Wait, don’t go!
As a sign that we’re well past the apex of summer, nearly 80 types of birds are leaving Central Oregon skies for warmer climes in the coming weeks and months. Fair-weather birds — including a variety of hummingbirds, sapsuckers, flycatchers and swallows — will soon take to the air in transcontinental flight. Wrens, sparrows and warblers are also bidding adieu.
As a consolation prize, around 50 different species, including a variety of ducks, geese, sandpipers and sparrows, will touch down in Central Oregon. They’re here either to refuel and rest on a longer flight south or to spend the entire winter here.
As for Central Oregon’s summer bird scene, activity was fairly “average,” according to Chuck Gates, a founding member of the Eastern Cascades Audubon Society. The season was characterized by one phenomenon: The relatively wet and cold spring caused many “nests to fail,” which means the eggs were eaten by predators, never laid or neglected. A variety of species made second nestings, particularly California quail.
“Sometimes first-time parents suck,” Gates said. “The parents had to start over. We typically don’t see young birds this late.”
That’s not to say the chilly spring inhibited solid bird-sighting opportunities, he added. The veteran bird-watcher said a personal summer highlight was spotting a Pacific golden plover for the first time in Crook County. He was birding in the Crooked River Wetlands, which opened to the public in late April.
“We view the Pacific golden plover as a harbinger of sightings to come,” he said.
To give readers an idea of Central Oregon’s revolving avian door, Gates provides profiles of three departing birds, and three birds whose arrivals to anticipate in the coming weeks and months. All information and photographs are provided by Gates. The voice descriptions are according to “Field Guide to the Birds of North America,” by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer.
Departure: early September
Appearance/characteristics: Any introduction to the common nighthawk requires a disclaimer: They’re not very active at night, and they’re not actually hawks — they just look the part. Common nighthawks are also crepuscular, which means they’re most active around dawn and dusk. Their bodies are mostly gray. Their long, broad wings feature a white stripe that’s visible when they’re in flight. Their wing beats are long and graceful. They nest in the western United States before wintering in Mexico, Central America and in parts of South America, including Brazil.
Sighting spots: Common nighthawks congregate around water features, such as the Crooked River Wetlands, Hatfield Lake in Bend and anywhere along the Deschutes River.
Voice descriptions: In courtship display, they’ll dive and pull up right before the ground, which makes their wings vibrate. “Common nighthawks make a bull-like grunt sound, and look like bats, hence their nickname ‘bull bats.’” Gates said. Its call is a nasally “peent,” which it makes even during migration.
Prey/predators: Common nighthawks eat flying insects, particularly gnats and mosquitoes. As adults, these birds have few predators because they’re adept fliers.
Appearance/characteristics: The western kingbird features a gray head, yellow body and black wings. This regal, upright bird is also very aggressive and will chase off larger birds, such as the golden eagle, from eating its young. Sometimes, a western kingbird will harass people.
Sighting spots: It’s often found in agricultural locations east of Bend. The western kingbird likes low perches such as fence lines. It congregates on farmland because it’s a passable facsimile of the prairies it encountered before westerners settled Central Oregon. The western kingbird migrates to the southwestern U.S., Mexico and Central America.
Voice descriptions: Its common call is a sharp “whit.”
Prey/predators: A western kingbird eats flying insects but also ground insects, especially grasshoppers.
Departure: late August
Appearance/characteristics: The Lazuli bunting, whose name cannot be mispronounced, is a gorgeous bird. It’s blue and white with an orange breast. About the size of a sparrow, the lazuli bunting’s migration pattern is similar to the western kingbird’s. Often mistaken for a bluebird, the lazuli bunting’s scientific name, translated from Greek, means beautiful sparrow.
Sighting spots: Weeds that grow along Central Oregon springs.
Voice descriptions: Song is a series of varied phrases, sometimes paired. It is faster and less strident than and Indigo bunting’s.
Prey/predators: Seeds. Its main predator are small hawks.
Northern bird arrivals
Appearance/characteristics: A brown bird with a white head, the white-crowned sparrow’s Latin name means the “three white-lined sparrow.” Its head features two black stripes, although sometimes it looks instead like three white stripes. The male and female are the same color. From the tip of its pink bill, it stretches about seven inches to the tip of its tail. It’s our most abundant wintering sparrow. The white-crowned sparrow usually arrives in droves, although last year we had low numbers due to snow.
Sighting spots: Found in lots of different habitats, including people’s yards and lawns. They also congregate along fence lines where they can find the weed seeds they eat.
Voice descriptions: “They have the habit of singing on sunny winter days,” Gates said. Their call sounds like, “See-see-pretty-pretty-me.”
Prey/predators: Seeds. The white-crowned sparrow is one of the main food sources for local wintering hawks, particularly sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawks. The white-crowned sparrow is so abundant, however, that the hawks’ predation doesn’t dent the population.
Greater white-fronted goose
Arrival: begins mid-September, continues through October
Appearance/characteristics: The greater white-fronted goose is gray and brown with a patch of white on its face, hence the “white-fronted” appellation. Its bills and legs are orange. After a long flight from the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic tundra where it breeds and nests, the greater white-fronted goose pit stops through Central Oregon during autumn. Sometimes it arrives in flocks of more than 300 to refuel and rest before shoving off again for wintering grounds in California. Like many geese, the white-front goose prefers to stick to bodies of water into which it can swim to avoid predators.
Sighting spots: Pastures, particularly those in which hay was recently harvested, and bodies of water.
Voice descriptions: Call is a high-pitched, laughing “kah-lah-aluck.”
Prey/predators: This goose is a short-grass eater. “Geese are the cattle of the bird world,” Gates said. Their main predators are coyotes.
Arrival: late October
Appearance/characteristics: The rough-legged hawk is a late migrate, arriving from the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic tundra where it breeds and nests. Stretching about 20 inches from beak to tail, it looks like a normal hawk, but has a white head and chest. It is “rough-legged” because its feathers extend down its legs to its talons. Some people mistake it for a bald eaglet, but a baby bald eagle is a fuzzy, salt-and-pepper color while it’s still nest-bound. In flight, the rough-legged hawk is identifiable by the black band on its tail.
Sighting spots: Generally winters in open farmland east of Bend and in Jefferson and Crook counties. The rough-legged hawk is accustomed to hunting in treeless areas that resemble the tundra where it nests and feeds.
Voice descriptions: During breeding season, the rough-legged hawk gives a soft, plaintive courting whistle. Alarm call is a loud screech or squeal.
Prey/predators: An adult rough-legged hawk has virtually no predators. “Few predators make a living feeding on other predators,” Gates said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, email@example.com