Coots and Gallinules

By Jim Gain

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

Post #22 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 34 & 35/100)

American Coot – Species #34

The American Coot, (Fulica americana), is a common waterbird found in the Central Valley of California. These birds have a distinctive appearance with a rounded, chicken-like body, black plumage, and a white beak. They also have unique lobed toes, which help them swim and dive in the water.

American Coots are social birds that gather in large flocks on freshwater lakes, ponds, and marshes throughout the year. They are omnivorous and feed on a variety of aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small fish.

During breeding season, they build floating nests in dense vegetation near the water’s edge and lay a clutch of 8-12 eggs. The chicks are precocial and able to swim and dive within hours of hatching. Overall, American Coots are an important part of the Central Valley’s ecosystem and a common sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Common Gallinule – Species #35

The Common Gallinule, (Gallinula galeata) formerly known as the Common Moorhen, is a medium-sized waterbird found in the wetlands and marshes of the Central Valley of California. This species has a dark, almost black plumage with a distinctive red frontal shield and yellow-tipped bill. The legs are long and greenish-yellow, with large toes that enable them to walk on floating vegetation. They are a highly adaptable species that can be found in a wide range of aquatic habitats, including lakes, ponds, marshes, and rice fields.

During breeding season, Common Gallinules are highly territorial and will defend their nesting sites aggressively. They build nests from floating vegetation and lay clutches of 6 to 10 eggs. The chicks are born precocial, meaning they are capable of walking and swimming shortly after hatching. The diet of Common Gallinules consists of a variety of plant and animal material, including seeds, insects, snails, and small fish.

Despite being common throughout much of their range, habitat loss and degradation have caused declines in some populations, making conservation efforts important to ensure their survival.

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Swainson’s Hawk

By Jim Gain

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

Post #21 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 33/100)

Swainson’s Hawk #33

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is a migratory raptor that breeds in North America and winters in South America. In the Central Valley of California, Swainson’s Hawks typically arrive in mid-March and depart by the end of September. During the breeding season, they prefer to nest in tall trees and hunt for prey in open fields and grasslands.

Swainson’s Hawks have three distinctive plumage variations (called morphs); pale morphs, intermediate morphs and dark. Pale morph birds show a dark breast-band, or “bib,” between a lighter belly and throat.

Intermediate morphs show a pale forehead at close range and an evenly colored backside.

The darkest morph adult Swainson’s Hawks lack a sharp contrast between wing-linings and flight-feathers, and their entire breast and belly can be nearly uniform dark brown.

In the Central Valley of California, Swainson’s Hawks primarily feed on small mammals such as voles, gophers, and ground squirrels. During the non-breeding season, they also consume insects, reptiles, and birds. Swainson’s Hawks are known for their soaring flight, often flying at high altitudes in search of prey or during migration. They also perform aerial acrobatics during courtship displays, where they spiral and dive in a display of agility and strength.

In recent years, Swainson’s Hawk populations have faced threats from habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and electrocution from power lines. However, conservation efforts have been successful in protecting breeding and wintering habitats, reducing pesticide use, and installing “raptor-safe” power poles. As a result, Swainson’s Hawk populations have been stable or increasing in some areas of their range.

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Two Warblers and a Vireo

By Jim Gain

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

Post #20 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 30, 31 & 32/100)

Wilson’s Warbler – Species #30

The Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla) is a small, brightly colored songbird that can be found in the Central Valley of California during its migration season. These birds are about 4.5 inches long and have a wingspan of approximately 6 inches. They are bright yellow in color with a black cap on their head.

Wilson’s Warblers are insectivores and are often found flitting through vegetation in search of insects. They are known for their distinctive song, which is a series of high-pitched notes that sound like “tee-tee-tee-tee-tee.”

Despite their small size, Wilson’s Warblers play an important role in the Central Valley’s ecosystem by helping to control insect populations. However, like many bird species, they face threats from habitat loss and climate change, making conservation efforts crucial for their continued survival. Protecting the habitats that these birds rely on, such as riparian areas and wetlands, is essential to ensuring that they can continue to migrate through the Central Valley and beyond.

Yellow Warbler – Species #31

The Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a small, brightly colored songbird that inhabits the Central Valley of California during the breeding season. These birds are easily recognized by their bright yellow plumage, which is accented by rusty red streaks on the breast and flanks.

Yellow Warblers are typically found in riparian habitats such as streamside woodlands, hedgerows, and willow thickets. During the breeding season, they construct cup-shaped nests made of grasses and other plant materials, which are often lined with spider webs and feathers. Females typically lay 3-5 eggs, which hatch after a 10-12 day incubation period.

Yellow Warblers are insectivorous and feed primarily on small insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. They are also known to occasionally feed on fruit and nectar. These birds migrate south to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean during the winter months. The conservation status of Yellow Warblers is currently listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but habitat loss and degradation are potential threats to their populations.

Warbling Vireo – Species #32

The Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) is a small, olive-gray bird with a white underbelly and supercilium (eyeline). It measures about 4.75 inches in length and has a wingspan of approximately 8 inches. The species is known for its distinct, high-pitched warbling song, which it uses to communicate with its mate and establish its territory.

In the Central Valley of California, the Warbling Vireo is a fairly-common neotropical migrant, passing through in late April or early May and making its return trip back south in August or September. The bird breeds in higher elevation riparian habitats, including streams, rivers, and creeks, where it builds a cup-shaped nest in the fork of a tree or shrub.

Warbling Vireos are known for their distinctive, warbling song, which is often described as sounding like “three eight, three eight, three eight.” They are a migratory species and spend the winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America before returning to their breeding grounds in the spring. Overall, Warbling Vireos are an important and fascinating part of the avian community in this region, and their presence is a sign of a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

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California Condors Visit Stanislaus County

On August 27 and August 28, 2017, two California Condors, (Icarus #706 and Orville #716) fitted with GPS transmitters flew 150 miles north from their home in Pinnacles National Park, up the Coast Range mountains and over Western Stanislaus County.

Jean Beaufort Creative Commons License

Historical Populations and Distribution of California Condors

In the late 1800s, California Condors ranged over the entire Western US and into Southwest Canada. In particular, the central valley of California was a significant breeding ground for the condor population.

20th Century Dramatic Decline

The species experienced a dramatic decline in population during the 20th century, primarily due to habitat loss, hunting, and ingestion of lead ammunition. The condor population in the central valley declined rapidly, leading to the extinction of the species in the wild in the 1980s.

Image used under Creative Commons License from

Recovery Steps

In response to this crisis, a concerted effort was launched to save the California condor. The first step was to capture all remaining wild condors and bring them into a breeding program. The entire population of California condors was down to 22 in 1982, and none of them flew free in the wild. Since then, though, the California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP), overseen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), has led the repopulation of condors through the successful collaboration among dozens of organizations, including zoos, NGOs, international partners, and local, state, and federal agencies.

In the Central Coast area of California, three primary recovery and release facilities have been established at San Simeon, Big Sur and Pinnacles National Park. The condor population has gradually grown to 537, as of the last official count in December 2021. Of them, 334 are free-flying.

How big are California Condors?

With a wingspan of up to 109 inches, California condors are the largest wild birds in North America! They generally weigh between 16 to 25 pounds.
Image used under Creative Commons License from

Cautious Optimism for the Future

Today, the California condor remains one of the most endangered species in the world. Nevertheless, conservation efforts continue, and there is hope that the California condor can be saved from extinction in the long term. The California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP) has been successful in producing a significant increase in the condor population, including in the central valley of California. In fact, recent GPS records of California Condors show a significant dispersal northward along the Coast Range and over the Central Valley foothills.

And Now, the Rest of the Story…

Icarus and Orville, both four years old, were released in San Simeon California in 2015 by the Ventana wildlife society. From San Simeon they eventually joined the flock at Pinnacles National Park. On August 27, 2017, the pair of inquisitive condors left their home at Pinnacles National Park and took a 220 mile, two-day roadtrip up the Coast Range passing through San Benito County, into Santa Clara County and over over Henry Coe State Park in Western Stanislaus County. They spent the night in Eastern Alameda County before making the return trip back to Pinnacles State Park on 8/29/2017.

One Good Roadtrip Leads to More

September of 2021, condor 828 took an even longer roadtrip and flew to the edge of Mt. Diablo. Both visits to the Bay Area likely included other condors that weren’t fitted with GPS tracking, since condors often travel in groups, says Ventana Wildlife Society head condor biologist Joe Burnett.

Next time you see a large raptor in the sky, you might want to double-check because it just could be a California Condor!

YUCATAN BIRD WALLPAPERS #54 – Barred Antshrike

Barred Antshrike – Batará Barrado

Location: Carrt. El Tajo, Yucatán, México
Date: 2022-1-10
Camera: Canon EOS R5
Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm
Focal Length: 500 mm
Aperture: f/7.1
Exposure Time: 0.0008s (1/1250)
ISO: 2000

Click the image below to open it full-sized from my SmugMug Gallery.

Barred Antshrike

See the previous 5 Wallpaper Posts below or the entire collection at the Yucatan Birds Wallpapers Page.

Black Phoebe

Sayornis nigricans

By Jim Gain

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

Post #15 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 20/100.)


The Black Phoebe is a dapper flycatcher of the Central Valley with a sooty black body and crisp white belly. They sit in the open on low perches to scan for insects, often keeping up a running series of shrill chirps. Black Phoebes are Common Year-round Residents and conspicuous near sources of water and around human development.


Forages by watching from a perch and darting out to catch insects, often just above water. Catches insects in mid-air, or may hover while picking them from foliage or sometimes from water’s surface. May also take insects from the ground, especially in cool weather.


Image by Alan Vernon

Black Phoebes use mud to build cup-shaped nests against walls, overhangs, culverts, and bridges. Look for them near any water source from small streams, to suburbs.


The male Black Phoebe gives the female a tour of potential nest sites, hovering in front of each likely spot for 5 to 10 seconds. But it’s the female who makes the final decision and does all the nest construction.

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Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo

By Jim Gain

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

Post #14 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 19/100.)


The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is the heaviest upland ground bird native to North America. It is the ancestor to the domestic turkey, which was originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of wild turkey. With the population steadily increasing over the past decade, Wild Turkey is an Uncommon to Fairly Common Resident with higher numbers found in the foothills than on the valley floor.


There’s a good chance the Pilgrims and Wampanoag did in fact eat turkey as part of that very first Thanksgiving. Wild turkey was a common food source for people who settled Plymouth. In the days prior to the celebration, the colony’s governor sent four men to go “fowling”—that is, to hunt for birds. Did they come back with any turkey? We don’t know for sure, but probably. At the very least, we know there was a lot of meat, since the native Wampanoag people who celebrated with the Pilgrims added five deer to the menu. (First Thanksgiving Meal)


The Wild Turkey is not native to the Central Valley of California. It was introduced from the 1950s through the end of the twentieth century by the California Fish and Game Commission (now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife  Fish & Wildlife imported thousands of non-native Rio Grande wild turkeys to California, releasing them in over 200 locations throughout the state. The turkeys quickly adapted and can now be found living everywhere from oak savannas to the suburbs.

A couple of local spots to find Wild Turkeys would be Henderson Park in Merced County, in the upper foothills of Del Puerto Canyon in Stanislaus County and the Mokelumne River Day Use Area in San Joaquin County.


In addition to the Wild Turkey, the only other member of the Meleagris genus in the world is the Ocellated Turkey of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Wild Turkey | Ocellated Turkey (Calakmul Ruins, Campeche)


When they need to, Turkeys can swim by tucking their wings in close, spreading their tails, and kicking.

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Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta

By Jim Gain

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

Post #13 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 18/100.)


The buoyant, flutelike melody of the Western Meadowlark ringing out across a field can brighten anyone’s day. The Western Meadowlark is a Common Year-round Resident throughout the open country of the San Joaquin Valley. The Western Meadowlark is not a lark (Family Alaudidae) but is related instead to New World blackbirds and troupials (Family Icteridae).


This colorful member of the blackbird family flashes a vibrant yellow breast crossed by a distinctive, black, V-shaped band.


The Western Meadowlark is one of our most abundant and widely distributed grassland birds. It inhabits most open country of both natural and planted grasslands of the valley floor.


John James Audubon gave the Western Meadowlark its scientific name, Sturnella (starling-like) neglecta, claiming that most explorers and settlers who ventured west of the Mississippi after Lewis and Clark had overlooked this common bird.


Although Western Meadowlarks are numerous, their breeding populations declined approximately 0.9% per year between 1966 and 2019, resulting in a cumulative decline of about 37%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The graph below shows the Central Valley population trends between 2007 and 2021. The larger the red circle, the greater the decline in numbers.

Declines may be due, in part, to conversion of grassland breeding and wintering habitat for housing and agricultural uses. Other factors affecting Western Meadowlark populations may include pesticides, habitat degradation due to invasive plant species, and fire suppression that alters native grasslands. (From All About

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

Our Wintering “White” Geese – Part II

By Jim Gain

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

Post #12 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 16 and 17/100.)

In Part I of the Our Wintering “White” Geese post, we learned about the larger “white Goose with the Grinning Patch”, the Snow Goose.

Snow Goose (lower left) Ross’s Goose (upper right)

In this post the star of the show is the more diminutive Ross’s Goose.

ROSS’S GOOSE Anser rossii (Cassin, 1861)


The Ross’s Goose is a Fairly Common Winter Visitor found almost exclusively in winter in the Central Valley. Similar to the Snow Goose, its referred habitats are fresh emergent wetlands, adjacent lacustrine waters, and nearby wet croplands, pastures, meadows, and grasslands. Fairly Common from November to early March.


Plumage is similar to white morph of Greater and Lesser Snow geese, but average annual body mass of Ross’s Goose is 60% and 67% of these species. Feathers of lore meet base of maxilla forming a straight line instead of a forward curved arc typical of Greater and Lesser Snow geese.

On basal half and sides of maxilla, particularly in mature males, are species-specific vascular wartlike protuberances or caruncles which become more prevalent with age and possibly act as a badge or status symbol, serving to limit contests among conspecifics.


Similar to the “Blue morph” Snow Goose, the adult blue morph Ross’s Goose has the same dark gray-brown body but a reduced amount of white confined to just the head.

“Blue Morph” Ross’s Goose

The odds of finding a dark or “Blue” morph have been calculated at about 0.008% (3 out of 38,825).


The main wintering area for the species is presently the Central Valley of California. The total number of birds has increased from a recorded low of 2,000–3,000 in the early 1950s to more than exceed 2 million birds in 2009.


The female Ross’s Goose does all of the incubation of the eggs. The male stays nearby and guards her the whole time. The female covers the eggs with down when she leaves the nest. The down keeps the eggs warm while she is away and may help hide them from predators.

    Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

    Our Wintering “White” Geese – Part I

    By Jim Gain

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

    Post #11 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 16 and 17/100.)

    “Your first indication of their presence is the distant sound of baying hounds. As you look up, you see the sky flecked with tiny white moving shapes, which appear like snowflakes drifting lazily across the azure sky.” naturalist J. B. Grinnell

    There are two species of “white” geese in California’s Central Valley. The Snow Goose is the larger and more widespread species compared to its cousin, the Ross’s Goose.

    SNOW GEESE Anser caerulescens (Linnaeus, 1758)


    The Snow Goose is a Common Winter Visitor found primarily in the Central Valley.
    Preferred habitats are fresh emergent wetlands, adjacent lacustrine waters, and nearby wet croplands, pastures, meadows, and grasslands. Common from November to early March, and fairly common in October and April in Central Valley south to Merced Co. Less common southward in interior.


    This medium-sized goose is distinguished by a blackish “grinning patch” or “smile.”

    The adult white morph is completely white except for gray primary coverts and black primaries.


    The immature white morph is a darker, grayish and white mixed plumage.

    Immature White morph Snow Geese


    The species is dimorphic, consisting of light-morph (white) and dark-morph (blue) variations of Snow Geese. Until 1983, the 2 color morphs were considered separate species.

    “Blue” Morph Snow Goose

    The adult blue morph has the same bill pattern, but its body is largely dark gray-brown except for white head and foreneck. White- and blue-morph birds interbreed and the offspring may be of either morph. These two colors of geese were once thought to be separate species; since they interbreed and are found together throughout their ranges, they are now considered two color phases of the same species.


    “Blue” Morph Snow Goose

    The color phases are genetically controlled. The dark phase results from a single dominant gene and the white phase is homozygous recessive. When choosing a mate, young birds will most often select a mate that resembles their parents’ coloring. If the birds were hatched into a mixed pair, they will mate with either color phase.


    Snow Geese adapted quickly to use agricultural fields, which is one reason their populations are doing so well. During winter and migration, look for them in plowed cornfields or wetlands. Also check lakes, ponds, and marshes where they roost and bathe along shorelines and in open water.


    The breeding population of lesser Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese exceeds 7 million birds, an increase of more than 300% since the mid-1970s. Since the late 1990s, efforts have been underway in the U.S. and Canada to reduce the North American population of lesser snow and Ross’s geese to sustainable levels due to the documented destruction of tundra habitat in Hudson Bay and other nesting areas. The Light Goose Conservation Order was established in 1997 and federally mandated in 1999. Increasing hunter bag limits, extending the length of hunting seasons, and adding new hunting methods have all been successfully implemented, but have not reduced the overall population of snow geese in North America.

    NEXT POST – Our Wintering “White” Geese – Part II ROSS’S GEESE Anser rossii

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