trunk or hanging from small twigs and branches. Their nests are hidden by foliage above. The nest is built from grasses, feathers, mosses, spider webs, and cocoon silk. Fine plant material and fur is used to line the inside.

Ecology: They eat mostly spiders and insects such as aphids, wasps, ants, and bark beetles. They hunt for food in high tree foliage and they eat the insects from leaves and branches. They also eat a little bit of seeds and fruit.



Golden Crowned Kinglet

 image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: olden-crowned Kinglets live mainly in coniferous forests. They breed in boreal or montane forests (especially spruce and fir), as well as in conifer plantations. In winter, kinglets are somewhat less selective about their habitat: though they still use conifers, you may also find them in deciduous forests, suburbs, swamps, bottomlands, and scrubby habitat. They can occur from sea level to more than 10,000 feet elevation.Though barely larger than a hummingbird, this frenetically active bird can survive –40 degree nights, sometimes huddling together for warmth. They breed in the far north and montane west and visit most of North America during winter.




American Crow 

   image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat: They will live in any open habitat with trees to perch on and a reliable source of food. Some of these include farmland, pasture, landfills, city parks, golf courses, cemeteries, yards, vacant lots, highway turnarounds, feedlots, and the shores of rivers, streams, and marshes. They build their nests in crooks in trees near the trunk or on branches where they are hidden. They build them higher up in trees. They like to nest in evergreens but they will also nest in deciduous trees. They build the nest out of twigs. The nest is lined with pine needles, weeds, soft bark, or animal hair.

Ecology : They eat a variety of food including grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and many kinds of small animals like earthworms and mice. They also eat insects. They eat aquatic animals such as fish, young turtles, crayfish, mussels, and clams. They also eat eggs and nestlings of many species including sparrows, robins, jays, terns, loons.

Additional Resources:  This is a good site to learn our local bird vocalizations.