Tag Archive | calgary backyard birds

Oranges for Orioles

For the last couple of years I have been putting out slices of oranges in my yard in the hopes of attracting Baltimore Orioles or Gray Catbirds.  I place the oranges on my tray feeder and in suet cages.  So far this has attracted only ants.  Last Friday morning, I thought that perhaps the heavy rain might force some migrants down, so I put out two fresh orange halves on a flower planter.  Within a half hour of arriving home in the afternoon, I looked out to see this bird feeding on the orange.

This first-year Baltimore Oriole stayed around the yard for two days, feeding on all the oranges, including the ones in the suet cage that I had placed there about two weeks before.

So if you want to see a Baltimore Oriole in your yard, putting out oranges really does work.  Now I’m just waiting for that Catbird.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Photo Feathers: Pine Siskin

The Pine Siskin is a familiar, tame little finch. They are often very approachable, enough to see their beautiful feathers. They are quite noisy, even while they feast on niger, black oil sunflower seeds and the seeds of pinecones, among other foods. Pine Siskins are common in Calgary and can be seen year round.

The Pine Siskin is a very curious bird; the bird in this photo is curious as to who is bothering him.





Posted by Matthew Sim

Backyard Birds: Eurasian Collared-Dove

For the past two weeks I’ve had two Eurasian Collared-Doves, likely a breeding pair, coming to my yard every day.  They feed on the lawn (lately, on the snow), eating sunflower seeds that have spilled from the bird feeders.

Eurasian Collared-Doves

Eurasian Collared-Doves are not yet a common backyard bird in Calgary, but that may change.  They were introduced to North America in the Bahamas in the 1970’s and have rapidly spread across the continent.  I think they were first reported in Alberta in 2003, and in Calgary in 2004.  I know of two pairs that have nested in the SE quadrant of the city in each of the past two years:  one pair in Shepard, and another in Dover.

This bird has an odd broken feather sticking out on its left side, so I know it’s the same bird returning each day.

Eurasian Collared-Doves are pale buff-grey to pinkish-grey in colour.  They are about the same length as a Rock Pigeon, but slimmer and with a longer tail.  On the back of their neck they have a narrow black half-ring, edged with white, from which they get their name.

This preening bird shows off its black collar…

Eurasian Collared-Doves are becoming more common in the rural areas south and east of Calgary, and are being seen regularly in the city as well.  They seem to occupy an ecological niche between that of the Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove.  It remains to be seen if they will become a common backyard bird like the Rock Pigeon, or primarily a rural one like the Mourning Dove.  If you see any in your yard, please let Birds Calgary know!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Backyard Birds: American Tree Sparrow

At this time of year, American Tree Sparrows are moving through the Calgary area on their way north.  They like to frequent brushy thickets and back yards across the city.  I’ve had a pair in my yard since April 2, and I’ve seen them in many other parts of the city in the past week.  These sparrows can also be seen in Calgary on their southward migration in the fall, with some of them occasionally overwintering. 

American Tree Sparrows have a brownish-red cap and eyeline, and a dark spot in the centre of the breast.  Despite its name (which was bestowed due to its resemblance to the European Tree Sparrow), these birds forage and nest on the ground.  Their nesting areas lie north of the treeline. 

 They seek shelter in thick bushes…

Like many of our native sparrows, they prefer to feed on the ground…

American Tree Sparrows are a beautiful little bird with a beautiful song: one or two clear notes followed by a sweet, rapid warble.  Just this week, I heard that song in my yard for the first time. 

So don’t just assume that all of those little brown birds in your yard are House Sparrows and House Finches; if you look carefully, you might find that one of them is actually an American Tree Sparrow.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s Feed The Birds Day

siskins oct 24The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK has proclaimed October 24 as Feed The Birds Day. It serves as a reminder of all the things we can do to help the birds through the coming winter.

We’re good at providing fast food for birds in our feeders, and this is certainly a life-saver in the cold snow-covered conditions. But what about ‘slow food?‘ There are many things you can do in your garden and yard to provide food for all wildlife.

  • Plant native plants such as Saskatoons,  juniper and other species that provide berries in the winter for birds such as Bohemian Waxwings. I had a crowd of about 50 waxwings zoom in on my tree last winter, stripping it of berries in a matter of minutes. White Spruce trees also provide cones for Red-breasted Nuthatches and crossbills, and shelter from the wind.
  • Make a brush or log pile. I have a huge Northwest Poplar tree in my yard, and during any windstorm we lose a fair number of branches of all sizes. Instead of throwing them out, or chopping them up for mulch, we stack them in a pile in the back of the yard. The birds use it as a sanctuary and often take shelter there in inclement weather throughout the year. A log pile is an even better idea, as it will provide solid shelter for a variety of small creatures over the winter, and if left alone, will become a host to mosses, fungi and lichens to decorate your yard.
  • Provide an insect home. We do not get rid of our leaves in the fall – we treasure them! Our garden is covered with about 8 inches of leaves, which are then covered with burlap to keep them from blowing away. This not only keeps the moisture in the ground, but also provides homes for thousands of ladybugs and other overwintering insects. In late spring, we cautiously remove them, first making sure the ladybugs have awakened and flown away.

These are just a few ideas for helping the birds along this winter. If you have other suggestions, please leave us a comment below!

Feed The Birds Day in Calgary this year was accompanied by rain, sleet and snow in the morning. I made sure all my ‘fast food’ feeders were full, and was rewarded by a yard full of Pine Siskins. These little seed eaters were everywhere, at every feeder. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that many in the yard at one time! These birds are year round visitors in Calgary, so they served as an additional reminder to remember the birds in the coming frigid months!

Pat Bumstead


Little Brown Birds

I have a first-year White-crowned Sparrow in my yard today.   This isn’t too unusual – I usually get a few of these going through in both spring and fall.  But a few years ago, before I became serious about birding, I never would have noticed this bird.  It would have been lost among the dozens of House Sparrows in my yard.

Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow

One of the first things a beginning birder should do is familiarize themselves with all the common birds they see every day.  For the backyard birder, this means not only birds like magpies and chickadees, which are distinctive, but also all the little brown birds which crowd the feeders every day.  The vast majority of these in Calgary will be House Sparrows, and in the last few years, House Finches.

House Sparrows have two distinct costumes – the brown/white/grey/chestnut of the adult male, and the dull brown/grey of the female and juvenile.  The male’s plumage is quite distinctive.  The amount of black in the bib can vary, and the colours are more crisp in the summer, but with a little practice the males can be recognized easily.
In contrast, the females and the young are quite plain (females and the young of both sexes look alike).  For me, the key identifying feature is the pale line behind the eye.  An important field mark for all House Sparrows is their unstreaked breast.  If it has spots or streaks on the breast, it isn’t a House Sparrow.

Young male House Sparrow


Female House Sparrow


House Finches are the same length as House Sparrows, but a little slimmer, and they weigh less.  They all have streaked breasts.  The adult males have colour on their heads, breast and rump, which is usually orange-red or pinkish, but can occasionally be orange or even yellowish.  Females and young are plain grey, but have heavily streaked breasts.

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Spend some time learning to recognize House Sparrows and House Finches in your yard, and then any unusual little brown birds will jump right out at you.  In the last five years, I have had nine species of native sparrows in my yard – White-crowned, White-throated, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Harris’s, Chipping, Clay-coloured, American Tree Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos.  I have also had Purple Finches, which are easy to spot once you know the House Finches.  There are several other sparrows, and many other little brown birds, that you could get besides these.
Although it’s fun to watch the House Sparrows and House Finches at your feeders, it’s always exciting whenever you see a little brown bird in the yard and realize “That’s something new!”

American Tree Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow

Bob Lefebvre