Hummingbird Cam A-buzz

I recently found out about a new Cornell Lab of Ornithology webcam – for hummers! This great Cam is filled with these tiny birds flitting to and fro on the two feeders. The species seen here include: Magnificent, Lucifer, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds. They even get, occasionally, a Green Violetear! Here is the link. Have fun!

Calliope Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird

Feathers on Friday – for two weeks

I have not posted very recently because I am on vacation! I do not expect to get out the weekly posts right now, but will continue where I left off. Here is my feathers on Friday post for these two weeks.
I am currently on my way to Long Point, one of the greatest birding spots in Canada. I hope that I will get a post out after this, but I cannot guarantee that. Here is a photo of a Northern Cardinal I saw recently. Can you guess where I am?


Sparrows: in the Field

Sparrows are one of those families of birds where most of the species are very similar, and not all are easy to ID when in the field. There are about 35 species of sparrow in North America. These birds, commonly known as Little Brown Jobs, or LBJs, can be seen in almost every, if not every habitat across Canada. The most common in my area are Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Though many other species are around, these are the ones most commonly seen – here. Not everywhere has the same selection. In fact, the sparrow variety varies greatly. Sparrows that are extreme rarities in one place are the most common bird in another. At first glance, most sparrows are small, brown birds that live  everywhere and chirp lustily all the time. Right?
Look closer.

Size is generally similar, but a few (such as the Grasshopper Sparrow) stand out by being either bigger or smaller. Breast colour, streaking and spots range across all of the options available, while bill colours and eye rings/colour simply add confusion to the mix. So how do you tell them apart?

Start with the breast patterns. I will mention only a few of the common species across Canada, not including the House Sparrow.

Song Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows have very similar breast streaking (note photo above), and are told apart generally by the Song Sparrow’s deep chocolate breast spot, situated in the very centre of the breast, among the lines, and the Lincoln’s lighter breast streaking. The Lincoln’s has a darker colour of streaks than the Song, which has a heavy dark chocolate brown, as opposed to the Lincoln’s sharp black.

Clay-colored Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrows at Frank Lake

Clay-coloured Sparrows have a flat, for lack of better words, creamy-clay breast. Pretty much only Chipping Sparrows can compare to the streak-less, spotless breast of the Clay-coloured.

Brewer’s Sparrows also have nondescript breasts, but they also have nondescript everything, as opposed to some other characteristics of they Clay-Coloured and Chipping.

Savannah Sparrows are closest to Song and Vesper Sparrows. For a front view, Song Sparrows have extremely heavy, dark streaking with an unusual “blurry” quality. The streaks on a Song’s breast are lumped together and blotchy. Compared to a Savannah, it should be easy to compare and contrast the two, but variation in the field makes it difficult. Watch for the Song’s darker overall colour and its longer tail.

Vesper Sparrows, also have darker streaking, although it is a lot finer than the Song’s. It is, however very similar to the Savannah, and the best differentiating tip-offs are the Savannah’s yellow head stripe and creamy breast where the Vesper has an plainer head colouration head and white breast background.Vesper Sparrow

Stay tuned for more info on your spring sparrows!


Perplexing Plumage – How to tell a female Mallard from a female Gadwall

How do you tell a female/eclipse Mallard from a female/eclipse Gadwall?

Head and bill shape

  1. The mallard has a thick bill with orange blotches on the top.
  2. If it has a streaked brown and tan overall body, what you are seeing is probably a Mallard.
  3. Also, should it be a Mallard its head would be more rounded than a Gadwall’s.
Female Mallard

Head colour

  1. The mallard has a round head that is dark with black eye-line.
  2. If your bird has white on the wingtips, then Mallard is the bird, as the Gadwall doesn’t have this.
  3. For the last pointer, the mallard has a blue speculum patch.
Female Gadwall.  Photo courtesy of Hilke Breder at "One Jackdaw Birding"
Female Gadwall. Photo courtesy of Hilke Breder at “One Jackdaw Birding”


  1. For one, the gadwall has a thinner bill and an orange line on its lower edge
  2. Finely patterned silver-gray body? Gadwall is the probable bird,  although the Mallard can have a similar body.
  3. The Gadwall has a two-toned head, which is dark above and light below.
  4. Thinking of the Mallard’s blue speculum, I must say that the gadwall has a white patch on its wing.
  5. If the head shape is puffy and slightly “blocky”, it indicates Gadwall though this distinction is hard to see.

So is it easy? Not necessarily!   But keep trying, looking out for these pointers, and it will get easier.

Eagle Quiz Answered

In a previous post, Eagle Quiz, I asked readers to try to identify a photo of an eagle, immature.

Thank you all for your replies, some of which were right, some of which were wrong – don’t worry if you got it wrong – it was just a little quiz.

Here’s the picture again with some of the key factors on identifying these birds. Bald Eagle (immature) with field marks



1: The size of the beak; larger beak for the Bald, smaller for the Golden.

2: The amount of white on the under wing; the Bald has more, especially noticeable being the white wingpits.

3: The amount of feathers on its legs: as showed in the picture below, the Bald Eagle has lightly feathered ankles whereas the Golden has heavy plumage.

Eagle feet
Eagle feet







4: The size of the head; as with the beak, Bald Eagles have larger heads, Golden tend to have smaller.

If you haven’t already guessed, the photo is of… a Bald Eagle!

Here’s an excellent article that goes into some more detail:
“The Field Identification of North American Eagles”

Eagle Quiz

The difference between  Bald and Golden eagle immatures can be frustrating.
Can you tell the difference?

To see if you can, I’m asking you to comment on this photo of an eagle my mum took a couple years ago. It’s already identified but all answers are OK.

Bald Eagle (immature)

If you decide to comment, please put your identification of this bird, and how you got it in the comment.
Feel free to guess, but if you are, please say so.

Soon, I’ll post the actual ID, along with some guidance and answers to any questions.