Colorful Valley Spring Migrants

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #17 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 24, 25 and 26/100.)

Bullock’s Oriole – Species #24

The Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) is a strikingly colored songbird found throughout the Central Valley of California during its breeding season. Adult males have a bright orange head, black eye line, and a black back with white wing patches. Females are a subdued yellowish-brown with a grayish head and have streaked underparts.

These orioles are generally found in riparian woodlands, where they build their distinctive hanging nests. They are often observed flitting about in the trees and shrubs, feeding on insects, nectar, and fruit. In the fall, Bullock’s Orioles migrate to Mexico and Central America, where they spend the winter.

Despite their bright appearance, these orioles can be challenging to spot in the dense foliage of their preferred habitats. However, their beautiful and distinctive song, a series of flute-like whistles, can often be heard echoing through the trees in the early morning hours. With their vibrant colors and delightful songs, Bullock’s Orioles are a welcome sight and sound in the Central Valley’s riparian woodlands.

Black-headed Grosbeak – Species #25

The Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) is a brightly colored bird species that can be found in the Central Valley of California during the breeding season, typically from April to August. Males are easily recognizable by their striking black head and vibrant orange breast, while females have a more muted appearance with brownish-gray plumage.

These birds prefer to nest in open woodland areas with scattered trees and shrubs, often near streams or other sources of water. They build cup-shaped nests made of twigs, bark, and grass, and lay 3-4 pale blue or greenish-blue eggs. The female typically incubates the eggs for about 2 weeks, and both parents take turns feeding the chicks once they hatch.

During the breeding season, Black-headed Grosbeaks primarily feed on insects and other invertebrates, but also consume seeds and fruits. They are known for their powerful beaks, which they use to crack open seeds and nuts. As fall approaches, these birds migrate south to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America, making them a common sight for birdwatchers in the Central Valley during the summer months.

Western Tanager – Species #26

The Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) is a stunning bird species that can be found in the Central Valley of California during the breeding season. The male has a bright yellow head, contrasting with its black wings, back, and tail. Its underparts are bright red, making it one of the most colorful birds in the area. The female is less colorful, with a yellow-green head, olive back, and grayish underparts.

These birds can be found in coniferous forests and oak woodlands during the summer, where they build their nests in the high branches of trees. They feed on insects, fruit, and seeds, and during migration, they can be seen in parks and gardens, where they are attracted to nectar feeders. They are known for their distinctive call, which is a series of short, sharp “chip” notes.

The Western Tanager is a migratory bird, spending winters in Mexico and Central America. Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect this beautiful bird species, as its populations have been declining due to habitat loss and climate change. It is a wonderful sight to see a male Western Tanager during the breeding season, and efforts to protect them should be continued to ensure that future generations can enjoy their beauty.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Least Grebe

Beautiful Birds of Belize Blog – Post #3

By Jim Gain


  • Scientific Name: Tachybaptus dominicus
  • Name in Spanish (Mexico): Zambullidor Menor
  • Name in Mayan: Xpatux já
  • ABA 4-Letter Bird Code: LEGR
  • Family: Podicipedidae – Grebes
  • Order: Podicipediformes – Grebes
Least Grebes Image © Jim Gain

About this Bird

The Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus) is a small waterbird that inhabits freshwater wetlands throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. They are primarily found in shallow water bodies, such as ponds, marshes, and slow-moving streams, where they can easily dive to catch prey such as fish, insects, and small crustaceans.

Least Grebe Image © Jim Gain

These birds are highly adapted to their aquatic lifestyle, with their lobed toes and waterproof plumage allowing them to swim and dive with ease. During the breeding season, males will establish territories and perform courtship displays, which involve a variety of vocalizations and head bobbing movements.

Least Grebe Image © Jim Gain

Although the Least Grebe is not currently considered a threatened species, habitat loss and degradation due to human activities such as agriculture and urbanization pose a potential threat to their populations. Conservation efforts, such as wetland restoration and protection, can help to ensure the continued survival of this unique and important species in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Least Grebe Image © Jim Gain

>> Next Post on Tuesday, 3/28/2023 – Long-billed Hermit

Previous posts from Beautiful Birds of Belize Blog

Plain Chachalaca

Beautiful Birds of Belize Blog – Post #2

By Jim Gain


  • Scientific Name: Ortalis vetula
  • Name in Spanish (Mexico): Chachalaca Oriental
  • Name in Mayan: Baach’
  • ABA 4-Letter Bird Code: PLCH
  • Family: Cracidae – Chachalacas, Guans, and Curassows
  • Order: Galliformes – Gallinaceous Birds
Plain Chachalaca Image © Jim Gain

About this Bird

The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is a medium-sized bird that is found in the Yucatan Peninsula, which includes parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. It is a member of the family Cracidae, which includes other game birds like turkeys and guans. The Plain Chachalaca is generally found in humid and semi-humid forests, as well as in areas of scrub and thorn forest.

Plain Chachalaca Image © Jim Gain

The Plain Chachalaca is a social bird that usually travels in groups of 6 to 12 individuals, although groups of up to 20 birds have been observed. They are primarily herbivorous, feeding on fruits, seeds, and leaves, and are an important seed disperser in their habitat. Their distinctive call, a loud and raucous “cha-cha-lac,” is often heard in the early morning and late afternoon, and is used by the birds to communicate with one another.

Plain Chachalaca Image © Jim Gain

During breeding season, which typically occurs in the early spring, males will call out loudly and perform courtship displays to attract females. The female will then build a shallow nest of twigs and leaves in a tree or shrub, and will lay 2 to 4 eggs. The chicks are precocial, meaning they are able to walk and feed themselves shortly after hatching, and will remain with their parents until they are able to fend for themselves.Overall, the Plain Chachalaca is an important and interesting bird in the Yucatan Peninsula, with its distinctive call and important role in seed dispersal. However, like many bird species, it is threatened by habitat loss due to human activities such as logging and agriculture. Conservation efforts are needed to ensure that this species and its habitat are protected for future generations.

>> Next Post on Friday, 3/24/2023 – Least Grebe

Previous posts from Beautiful Birds of Belize Blog

Common Valley Swallows

By Jim Gain

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.

Post #16 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 21, 22 and 23/100 + 2 BONUS BIRDS)

Tree Swallow Species #21

The Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) is a small, insectivorous bird species found throughout the Central Valley of California. These birds are known for their sleek, iridescent blue-green plumage on their backs and wings, contrasting with their white underparts. They have a forked tail and a short, pointed bill, which they use to catch insects on the wing.

Tree Swallows are migratory birds that breed in North America, with some populations wintering in Central and South America. They typically arrive in the Central Valley of California in late February or early March and start breeding in April. These birds are cavity nesters, and they often compete with other species, such as Bluebirds and House Sparrows, for nesting sites. They build their nests in tree cavities, birdhouses, and even nest boxes provided by humans. Tree Swallows lay 4-7 eggs per clutch and raise 1-2 broods per year.

Their diet consists mostly of insects, which they catch on the wing, but they may also consume small fruits and berries. Tree Swallows are an important part of the ecosystem, controlling insect populations and serving as prey for larger birds and mammals.

Cliff Swallow Species #22

The Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a migratory bird species that is found in the Central Valley of California during the breeding season, typically from March to September. They are known for their unique mud nests that they build on vertical surfaces such as cliffs, bridges, and buildings. These nests can be quite large, sometimes housing hundreds of birds, and are a common sight in many areas of the Central Valley.

The Cliff Swallow is a highly social bird and is often found in large flocks, both during the breeding season and during migration. They feed mainly on insects, which they catch while in flight, and are known for their acrobatic flying abilities. The breeding cycle of Cliff Swallows begins in early spring, with males arriving first to establish nesting sites and attract females. Once paired, the birds build their mud nests and raise their young, typically producing two broods per season.

Despite their adaptability and success in the Central Valley, Cliff Swallow populations have declined in recent decades due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and other factors. Efforts are underway to monitor and conserve this important bird species, which plays an important role in controlling insect populations and maintaining the ecological balance of the region.

Barn Swallow Species #23

The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is a common passerine bird species that can be found in the Central Valley of California during the breeding season, which typically lasts from March to September. These birds have a distinctive appearance, with a long forked tail, blue-black upperparts, and reddish-buff underparts. The male and female are similar in appearance, but the male typically has longer tail feathers.

Barn Swallows are known for their acrobatic flight and can often be seen darting and swooping over open fields and bodies of water in search of insects, which make up the bulk of their diet.

They build their cup-shaped nests out of mud and grass and attach them to the underside of structures such as bridges, eaves, and cliffs. Barn Swallows are also known for their impressive migratory abilities, with individuals traveling thousands of miles each year to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

In recent years, the Barn Swallow population in the Central Valley of California has been declining due to factors such as loss of nesting sites and pesticide use. Conservation efforts are underway to protect these birds and their habitat, including the installation of artificial nesting structures and the reduction of pesticide use in agricultural areas.

BONUS BIRDS – The following two swallow species are excluded from the 100 Common Valley Birds list due to their somewhat lower occurrence levels in the valley.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

The Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) is a small passerine bird found throughout the Central Valley of California, typically inhabiting riparian areas, wetlands, and other bodies of water. This species gets its name from the rough edges on the leading edge of its wings, which help it to grip onto rough surfaces when perching.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are sexually monomorphic, meaning that males and females look similar. They have a brownish-gray back and wings, with a slightly paler underbelly. Their wings are relatively short and pointed, and they have a short, slightly notched tail. This species is known for its aerial acrobatics, often seen swooping and diving over water to catch insects.

During breeding season, which typically occurs from April to September, Northern Rough-winged Swallows build nests in burrows, crevices, or other suitable sites in natural or artificial vertical surfaces, such as the banks of rivers, cliffs, or man-made structures. They lay 4-6 eggs per clutch, and both parents participate in incubation and feeding of the young. Northern Rough-winged Swallows are migratory and spend the winter months in Central and South America.

Violet-green Swallow

The Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) is a small passerine bird species belonging to the swallow family. This species measures around 11-14 cm in length and has a wingspan of approximately 25-30 cm. The males have shiny iridescent green upperparts, a white underbelly, and a violet patch on their rump, while females have less iridescence and a less distinct violet rump patch.

In the Central Valley of California, the Violet-green Swallow breeds in open woodlands, riparian forests, and oak savannas. They typically build their nests in tree cavities, rock crevices, or nest boxes. Their diet primarily consists of flying insects, which they catch in mid-air. During the breeding season, the males perform aerial acrobatics to attract females, and both parents feed and care for their young. Violet-green Swallows are migratory birds and typically spend their winters in Mexico and Central America before returning to their breeding grounds in the Central Valley in the spring. Overall, the Violet-green Swallow is an important and charismatic species of the Central Valley’s avifauna.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Keel-billed Toucan

Beautiful Birds of Belize Blog – Post #1

By Jim Gain


  • Scientific Name: Ramphastos sulfuratus
  • Name in Spanish (Mexico): Tucán Pico Canoa
  • ABA 4-Letter Bird Code: KBTO
  • Family: Ramphastidae
  • Order: Piciformes

About this Bird

The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), National Bird of Belize, is a colorful bird species found in Belize and other parts of Central and South America.

They are known for their large, curved beaks that are brightly colored in green, blue, orange, and red. In Belize, the Keel-billed Toucan is a common sight in the forests and jungles, especially in the Maya Mountains and other areas with dense vegetation.

Keel-billed Toucan Image © Jim Gain

Keel-billed Toucans are omnivorous and eat a variety of fruits, insects, and small animals. They are also known to use their beaks to reach into tree cavities to extract eggs and nestlings of other bird species. In Belize, they play an important ecological role as seed dispersers for many tree species, helping to maintain the forest ecosystem.

Keel-billed Toucan Image © Jim Gain

The breeding season for Keel-billed Toucans in Belize typically runs from February to May. They lay their eggs in tree cavities, which they excavate themselves or take over from other birds. The females lay 2-4 eggs, which both parents incubate for around 16-18 days. The chicks are born naked and blind, and rely on their parents for food and protection until they fledge at around 7-8 weeks of age. Overall, the Keel-billed Toucan is a fascinating and important species in the natural history of Belize, and its conservation is crucial for maintaining the health of the country’s forests and ecosystems.

Keel-billed Toucan Image © Jim Gain

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Keel-billed Toucans are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red list because they occupy such a large habitat range, however numbers are declining and they are threatened by deforestation and habitat loss. Many species of toucan are captured from the wild and sold as popular pets due to their bright coloured bills and keen intelligence. Finally these beautiful individuals are also hunted for food and their bills taken as trophies.

>> Next Post on Tuesday, 3/21/2023 – Plain Chachalaca