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The Columbia-Pacific region is ‘for the birds’ — and that’s a good thing

Find a blissful bounty of birds in the Columbia-Pacific

By MARILYN GILBUAGH

Published on February 16, 2017 8:07AM

This hooded oriole showed up at a local backyard hummingbird feeder in the spring of 2016 and stayed around for over a month. Hooded orioles are normally found in the Southwest and in northern Mexico.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

This hooded oriole showed up at a local backyard hummingbird feeder in the spring of 2016 and stayed around for over a month. Hooded orioles are normally found in the Southwest and in northern Mexico.

This red knot, a type of sandpiper, was observed on Del Rey beach in the spring migration of 2016. The bird was banded in 2006 in the Gulf of Mexico. The red knot has one of the longest migrations of any bird, nesting and breeding in the arctic and migrating as far south as the southern tip of South America.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

This red knot, a type of sandpiper, was observed on Del Rey beach in the spring migration of 2016. The bird was banded in 2006 in the Gulf of Mexico. The red knot has one of the longest migrations of any bird, nesting and breeding in the arctic and migrating as far south as the southern tip of South America.

Over the last hundred years, the Eurasian collared dove has colonized the bird world, spreading from its native warm temperate and subtropical Asia across the world. Introduced in North America in the 1980s, the collared dove is now found in nearly every state in the U.S. and is an example of a new bird taking up residency in the local area.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

Over the last hundred years, the Eurasian collared dove has colonized the bird world, spreading from its native warm temperate and subtropical Asia across the world. Introduced in North America in the 1980s, the collared dove is now found in nearly every state in the U.S. and is an example of a new bird taking up residency in the local area.

A snowy plover enjoys Gearhart beach in January. The bird was banded as a nestling on the Central Oregon Coast.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

A snowy plover enjoys Gearhart beach in January. The bird was banded as a nestling on the Central Oregon Coast.

Western bluebirds appreciate nesting boxes in which to make their homes. Their summer breeding range extends north into the Pacific Northwest, and more breeding pairs have been spotted locally in recent years.

Photo by Joy Jaeger

Western bluebirds appreciate nesting boxes in which to make their homes. Their summer breeding range extends north into the Pacific Northwest, and more breeding pairs have been spotted locally in recent years.

Great blue herons are year-round residents of the Columbia-Pacific region, commonly spotted near the shores of open water or in wetlands.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

Great blue herons are year-round residents of the Columbia-Pacific region, commonly spotted near the shores of open water or in wetlands.

A trumpter swan spread its wings on Black Lake in Ilwaco, Washington, in late December. Seventy percent of all trumpeters breed and nest in Alaska, then winter in the Pacific Northwest, including here along our coastline.

Photo by Roy Western

A trumpter swan spread its wings on Black Lake in Ilwaco, Washington, in late December. Seventy percent of all trumpeters breed and nest in Alaska, then winter in the Pacific Northwest, including here along our coastline.

Oregon’s state bird, the western meadowlark, is a local resident. This one was photographed at Circle Creek in Seaside.

Neal Maine/PacificLight Images

Oregon’s state bird, the western meadowlark, is a local resident. This one was photographed at Circle Creek in Seaside.

Check out the mudflats of Willapa Bay for shorebirds such as this yellowlegs.

Photo by Madeline Kalbach

Check out the mudflats of Willapa Bay for shorebirds such as this yellowlegs.

Whimbrels like this are among our region’s more dramatic shorebirds.

Photo by Madeline Kalbach

Whimbrels like this are among our region’s more dramatic shorebirds.

Mountain chickadees are a favorite bird for many, a species that appreciates suet, sunflower seeds and other human-provided backyard treats.

Photo by Madeline Kalbach

Mountain chickadees are a favorite bird for many, a species that appreciates suet, sunflower seeds and other human-provided backyard treats.


If you’re a bird, winter in the Pacific Northwest is a good place to be. While the majority of us people-types can’t help nattering about the long damp and gloomy season, most of our feathered friends — whether here for the short, medium or permanent stay — find the mild dark days a bountiful wonderland.

“To get some perspective, what we’re observing is not just another bird at a feeder, but a bird as a life,” said avid birder and well-known local conservationist Neal Maine about bird watching. “We’re looking at a creature that weighs around 16 ounces on a good day, and it might be one that flies the length of the planet each year for its reproduction. It’s way more than a bird that we’re watching; it’s part of the entire universe.

“I wonder what the quality of our lives could be like if we learn to be quiet, pay a little bit more attention to what surrounds us and learn to listen?” he asks.

According to birder, scientist and North Coast Diaries blogger, Mike Patterson, in 2011 somewhere around 375 different bird species had been documented in Clatsop County; 250 of them alone making Seaside and its surroundings their year-round or seasonal home. Today the count remains about the same, though each winter provides a few new-to-the-area sightings. This winter there’s been a flurry of birder buzz as at least two new species not seen around here before dropped in. A mocking bird came to call, (or as is its talent, to imitate many other calls), showing up in Seaside. And another first timer, a gorgeously marked Baltimore oriole is also visiting in the area.

All birds have basic needs: water, food and resting. Our year-round locals don’t migrate, getting what they need by staying put. They are able to find adequate year-round water, food and shelter in grasses, trees or burrowing alternatives.

Escaping the cold can be a migrating bird’s motivating factor. But many species, including local hummingbirds, can withstand freezing temperatures as long as an adequate supply of food is available.

Migrating birds move seasonally. Some travel only short distances just like our four-legged wildlife, moving from higher elevations to lower. Some birds make medium moves, traveling a few hundred miles. Long-distance migrants cover thousands of miles, typically moving from breeding ranges in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in Central and South America. Despite the demanding journeys involved, long-distance migration is a feature of some 350 species of North American birds.

The red knot (Calidris canutus) is a migrating bird you may see in the Columbia-Pacific area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that the red knot is around nine inches long with a wingspan of 20 inches. This little shorebird, part of the sandpiper clan, weighs less than a cup of coffee. But every year of its life, it goes on a very long migratory journey. There are two North American subspecies. The Calidris canutus roselaari breeds in Siberia and western Alaska and migrates south each fall to winter in Mexico, Florida and South America. The Calidris canutus rufa nests in the Canadian low arctic and migrates more than 9,300 miles south to the tip of South America’s Tierra del Fuego for the winter. The migration is one of the longest in the animal kingdom. One red knot, banded in May 1987, was seen on Delaware Bay in May 2000. During those 13 years, the bird had flown about 242,350 miles, a distance farther than it is from the earth to the moon.

The bird band identifying that red knot is a true boon to tracking birds. It is a non-invasive numbered ring attached to a wild bird’s leg or wing, providing ornithologists with information about the bird’s migration and life history without harming the bird. And it’s been done for centuries — think homing pigeons. The North American Bird Banding Program is run jointly by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Banding is an indispensable way to study the behavior, movement and survival of birds and is also essential to bird conservation.

“Today lightweight devices such as geolocators are revolutionizing the tracking of migratory birds and, in the process, documenting astonishing new records for distance and endurance,” wrote Jessica Snyder Sachs in a 2011 article for the National Wildlife Federation. A geolocator weighs 1.1 grams, or less than two M&Ms. “The first surprising discovery came in 2007, when wildlife biologists used surgically implanted satellite transmitters to show that migrating bar-tailed godwits fly from Alaska to New Zealand without once stopping to refuel. At 7,100 miles in just over 8 days, the migration was, and remains, the longest nonstop flight every recorded.”

Purple martins, birds that comes to visit the Columbia-Pacific region, have been geo-tagged in northern Pennsylvania. Stay tuned for tracking updates.

Tom Anderson, a part-time Gearhart resident and ardent birder, documents his daily sightings by taking mental notes and then entering them on a list on his iPhone. His iBird and Merlin Bird ID apps help him identify birds. Currently, Anderson’s favorite neighborhood bird is the western bluebird.

“They haven’t, until recently, been a common visitor to the Gearhart neighborhood. I think the tree removal on the (Gearhart) golf course has been beneficial to this population, along with locals placing nest boxes in appropriate locations,” he said. “The western bluebird has been declining in population due to competition for nest sites by starlings and house sparrows. A great winter activity for interested birders would be construction and placement of nest boxes designed for this bird,” said Anderson, who welcomes anyone interested in contacting him regarding his idea.

Wendy Watson-Beisner, co-owner of Lyles’s Garden and Pet Center in Seaside, has a steady stream of customers seeking her advice about all things birds, both wild and caged. A backyard birder herself, she has fly-bys, new-to-the-area birds and regulars at her bird feeders all year round. “I have some winter thrushes and finches hanging out in my backyard right now. The finches are early this year, usually not start showing up until late February or March,” said Watson-Beisner

This area is truly “for the birds”: So much for us to learn, so much to see flying right around us.

If you find yourself needing a break from our long, wet winter days, here’s a suggestion: Check computer websites to see if birds have a sense of smell. My computer listed 6,250,000 related web results. Which led to wondering if birds can taste? 8,600,000 results pop up: yes, no, some can, most can’t — whatever your conclusion, it’s evidently something lots of people have been wondering about for a long time. Since birds can’t people-speak, step outside or find a well-placed viewing window and watch them. Draw some of your own conclusions. Just like the birds, time will fly.





















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