Meet the Neighbors: Portland Metro Area’s Backyard Birds

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

The time has come to officially meet your neighbors: the birds. For many folks, both birders and people who are new to birding, watching the birds just outside our doors brings joy during hard times.

At first glance, you may just notice a few birds in your yard or neighborhood. But spend a little more time, and you’ll start to recognize repeat visitors and witness extraordinary behaviors like territorial fights, courting and mating, elaborate bird songs, foraging, and nest building. Our world may be put on hold for the moment, but theirs rushes forward during the most exciting time of year — spring migration and baby bird season. You couldn’t ask for a better live performance right outside your home.

Pro tip: Put up bird feeders, nest boxes, make a bird bath, or plant native plants and you’ll increase your numbers! (Our Nature Store is still offering curb side pick up, delivering bird seed, feeders, and more if you want help setting up your own home viewing theatre…er…bird feeder.)

Here is a starter list of many of the incredible birds that you may see in your yard or neighborhood.

American Goldfinch

We thought we’d start this list off with a crowd pleaser. This small charismatic bird is handsome as can be, with bright highlighter yellow plumage. American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians, and almost exclusively seed eaters. If they eat an insect, it’s by accident. Looking to lure them to your yard? Try sunflower seeds.

Fun fact: American Goldfinches nest later than most birds, waiting until the thistle arrives in June and July to make their nests.

American Goldfinch, photo by John Friedman

Song Sparrow

Let this be the first bird song you ever learn. These little brown birds are all over the Portland Metro Area, from backyards to forests to wetlands. And once you learn their song, you’ll hear it everywhere. It starts with a 3-4 of the same notes, then follows with a fancier buzz or trill. Listen here.

Fun fact: When the days get longer, many birds start to breed. But Song Sparrows don’t just look to how long the sun is shining. They start breeding when the temperatures get warm enough.

Song Sparrow, photo by Mick Thompson

Dark-eyed Junco

This small bird is a common sight across North America, seen foraging on forest floors. Look for their dark grey heads, and bright white outer tail feathers that can be seen while in flight.

Fun Fact: One of the most common birds in North America, there are an estimated 630 million Dark-eyed Juncos across the continent.

Dark-eyed Junco, photo by Mick Thompson

Northern Flicker

Most people expect to see woodpeckers banging away at trees. But the Northern Flicker is more likely to be spotted on the ground as they dig for their main diet of ants and beetles. Of course, if you have a suet feeder or sunflower seeds, you’ll likely see them at your bird feeder.

Fun Fact: You can tell the male and female apart by one simple telltale sign: the male has a red “mustache” just to the side of his bill as can be seen in the photo.

 

Northern Flicker, photo by Hayley Crews

Anna’s Hummingbird

The Anna’s Hummingbird is the only hummingbird you’ll see in the Portland Metro Area year-round. Plant native plants like red-flowering currant or install a hummingbird feeder to attract these stunning feisty birds to your yard. The males are flashy with their vibrant magenta heads. The females are more subtle with green and white bodies.

Fun fact: These tiny birds defend their territory with gusto. Watch as they drive away other males and other hummingbird species.

Anna's Hummingbird, photo by Mick Thompson

Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird arrives back in the Portland Metro Area in late February/early March. Marvel at the males’ beautiful orange coloring, and the female’s orange and green feathers. And sit back and watch as the Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds fight over territory (aka: your hummingbird feeder.)

Fun fact: A migrating Rufous Hummingbird may travel as many as 3,900 miles and that’s just one way!

Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by Scott Carpenter

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees are always a delight to see, with their round tiny bodies and large heads. They are no stranger to people, found in urban neighborhoods as well as in forest habitat.

Fun fact: You don’t have to have the ears of an expert to identify the call of a Black-capped Chickadee. They will chirp out their name for you: “Chicka-dee-dee-dee!” It’s also their alarm call, with more “dees” signifying greater nearby danger.

 

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee, photo by Scott Carpenter

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

This handsome chickadee can only be found along the west coast and in the Pacific Northwest. While they do love dark dense forests (we have many at the Portland Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary), they can also be found in the suburbs and in greenspaces in Portland.

Fun fact: The Chestnut-backed Chickadee uses quite a bit of fur in its nest building, from species like coyote, rabbit, and deer.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee by Scott Carpenter

Spotted Towhee

Not all birds will be on your bird feeders. Some will be right underneath foraging off the bits that other birds knock to the ground. The Spotted Towhee is such a bird. They spend their time scratching through the leaf litter on the forest floor searching for insects to eat.

Fun fact: Early in the breeding season, male Spotted Towhees spend 70 to 90 percent of their mornings singing to attract a mate. Once they find their match, they only spend about 5 percent of their time singing.

Spotted Towhee, photo by Mick Thompson

Hairy Woodpecker

This beautiful woodpecker can be found searching for insects along tree trunks and branches. If you have a suet or sunflower seed feeder, you can bet they will be there, messily grabbing suet with their beaks.

Fun fact: Sometimes Hairy Woodpeckers drink sap left over from leaking sap wells made by sapsuckers.

Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker, photo by Scott Carpenter

Downy Woodpecker

No you aren’t seeing double. The Downy Woodpecker looks almost identical to the Hairy Woodpecker, confusing the masses for generations. How can you tell the difference? The Downy Woodpecker is much smaller in size, both in body and in beak. It can be tough to see the size difference if you don’t have a Hairy nearby to compare to, but the beak is something you can always use as a marker. It’s half the size of the Hairy Woodpecker’s beak.

Fun fact: The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker, photo by Hayley Crews

California Scrub-Jay

Leave out peanuts and you’ll not only welcome California Scrub Jays to your yard, you’ll likely watch them hide those peanuts in your planters for later. While their call isn’t the most melodic (it kind of sounds like a blood curdling scream), they are smart and charismatic visitors, providing no shortage of entertainment.

Fun Fact: California Scrub-Jays have been known to steal acorns from Acorn Woodpeckers and other jays. Because of that, California Scrub-Jays will look around before hiding their food to make sure no other jays are watching.

California Scrub-Jay, photo by Scott Carpenter

Steller’s Jay

The deep blue corvid with its fancy black crest is a crowd favorite. You’re more likely to see this species if you live near dense forest, as that’s their natural habitat. They normally like to stay high in the tree canopy – you can hear their scolding call from quite far away- but in your yard, you’ll find them enjoying your suet.

Fun fact: They have been known to imitate the calls of Red-tailed Hawks.

Steller's Jay, photo by Mick Thompson

American Robin

American Robins are one of the most well recognized birds in the United States. Look for them in backyards or on grass at parks as they search for earthworms, tugging them out of the ground with their beaks.

Fun Fact: Robins change what they eat depending on the time of day. In the morning you might catch them eating earthworms on lawns and in parks. Later in the day, they eat more fruit.

American Robin
American Robin, photo by Scott Carpenter

House Finch

The redder the plumage on a male House Finch, the easier time he’ll have finding a mate. That’s because the females are attracted to the reddest males they can find. Why? The males get their red color from the food they eat. The more vivid the red, the more likely he’ll be good at finding food for their young.

Fun fact: House Finches exclusively feed their young plant foods. Even among vegetarian birds this is unusual. Many vegetarian species feed their young animal foods to give them extra protein.

House Finch, photo by Mick Thompson

Bushtit

If you see one, you’ve likely got more. These birds travel in flocks (between 10 and 40 birds) year-round. Watch them as they move from tree to tree, foraging for insects as they go. Or suddenly and all at once, descending on your suet feeder.

Fun fact: If they stop moving long enough to get a good look, you can tell the males from the females by eye color. The males have dark eyes while the females have yellow eyes.

Bushtit, photo by Mick Thompson

Cedar Waxwing

This bird loves fruit, so if you want to attract them to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that produce small fruits. A bird bath is also a good lure!

Fun fact: Since fruit ferments, sometimes Cedar Waxwings get intoxicated. We’ve had more than a few spend the night in the Wildlife Care Center recovering from too many berries.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing, Photo by Scott Carpenter

While this isn’t a complete list, it will certainly get you started with the usual suspects. If you’d like more information on birds, we recommend ordering a birding book (many options at our Nature Store) and keeping it right by your window. Soon, you’ll be calling out these beautiful birds by name.