3 Bright Birds

Of all the North American bird species, few stand out more than this trio of flyers. Their vivid plumage makes them some of the easiest springtime wildlife to spot.
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Of all the North American bird species, few stand out more than this trio of flyers. Their vivid plumage makes them some of the easiest springtime wildlife to spot.

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker

Mountain Bluebirds

These songbirds range from Alaska to western Texas at elevations above 6,000 feet. More richly blue than their eastern or western cousins, males are azure from head to tail, while females are light gray with blue-tinted wings. They nest in ground holes and tree cavities, preferring forests with snags (standing dead trees). To hunt, they perch on low branches, then drop down to pounce on beetles and caterpillars. Once displaced from their nests by more aggressive English sparrows, bluebirds have rebounded in recent decades due to nest-box programs across North America.

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker

Western Tanager

The tropical reds and yellows that adorn males arise from pigments in the beetles and caterpillars they consume. Females are less brilliant, but still exhibit a pale yellow body and brown wings. Found in the West from southeastern Alaska to Mexico, they migrate as far south as Costa Rica in the winter. Despite their bright plumage, slow-moving tanagers are difficult to spot: They spend much of their time in the tops of conifers, where they build flimsy, shallow nests and forage for berries and insects.

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Multiple patterns clash on this foot-tall woodpecker's grayish body: a striped back, a spotted stomach, and a black chest crescent. Mature males also exhibit a bright red cheek patch. Like other tree-knockers, northern flickers coast during flight, which displays their distinctive white rump. But they are the only woodpeckers that feed on the ground, preferring fruits, seeds, and especially ants. They excavate their homes inside dead trees found along forest edges. Flickers are present in all 50 states, and are one of the few woodpecker species that migrates south in winter.

Mountain Bluedbirds | Western Tanager | Northern Flicker