Thank you LeAnne Wolfe, local business owner and avid birder, for contributing this piece to our blog.
There are a lot of birds whose noise draws your attention to them. Among these are the hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and a dove that’s been moving into Sumpter lately. This dove sounds like an owl. Over and over and over again. It’s a soft gray with a white crescent visible across the end of its tail when it’s in flight. Matching its call online is the Eurasian collared dove, which spread across North America from the Bahamas, where a few birds were released during the burglary of a pet store in the 1970s. The local mourning dove is a darker brownish-gray with black spots on its wings and tail. The male has shimmery pink and blue feathers around its neck. Its call isn’t quite so continuous, but it is a series of coos, with the second coo being at a higher pitch than the others.
According to one of my books, Oregon only gets two hummingbirds and only one of those plays around in eastern Oregon: the rufous hummingbird. The male and female do look different from each other, but both are brightly colored. The male is mostly red with a little green and white, and the female is green with some red and a white chest. I thought I had two different species fighting over who got to use the hummingbird feeder, but I guess it was just the guy trying to make the gal wait ‘til he was done.
The northern flicker is an interesting woodpecker. See, it spends a lot of time digging in the ground, since it really likes ants and beetles. I once thought one was going to tunnel under one of my rose bushes. Its flight path is definitely a series of flicks, flashing orange on and off as the wings open and snap shut. Flickers’ orange and black flight feathers seem to be shed pretty often; as a child I’d find one about every three days it seemed. Male and female both have a black neckband above a black-spotted, creamy chest. The males have a red cheek splash, too. Instead of having a black or mostly black back like other woodpeckers, the flicker is brown to pale brown with black bars.
Two other birds with black neckbands might be seen in the area, but they aren’t woodpeckers. The varied thrush looks a little like a robin (they are closely related), but the belly is a darker orange, there’s that black neckband, and a striking orange eyebrow. The markings of the female are more subdued. Varied thrushes might just stop by for the summer.
The western meadowlark, on the other hand, is more likely to be passing through on its way to somewhere else. Its black neckband is distinctly V-shaped, and its belly and throat are very yellow rather than orange. The meadowlark is related to blackbirds and orioles.
Sometimes as you wander around Sumpter Valley, you’ll come across a house that has metal circles placed randomly on its wooden siding. The more metal circles, the more often a woodpecker has been visiting. Other times you’ll hear something drumming on a metal chimney cap. That would be a male woodpecker proudly announcing himself to the ladies in the area. Flickers are as guilty of this behavior as any of the black-backed species.
The latter have varying amounts of white on them, and usually some sort of red marking. You’re better off finding pictures and making comparisons yourself amongst the downy woodpecker, the red-naped sapsucker, Williamson’s sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, and pileated woodpecker, but there are a couple of guidelines to get you started. The sapsuckers have red throats, with Williamson’s having a yellow belly. The pileated has more red on the back of its head than do the downy and hairy woodpeckers. In fact, its red feathers—in the male and female—make a crest that comes to a point behind the head. Ever seen pictures of Woody Woodpecker, the cartoon character? Oh, and the pileated is almost 20” long while all the others are less than 10” long.
So open your ears and listen for drumming, hooting, and giant mosquito wings. Then try to find the source with your eyes before it flashes away.