Western Meadowlark

Sternella neglecta

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           9.5 in
  • AOU Band code    WEME

The Western Meadowlark (WEME) is 9-1/2" long. The WEME has a yellow breast and belly with a black V-shaped breast band. Upper parts are dark brown with dusky edges. When the bird is flushed it shows a conspicuous patch of white on each side of a short tail and flies with several rapid wingbeats alternating with short glides. When walking it flicks its tail open and shut. The WEME plumage closely parallels the Eastern Meadowlark (EAME) and it is almost impossible to tell them apart except by voice.
The WEME has a flute-like song, accelerating at the end. The call is a low, throaty chuck. The EAME has a whistled song see-you, see-yeer. and a raspy, dzzrt call. WEMEs are common in grassy fields, meadows, cultivated fields and pastures.

Their diet includes spiders, sowbugs, snails, grass and forb seeds.  (For those of you, like me, that don’t know what a forb is: A herbaceous plant other than a grass, especially, one growing in a field or meadow.)

It builds its nest in a natural or scraped depression of coarse grass, lined with finer grass and hair. The nest has a domed canopy of grass, bark and forbs interwoven with surrounding vegetation with an opening on one side. There are 3-7 white eggs marked with browns and purples. Incubation is 13-15 days and fledging in 12 days.

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           7.5-8 in
  • Wingspan      11 in
  • AOU Band code    AMDI

The American Dipper (AMDI) is about 7.5-8” long with an 11” wingspan. The genus name Cinclus (SINK-lus) is from Greek kink-los, kind of a bird. The species name mexicanus (meks-ih-CANE-us) is Latin, of Mexico.
The AMDI was formerly known as the Water Ouzel. It is found only along fast-flowing, rocky streams in the western United States and Canada. Generally non-migratory, but may descend to lower elevations in winter. It is the only truly aquatic songbird (it swims underwater) and has no other close relatives in North America. It bobs its whole body up and down, and can completely submerge to feed on aquatic life on the bottom of turbulent streams, emerging a distance away. Special adaptations enable the dipper to go underwater; scales cover its nostrils; dense plumage resists water; and an extra-large oil gland with which it waterproofs its plumage.
The AMDI is all dark gray and is stocky with a short tail, often cocked, and long legs. A white eyelid is obvious when the bird blinks. Its song, given in flight, is a loud musical series of whistles with repeated phrases; call is “bzeet”.
The nest, made by the female, is about one foot in diameter and is arched over, shaped like an oven with a side entrance and is made of mosses and grasses lined with moss and placed most often on a cliff face in a damp location. Sometimes the nest is on a rock in midstream, underneath a bridge over water (like under the Teanaway River bridge on old highway 10 east of Cle Elum), or behind a waterfall. Three to six white eggs are laid. Incubation is 14-17 days and the young fledge in 18-25 days. Normally, there will be two broods in a season. 

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis

By Andrew McCormick

  • Length          8.75 in
  • Wingspan     15.5 in
  • Weight         1.4 oz
  • AOU Band code   WEKI

Darting from its perch on the wire a Western Kingbird gives chase to a bee that has just entered its territory.  It takes a few yards for the kingbird to catch up to the bee but with a click of its bill the bird has secured its lunch and returns to its perch. Later, a Red-tailed Hawk makes an appearance and as it approaches the kingbird’s nest the male raises its crest revealing the hidden red feathers and flies to confront the hawk, mobbing it until it leaves the bird’s territory. The Western Kingbird is the ruler of its province.

The Western Kingbird is the widest ranging of the western yellow-bellied kingbirds and the only one which nests in Washington. It prefers semi-open country where it perches on a branch, shrub, wire, or fence post and sallies out to chase and capture flying insects. It is seen most frequently in eastern Washington.

The Western Kingbird has a light gray head and back with dark brown-black wings. In flight the back looks markedly lighter than the wings. The black tail is squared off at the tip and has fine white outer tail feathers. Its bill is small and black. It has a narrow black mask through the eyes and a conspicuous white cheek patch. The chest is pearly gray and the belly is yellow.

There are three other look-alike, yellow-bellied kingbirds with which it shares the genus Tyrannus, from the Greek turannos, for absolute ruler, king or tyrant (Holloway). The Tropical Kingbird (T. melancholicus) is rare to casual in Washington around Puget Sound during fall and winter (Alderfer). The Tropical has a forked tail with no white on it and an olive back which looks dark in flight. Its white throat blends into an olive-yellow chest to a yellow belly. Cassin’s (T. vociferens), and Couch’s (T. couchii) Kingbirds are found in the southwestern United States. The Western Kingbird has a mostly-hidden red crown patch for which it has been given the species name verticalis, from the Latin vertex (Holloway). 

The Western Kingbird is an acrobatic flyer and has an elaborate mating flight which includes a seemingly out-of-control spinning and twisting downward flight. It will nest in trees and on human-made structures such as utility poles and building ledges. Both sexes build a cup-style nest of grass and twigs lined with feathers and plant down. Usually 3-5 white eggs blotched with lavender and black are deposited. The female incubates them for 18 days. Both parents feed the young which leave the nest in a little over two weeks (Kaufman). The birds arrive in Washington in late April to early May and in late August they begin fall migration in small flocks to the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America. 
It has adapted well to human presence. Introduction of shade trees and construction of power lines and fences have aided the Western Kingbird. As a result it is one of the few Neotropical migrants whose population is increasing (Gamble & Bergin). 

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

By Andrew McCormick

  • Length          6.75 in
  • Wingspan    15 in
  • Weight         0.67 oz (19 g)
  • AOU Band code   BARS

The Barn Swallow has made such good friends with human beings that it is now the most widespread and abundant swallow in the world. As humans have constructed buildings, bridges and culverts, Barn Swallows have expanded their range along with them (Brown and Brown). They are very familiar and well-loved by the general public with the possible exception of those who find their mud nests and messy droppings irksome and then destroy the nests (Bell and Kennedy). Barn Swallows are very comfortable around humans and will nest on sills above doors and windows and on open rafters in various structures including birdwatching blinds.

Their long wings attest to their long-distance migration which brings them to the Washington in late March and early April. They feed in flight and provide a wonderful service to humans by eating millions of flies, beetles, wasps, winged ants and other kinds of insects. They are commonly seen foraging over bodies of water and fields at lower altitudes than other swallow species (Brown and Brown). Barn Swallows tend to have longer straight flights than other swallows, but will also fly circular patterns when insect concentrations are higher such as around cattle (Brown and Brown). Birders will sometimes note that Barn Swallows will fly around them as they walk through fields.

The Barn Swallow is in the genus Hirundo, Latin for swallow, and the species name rustica refers to its suitability for rural areas. The common name Barn is for one of its common nesting sites. Today, Barn Swallows are more likely to nest on a human-made structures than at more traditional sites such as in a cave or on a cliff face. Swallow is from the Anglo-Saxon swalewe, the name for this type of bird (Holloway).

 The Barn Swallow’s nest is a cup of mud mixed with grass and lined with feathers (Kaufman). Typically 4-5 white eggs with brown-spots are deposited. Both parents incubate the eggs which hatch in a little more than two weeks, and both feed the young. Feeding is often augmented by non-breeding offspring from previous broods, thus creating a large family brood (Kaufman). First flight occurs in another three weeks. Some pairs will have a second brood and recent research has found that some pairs wintering in Argentina will have a winter brood (Brown and Brown). Barn Swallows require more territory than other swallows and most of the time will not nest in large colonies as some other species will.

The Barn Swallow has the most deeply forked tail of all the swallows. This can be an aid to identification, although juveniles will have less deeply forked tails. The Barn Swallow is well-researched and studies of European populations indicate that females select the males with more deeply forked tails. “Tail length tends to correlate with reproductive success, annual survival, propensity to engage in extra-pair copulation, parental effort…and other measures of fitness” (Brown and Brown). Barn Swallows have a wide-spread and stable population.

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Bullock's Oriole

Icterus bullockii

By Andy McCormick

  • Length          9 in
  • Wingspan      12 in 
  • Weight           1.3 oz
  • AOU Band code    BUOR