The Little Birds

Most of us are impressed by the sight of a bald eagle in flight or a great blue heron keenly focussed on his prey, but the little birds we oft times ignore. Some are drab, all are small, and most seem hard to identify. But around the BC coast, the little birds assure us that the ecosystem is working. Food is eaten, mating accomplished, and eggs laid. Always a lover of finches and chickadees, I was able to widen my small bird repertoire this summer by learning about a few new (to me) species.

Steller's Jay

I photographed this charmer after a rain shower about 60 miles north of Vancouver Island. These bold mimics of the evergreen forest can imitate several other species; as well as, mechanical objects, and are known for stealing eggs from other birds' nests. They were named after Georg Steller, a naturalist on a Russian explorer's ship who "discovered" them on an Alaskan island in 1741. This crazy-crested predator was likely hunting peanuts.

Black Oystercatcher

The Black Oystercatcher was an entirely new species for me. As per their name, these large obvious birds love to probe for molluscs. I'd often hear them through the night waves chattering like squeaky toys. But what I love most about them is their sharp amber eyes and long orange beaks.

I'm still not absolutely sure if I've correctly identified these plump sandpiper-like birds as surfbirds, as there are several different species that frequent the BC coast. Yellow legs, white rumps, stripey wings that appear in flight--if anyone knows for certain, please comment.

Storm Petrel
Finally, a friend of mine just found two of these sweet birds stranded, on two separate occasions. The fork-tailed storm petrel is a beautiful pelagic seabird who cannot take off from land as its body is designed uniquely for the sea--but sometimes, they get blown off course in high winds or lost in the fog. How vulnerable. Imagine if no one was around to pick her up and take her back to the water?

Storm petrels use their keen sense of smell to locate small fish and crustaceans at sea. They hold a supply of oil in their stomach which can be used to feed their chick or discourage predators. In bad weather, the chick may be left without food for several days, during which time, it goes into a state of torpor and stops growing. Luckily growth resumes again when the parents return to brood.

Just looking for photographs of the storm petrel in flight, I ran across this webpage with gorgeous bird photography by Mike Yip. 

Birds are part of us, even the little birds.

New Word of the Day: pelagic
Meaning? relating to the open sea
Origin: mid 17th century, via Latin from the Greek pelagikos, from pelagios "of the sea"
Used in a sentence: Like the shorebirds, I am pelagic.


Ivan Dubinsky said…
Your photo of Surfbirds also has Black Turnstones in it. The Surfbirds are the ones with the lighter grey backs, yellow legs and yellow at the base of the bill. The ones with the darker coloured backs and legs are the Black Turnstones. They are often seen together and, occasionally, in the company of Black oystercatchers, as well.

Ivan Dubinsky

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