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Celebrating birds in our backyard and beyond on National Bird Day

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications
Photos courtesy of RS Holcomb

There are two reasons to celebrate birds this week! Today, May 4th, is Bird Day. A tradition that started more than 120 years ago, it’s one of the oldest days set aside to promote North American bird conservation. And this coming Saturday, May 9th marks World Migratory Bird Day. This event has a broader focus on seasonal visitors and the need for protection of our planet’s major flight corridors between Africa and Eurasia, East Asia and Australia, and the Americas. 

Annual migratory corridors for birds all over the world. Courtesy of Birdlife International 

Whether you’re a novice bird watcher or a seasoned pro, there is beauty to be found in some of our most common year-round residents. You can even spot many of them in your own yard and neighborhood—a bonus at a time of physical distancing when safety is paramount. Here are a few to look out for.

The American Robin is a type of thrush with a reddish orange breast, a dull gray back, a yellow bill and white marks above and below the eye. You can usually find this classic beauty foraging for worms and insects on open patches of grass and in leaf litter. Some robins do migrate when driven south by cold weather, but usually return north as soon as temperatures and food supplies allow.

American Robin, Montlake Fill, Seattle

The Dark-eyed Junco is a smaller sparrow-shaped bird. Males are hooded in black feathers with brown backs and a light belly. Females have slightly lighter gray hoods, but both have white outer tail feathers which stand out when they fly. They’re common visitors at backyard feeders often foraging on the ground for dropped seeds and they tend to nest close to the ground hidden in brush, planters or shrubs.

Dark-eyed junco, Edmonds, WA


If you have flowering plants in your yard or a sugar-water feeder, you’re probably familiar with the little jewel that is the Anna’s Hummingbird. This tiny bird is only 3.5” to 4” long. Males have an iridescent red head, throat and neck. Females may have small flecks of red on the throat patch, but the rest of the body is green and gray. Both have long, slender black bills for sipping nectar. They’re also an important pollinator species for many flowering plants!

A beautiful male Anna's hummingbird, Edmonds, WA

Even if you haven't seen a Northern Flicker, you many have heard one banging into the cavity of a tree. This medium sized woodpecker has a straight tail, a brown barred pattern on their backs, spotted belly, gray heads with a brownish cap and a white rump patch. In western Washington, most have bright red feathers under their wings and tail, although there is a yellow variation too. Males have a red mustache. Flickers spend more time on the ground than other woodpeckers, foraging for insects—especially ants.

A northern flicker spotted in Seattle's Discovery Park

The beautiful Steller’s Jay is regularly seen (and heard) all year long. Native to western North America, this striking bird has deep blue and black plumage and prominent crest. The front of its body is black and the rear is deep blue. Even if you can’t see it, you may know the Stellar’s jay is near when you hear its recognizable raspy squak.

A Steller's Jay, Tenino, WA

As their name implies, the small Black-capped Chickadee has a distinct black cap and bib separated by white cheeks, a light breast and grayish back, wings and tail. Flocks of these noisy chatterers forage in trees, even hanging upside down to look for insects and seeds on the undersides of leaves. They will also visit bird feeders and often uses nearby trees as a “pantry” storing seeds in the bark for later retrieval. Their vocalizations include a clear whistling song with “fee fee fee fee” notes.

Black-capped chickadee at a feeder in Edmonds, WA

Looking beyond these and other year-round residents, you may start to notice some of our migratory visitors, that have flown hundreds or even thousands of miles to get here.

Sharing space at that flowering plant or sugar-water feeder with the Anna’s hummer, you might spot a Rufous Hummingbird. Males are reddish-brown all over, while females are green above, with rufous flanks and tail. This tiny traveler tends to winter in the southern U.S. or in Mexico, returning to our area to nest and raise young in spring and summer.

Rufous hummingbird at a feeder in Tenino, WA

Tree Swallows are another migratory species that returns to our area to nest in the spring. They are elegant birds with white undersides, iridescent blue-green backs, and forked tails. While they arrive here early in the spring, many leave by mid-August, to spend the winter in southern U.S. (the Gulf Coast and Southern California) or even Cuba and Guatemala.

A beautiful tree swallow, Ephrata, WA
For more on all our local birds, information about birding classes, educational resources and all the best binoculars, feeders and gear, please check out our friends at Seattle Audubon.

For more information about birds at the zoo and to learn about conservation efforts for our feathered friends such as endangered Bali mynah, Stellar sea eagles, red-breasted goose, cranes of Asia and raptors of the Pacific Northwest, visit zoo.org/conservation. 

For kiddos, we recommend checking out this bird-worthy activity: Caring for Neighborhood Birds: https://blog.zoo.org/2020/04/zoomazium-to-you-caring-for.html

And have delightful National Bird Day!

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