Best in Show
Here is a list of some of the KBO interns’ favorite birds whose glamour, behavior, and plain birdiness stole our hearts.
- Steller’s jay. Uncommon to some of the crew members that came from the southern hemisphere, this bird was on their bucket list as well as all of the jays in general. There is something about the rock and roll crest and the bright blue back that makes everyone turn their heads. This bird has so much personality and also so much controversy in conservation talk that we were always excited to band it. There are no jays in the equator; there are birds similar to jays but no jays. So it is an exciting bird indeed.
- Varied thrush. A common bird to Oregon, that is for sure, but when we unexpectedly got a wave of migrants, we were surprised. At one time we saw over a hundred fly through the banding station at the Oregon Caves. It was breathtaking. We first heard them calling and shortly after we felt them coming through the forest. One by one, we watched them coming closer and closer. Then they hung around the banding table area for about ten minutes before they continued on their path. It felt surreal because of their proximity to us, they flew through the trees rather than over them. This species is sometimes confused for the American robin, due the amount of orange in their body but they are distinguished by a dark blue or grayish breast band. The females usually have an indistinct band but the males’ is usually more vibrant with a bluish gray back. Beautiful birds.
- Mountain chickadee. One of our favorite birds due to their sweet “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call, but also among the ones who caused us the most problems. Chickadees always get themselves into the most difficult tangles due to their ability to grab very tightly with their feet. They put themselves into a pocket which they then close the opening with their feet with as much netting as they possibly can. So as a bander, we have to often try to remove the feet first when we cannot grab the body, but as we take some netting out of one foot, they quickly grab more netting from nearby, re-tangling themselves. But despite their rowdiness to get us as far away from them as possible, they have taught us to be efficient and avid at the most difficult tangles.
- Wilson’s warbler. Distinguishable by their yellow bodies and black cap in males, this bird is a loved one by our banders due to their docile behavior. Although we saw plenty of them during the fall migration, they are a species of concern and have been featured in the 2014 State of the Birds Report as having had a steep decline.
- Sharp shinned hawk. The bird that turned a day around, from a slow one to action packed. Due to the mesh size of our mist nets, we can mostly catch small to medium-size songbirds and near Passerines. This is why when we caught a hawk; it was always an unexpected surprise. Since we are not trained to catch raptors, we often found extracting from nets scary. Not because we could hurt them or because they were very tangled, but because they could potential injure us with their talons. Their presence is unlike any other bird, we were always in awe by their strength and fierce look.
- Evening grosbeak. Only seen and heard by our most advanced birders, these birds were mainly captured at the beginning of the banding season. I never got to band one myself, but everyone else who did could not stop talking about how pretty they looked. When I did get a glimpse of them, it was normally through a crew member that had noticed them flying over. But I was never quick enough to get a good look at them since they normally flew over high and fast. Although my chances for banding them are no longer possible, I will feel content if I see them at my feeders this winter.
- Cedar waxwings. This was the bird that we always wished we could catch in our nets, but almost never did. Waxwings usually hang out in large flocks, which make them noticeable when they are around, but they are experts at avoiding the net. We are attracted to them by their black masks, mohawk, and colorful accents on their brown body like the yellow on the tail and the red on the tips of their secondaries. These tips are actually waxy, which are not seen in any other songbird from around here.
- White-crow sparrow. Their song is among the prettiest them of all. But not only that, they have a complicated life history with five different sub-species varying in behavior, migratory routes, and even song. What we observed the most of in Southern Oregon when banding were Gambel’s white crown sparrow which nest in the Alaskan tundra and winter as far south as Mexico. We loved them not only for their song, but also for how easily it was to age them. The black and white crown is developed during their second year, making it very easy to identify between a hatch-year and an after hatch-year bird.