California Wildlife I - Birds

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The San Francisco Bay Area, where we live, is a great place for bird watching. The bay area contains most of California's salty wet land, home for millions of waterfowls. In addition, the bay is an important resting stop of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south traveling route for migratory birds of the Americas. Below are a few pix of the salty marsh near Richmond Marina in the East Bay. On the other side of the bay is San Francisco.

Other great spots for bird watching include the Don Edward National Wildlife Refuge, located on the east side of the Dumbarton Bridge. Established in 1974, it's the first urban national wildlife refuge in America.

And there's more: Point Reyes National Sea Shore (3 pix), Monterey Bay area (3 pix)... All rich with birdlife.


Raptors and scavengers. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). You can see where the name comes from.

The nest of a pair of Red-tailed Hawks with 2 chicks. At the end of day, the chicks were fed by the mother while the father stayed on guard.

An Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) resting on a San Diego dock. In the last 2 pix, a Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

In Point Reyes National Seashore, a Raven (Corvus corax) was fight with a snake, which eventually became its dinner. I'm always impressed by the size and aggressiveness of ravens I've seen in America. In the 5th pic is probably a Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). The last pic, a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

In the first 3 pix is an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). In the 4th pic, a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), one of the most magnificient and well-known bird of prey in North America. last 2 pix seems to be a pair of juvenile White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus).

More White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus) images. They are often seen patrolling the lowlands in search for rodents.

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus).

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is probably the most commonly seen scavenger in the Bay Area.

A similar species is Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), with darker fancial color.


Waterfowls, Waders. Below is a Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), a species of small white heron, is commonly seen across the Americas. Slowly wading across the shore, it looks so graceful and elegant. Their white plumes were expensive ornament for lady's hat in the late 1800s, which leads to a sharp decline in their population. But today their number have recovered strongly.

The Great Egret (Ardea alba), also a white heron, is bigger in size and with a longer and more flexible neck. You can compare the size difference between a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret here (the last 2 pix). Other than size, you can also distinguish them by the color of their feet. The feet of Snowy Egret are yellowish, while those of the Great Egret are as black as the legs.

Black-Crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). In the first 3 pix are juveniles, and in the last 3 is an adult.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias, 4 pix). They are very sensitive to human disturbance. Their number drops quickly near human residences. In the last 2 pix is a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea). It's interesting to note that its juvenile is all white, but gradually turn blue when reaching a breeding age, after about a year.

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), a stop over on the Bay Area during its migration.

In the first 2 pix is a Tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). Its diproportionally large bill appears larger during breeding season, then the outter shell will be shed afterward. In the last 4 pix, the long-leg wading bird with a beak bending upward is American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana). The little twist of the beak works like a scythe, helping them scrape up food from mud and shallow water.

This Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) had a different idea and decided to bend the beak downward. It apparently works equally well.

Back Oyster Catcher (Haematopus bachmani). They cannot be missed with their bright orange long beak and orange/yellow eyes. Like the name implies, they feed on invertebrate marine life including oysters, mussel, whelks... In the last two pix, they were joined by another shore bird, the Marbled Godwit, a delicacy in French menu... although I probably won't have the guts to taste those caught in the heavily polluted SF bay.

Black-neck Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). Long-legged little wading bird. Look at them standing on one leg. How much weight do those long skinny legs have to carry?


Here are several similar shore birds that I sometime have difficulties distinguishing. If anyone disagree with me, feel free to drop me a line. In the first pic is a Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), with a long pinkish beak. The little wading bird in the next 2 pix is probably a Willet (Tringa semipalmata). The next 2 pix, a group of Short-billed (Limnodromus griseus, 4th pic) and Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus, 5th pic). In the last two pix is probably a Greater Yellowleg (Tringa melanoleuca), as the color of its long legs implies.

The little wading birds that like to group together are Sandpipers (Scolopacidae, 2 pix). In the next 2 pix is a group of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). In the 5th pic is a group of Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala); last pic, a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres).

In the first 2 pix is a group of Sanderlings (Calidris alba); in next 3rd pix are Red Phalaropes (Phalaropus fulicarius); in the last pic is a Dunlin (Calidris alpina).


Ducks and Geese. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). Their feet are great for swimming but not strong enough for walking. So if they are in big trouble if they land on the ground. In the 1st 5 pix are the blue-billed male and in the last pic is the female.

In the first three pix is a Common Pintail (Anas acuta). You can definitely see how it got the name. In the last 2 pix is a White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis).

In the 1st pic, a group of Canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria), also known as "King of Ducks," is a highly prized game bird for connoisseurs. Oh, how I itched to have a shotgun in my hand... Next is a Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera, 1 pic). In the last 3 pix are a group of colorful Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa). It's a female in the last pic.

In the first three pix are a group of Greater Scaups (Aythya marila), also know as Bluebills. In the first two pix are male and in the 3rd one are females. In the last 2 pix, a Ancona Duck (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus, 2 px), which is actually a domestic breed.

In the first 3 pix are all Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). They are spending the winter here in the bay area. In the spring, little geese were born and grow up very quickly. A few weeks late, they'll be almost the size of their parent. Canna Geese are big, mean, fearless, generally considered an invading specie. In my apartment complex, they take over the ponds and grass every spring, pooping everywhere. In the next 3 pix are a family of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). The more colorful one is the male. In the last 2 pix, a mother was strolling with her newly-hatched ducklings.

A pair of Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). In the next 3 pix is a Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola).

In the first 2 pix, a pair of Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata). In the 2nd pic is a female. In the last 4 pix, a femal Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula, 4 pix); the sea duck seems to be a very swift fisher.

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus); in 1st, 3rd, and 5th pix is a female, while 2nd and 4th a male. In the last 2 pix seems to be a hybrid of Hooded Merganser and Goldeneye (Lophodytes cucullatus x Bucephala sp.).

In the first 4 pix, Common Merganser (Mergus merganser). Male in the first 3, female in the last 2.

An elegant Mute Swan (Cygnus olor, 2 pix). No, it's not completely mute but just less vocal than most birds. It's a native species of the Eurasia continent, and was introduce the the Americas in the late 1800s, simply because it's a pretty bird. Just like their Canadian cousin above, these are aggressive, invading species. At some point the Wildlife Service had to active reduce their number to "minimize environmental damage." But such attractive birds easily inspire sympathy from animal right organizations. There's even a pressure group call "Save the Mute Swan," among many other protestors of the government swan hunt. Mind you nobody said anything about the somewhat ungainly Canada Goose cousin above, who's also been hunted by the Wildlife Service since 1999. That's how superficial we human are. In the last 3 pix, a juvenile Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).

In the first 2 pix, a Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis). In the last 3, a Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus).

The black birds with a white beak first 4 pix are American Coots (Fulica americana), these are noisy, aggressive, territorial birds. The ugly couple in the last 2 pix are a pair of Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus).

Double Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) are very acrobatic fishers. It's got a pair or mesmerizing blue eyes.

California Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). Ugly big birds that like to glide very low on water. Heavy and clumsy as they look, when they see fish, they dive swiftly into water.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). The "horn" grown on the upper bill is a sign of pelican's breeding season. After breeding they'll be shed off.

In the first 3 pix, a group of Common Murres (Uria aalge); next 3 pix, a Western Gull (Larus occidentalis); in the last pic is a Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni).


Song Birds. The smallest but prettiest of them all, is Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna), it's got a surprisingly sweet and loud tune, considering its size. The ones with a beautiful red crown and neck are male. They are incredibly swift fliers, which allow them easily maneuver among flowers. They holds the record of heart beat rate among birds -- 1260 beats per minute. Live fast, die young (typically 2-3 years in the wild).

More colorful song birds. A Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana, 2 pix) In the last 3 pix is a group of Red-Wing Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), their voice is really sweet!

A Yellow Finch (Sicalis luteola, 1st 3 pix); a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans, 3 pix). Made a nest next to our window. It's fun to watch it flickering its tail while chirping. In the last pic, a Brewers Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus).

In the 1st pic is an European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). All European Starling in America (some 200 millions) are the descendent of about 100 set free in New York Central Park in the 1890s. A group of people felt like America should have all the birds mentioned in Shakespear's works (they must got nothing else to do). The European starling is part of their project. In the next 2 pix (2nd and 3rd) is a White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). In the 4th pic is an American Pipet, really loud for its size. In the last 2 pix, a House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus).

In the first 2 pix is a Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica); next 2 pix is a Stellar's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).

In the first 2 pix is a Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii), followed by 4 pix of a Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus).

A Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor, 1st 3 pix); and a group of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica, last 3 pix) making their nest in the spring.

A California Towhee (Melozone crissalis) in the 1st 2 pix. In the 3rd and 4th pix is an American Robin (Turdus migratorius). Next, a Bendire's Thrasher (Toxostoma bendirei, 1 pic). Lastly, a Rock Dove (Columba livia).

This plain-looking bird is a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), often hear its sad cooing while wake up in the morning. We do have a special sentiment toward them though, since a pair of mourning dove made a nest near our front door. In a couple weeks, a pair of chicks emerged!


Gamebirs. In the next 3 pix are California Quails (Callipepla californica), taken in Point Reyes National Seashore. In the next 2 pix is a Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus).

Lastly, a group of Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). They were called turkey because the Brithish mistaken they as imported from Turkey, but of course in fact they are native of North American.


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