Birds …

Plenty of amazing and interesting birds to be seen in the US. My joy knew no bounds when I was introduced to hummingbirds! I think the women standing next to me in the Chihuly Museum garden thought I was bonkers until I explained I’d just seen my first hummingbird – they understood completely.

These pocket rockets are tiny, weighing only a few grams, and make the most amazing buzzing sound as they thrum the air with their wings. They’re pretty bolshie too and drive each other off feeders, their long beaks resembling swords or bayonets! (Having one whoosh right by my ear was scary.)  I began to refer to them as ‘stealth birds’ after seeing one rise vertically above a second-floor deck rail, look around and disappear vertically below the rail!

Because of the energy hovering takes they need nectar/sugar syrup every 10 to 15 minutes – and the rufous hummingbird still manages to migrate each year from Mexico (possibly even Panama) to southern Alaska! Read about the citizen science that is helping track the migration. I can personally confirm how far north these birds go as we were startled to have our red jackets checked out by a hummingbird while on a cruise ship at Hubbard Glacier (60 degrees north)!

This link takes you to an interesting article on what hummingbirds eat – apparently they migrate at the same time as sapsuckers (a kind of woodpecker) and feed from the same sap wells in trees.

Scientists have just released information about their flight patterns, read that here (the flight video is only 52 seconds long).


My first hummingbird, seen in the Chihuly Museum Garden in Seattle. From the corner of my eye it looked like an extraordinarily large insect! Photo: Sandra Simpson



A hummingbird on a feeder at a bed and breakfast stop in Washington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The state bird of Washington is the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) – and I was lucky enough to see them in all three ‘lower 48’ states I visited (Washington, Oregon and California). Read more here and listen to its call. They’re also known as the lightning bird, which is a lovely name for such a yellow bird.


American goldfinch in Mt Rainier National Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stellar’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) look like what they are – bovver boys! Bold and aggressive, the books say, and likely to be found scavenging food around human habitation, including campgrounds. As you can see from the photo, they’re closely related to the blue jay. Read more about the Stellar jay here.


Stellar’s jay seen in Mt Rainier National Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The birds are named for Georg Steller (1709-46), a German-born naturalist. He  discovered them on an Alaskan island in 1741 while on an ill-starred voyage with Danish-born Russian explorer Vitus Bering. Stellar was the first European to step on to what is now Alaska. The story of the voyage, including Stellar wanting to treat scurvy with berries and leaves, is worth a read. His journals were later used by Captain Cook.

And finally, a blackbird … but with a little flash of brilliance (only for the blokes though, typical). Read more here.


A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in Oregon. Photo: Sandra Simpson



2 thoughts on “Birds …

  1. Thanks Catherine. Some of the Americans I met didn’t realise the rest of the world doesn’t have these little beauties – once they did, they realised why I was a bit ga-ga over them.

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