Birds Seen in Hercules


Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Not Canadian geese!  The most widespread goose.  Flocks travel in strings or in V's,

honking loudly.  Some birds that used to migrate now over winter because food is

provided for them by people at local ponds.  Feeds on wide variety of plants, some

insects, mollusks, and sometimes small fish.  Canada geese arrive at Refugio Valley

Park and in fields in late December and early January.  They winter along the coast

near fresh marshes, salt marshes, lakes and ponds.  Nests in Canada and high Arctic

tundra.  May mate for life. 


Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Wide spread over open country, woods, deserts and foothills.  Present year-round in

Hercules.  Feeds mainly on dead animals.  Unlike most birds, has a well-developed

sense of smell.  Plays an important part of nature's cleanup crew.  Nests inside hollow

trees or logs, inside dense thickets or old buildings.  Even though they look rather like

large hawks, evidence suggests they are more closely related to the storks.  They are

able to soar for hours holding their wings in a slight V.



Red-shouldered Hawk  (Buteo lineatus)

A woodland hawk built to fly fast between trees.  Often heard before it is seen by its

clear whistled call of kee-yer (dropping inflection)  Steller's jays often give a near perfect

imitation of this call.  Present year-round and known to nest here, usually in deciduous

trees, sometimes in conifer, in fork of main trunk or at base of branches against trunk,

usually 35-65 feet above ground.  Diet includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles

and birds.  Hits prey on the wing, knocks to ground and pounces.   




Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

The most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America.  Found all year soaring

over the fields calling  keeer-r-r, slurring downward.  Known to nest in redwood trees.

Does most hunting from high perch then swoops down to capture prey in its talons.  Also

hunts by flying over fields, watching for prey below.  Most hawks have binocular vision

and can see a small mouse or rabbit in the field from 3'000 feet up in the air.  A person on

the ground couldn't even see the hawk at that height!  Pairs sometimes remain together for

years.  Easily disturbed while breeding and may leave the nest, so stay far away!!



California Quail  (Callipepla californica)

Quail live in coveys at most seasons and are often seen around the compost piles.

Nest site is usually on the ground, under a shrub or brush pile or next to a log 

or other cover.  Females lay 10-16 eggs.  Due to the number of house cats allowed

to roam Hercules, the quail population is drastically reduced. 


White-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus)

Length: 14.5 inches Wingspan: 40 inches Sexes similar
Medium-sized, graceful, long-winged hawk
Pointed wings Long, squared-off tail Red eye
Black upperwing coverts appear as black shoulder at rest
Often hovers and soars with wings held in a dihedral

Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata)

Seen most frequently in the winter and early spring.  Large flocks often burst

from the trees with loud wing beats and startle the hiker.  Unique among birds,

both male and female produce "crop milk" and feed young for about 2 weeks. 

During the nesting season, the walls of the crop secrete a milky fluid rich in fat

and protein.  The young bird inserts its bill into the corner of the parent's mouth,

and the adult will regurgitate the "pigeon milk" for the young to eat.  The pigeon

family is among the few birds that can drink by suction, sticking their bills in the

water and drinking continuously; most other birds must take one billful of water

at a time and then tilt the head back to swallow.  Diet consists of mostly nuts,

seeds, berries but diet shifts with seasons.  Acorns are a major part when available.




Mourning Dove  (Zenaida macroura)

Most of us recognize the mournful cooing of this dove.  Seen all year.  Nest is a very

flimsy platform of twigs, usually in a tree, sometimes on the ground, sometimes on a

building ledge or other structure.  Mourning doves may raise up to six broods a year,

more than any other native bird.  Feed al most entirely on seeds and grasses, occasionally

snails but rarely insects.  Both parents feed the young "pigeon milk" (see Band-tailed  Pigeon).



Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

A hardy little bird and permanent resident in Hercules.  Often sits on a perch emitting a buzzy

song, protecting its territory.  A female hummingbird has a simple role in nesting: she does

everything.  After mating the male goes his separate way, taking no part in nest building or

raising of the young.  Anna's have a high a high metabolic rate so need huge energy intake

and may feed an average of about 15 times per hour.  Hummers are most attracted to long

tubular flowers that are red, orange, or violet.  Many such flowers have evolved to be pollinated

by these birds.  In addition to nectar, sugar-water, sometimes oozing sap at drillings made by

sapsuckers, hummers also eat many tiny insects. Hummers, like no other birds, can fly

forward, backwards, sideways, up or down and hover in one spot.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee  (Parus rufescens)

A perky, cheerful little bird found all year in Hercules and in all habitats except chaparral. 

Listen for it husky, fast chick-a-dee calls.  Forages by hopping among branches, often

hanging upside down to feed on a wide variety of insects.  Also eats seeds and berries. 

Nest site is a hole in a tree, a natural cavity in dead or rotten wood, often in old woodpecker

holes or nest boxes. Nest is usually low- 2-20 ft. above the ground, a natural cavity in dead

or rotten wood, often in old woodpecker nest holes or nest boxes.




Oak Titmouse  (Baeolophus inornatus)

Formerly known as Plain Titmouse.  Year round resident nesting in oak.

Nests in a hole in tree, stump, fencepost or pole.  May be a natural cavity or

old woodpecker hole.  In rotten wood both members of pair may work to enlarge

small cavity.  Both parents bring food to the nestlings.  Titmice feed mainly on insects

including many oak moth caterpillars.  Also eat seeds, berries and acorns which they

hold with their feet and pound open with their bill.




White-breasted Nuthatch  (Sitta carolinensis)

Permanent resident in Hercules.  Widely known as "upside-down birds" because they

can walk down trees head first.  By going down trees head first, nuthatches may spot

insects in hidden bark crevices that have been overlooked by woodpeckers or creepers

or other birds moving up the trees.  Eats mostly insects during summer, and seeds in

the winter.  Nest is a large natural cavity or old woodpecker hole.  Adults may spend minutes

at a time sweeping the outside and inside of nest with a crushed insect held in bill;

chemical secretions of insects may help repel predators.  They sometimes add mud

to the rim of the nest to make entrance smaller.  Female incubates and is fed on the nest by

the male.  Both parents feed the young.



Brown Creeper  (Certhia americana)

A permanent resident in Hercules.  Has the distinctive habit of feeding by

creeping up a tree trunk then flying down to the base of next tree and

starting up again.  When alarmed will flatten itself and  remain motionless

against tree trunk, becoming even more inconspicuous.  Creepers even place

their nests against tree trunks, tucked under loose slabs of bark, where

they are very difficult to find.  Feeds on a wide variety of insects.  May be

found on oaks, redwoods and other species of trees.




Bushtit  (Psaltriparus  minimus)

Bushtits are common nesters in Hercules.  Except when nesting, they usually

forage in flocks.  In winter flocks move about giving ongoing chatter of soft contact

calls.  At night groups will huddle close together in a tight mass for warmth. 

Bushtits build unique gourd-shaped hanging pocket nests made of mosses,

rootlets, lichens, spider webs and leaves;  inside lined with plant down, animal

hair and feathers with a small entrance hole near the top.  Nest if firmly

attached to twigs and branches by spider webs.  Diet is mostly insects, and

sometimes berries and seeds.



Western Bluebird  (Sialia mexicana)

Found all year in Hercules; most often in the oaks..   They often flutter

down to the road or field to pluck insects from the grass.  Bluebirds are cavity

nesters, easily intimidated by aggressive starlings, sparrows and other cavity nesters

 who take over the bluebird's nest holes.  In the past, they declined seriously in

many areas with loss of habitat and loss of nesting sites.  Many thousands of

bluebird houses have been put up across the continent.   Their diet consists

of mostly insects and berries.


American Robin  (Turdus migratorius)

A familiar bird over most of North America and a permanent resident in Hercules. 

Robins have a rich caroling song which is among the earliest bird songs heard at

dawn in spring and summer.  They do much foraging on the ground looking for their

favorite foods of insects and earthworms.  In the winter, they feed heavily on wild

berries and fruits.   Nest is a cup of grasses and twigs worked into a solid foundation

of mud, lined with fine grasses and plant fibers.  Parents are very aggressive in

defense of their nest.  In winter robins may gather in large flocks looking for food sources.



Black-headed Grosbeak  (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

This beautiful large finch shows up in Hercules as early as March and nests there during

spring and early summer.  The loosely constructed nest is made of twigs, weeds, and pine

needles, lined with fine plant fibers and animal hair.  Look and listen for the grosbeaks

robin-like song in the madrone trees on the road behind the tennis court.  They feed on

many insects, also spiders, snails, seeds and berries including mistletoe and poison oak. 

Both parents incubate the eggs and will sing from the nest.  This is one of the few birds

able to eat Monarch butterflies despite the noxious chemicals those insects contain from

eating milkweeds in the larval stage.

Spotted Towhee  (Pipilo maculatus)

Formerly known as Rufous-sided Towhee.  A rather shy permanent resident and ground

nester in Hercules.  Found typically in understory of open woods.  Also typical of towhees

is their habit of scratching in dirt or leaf litter with both feet at once, jumping forward and

scratching backward.  Diet consists of mostly insects, seeds, berries and acorns.  The

call sounds like a cat mewing sound.



California Towhee  (Pipilo crissalis)

Found only in western California and a permanent resident in Hercules.  Same behavior and

diet as Spotted Towhee but not as shy.  These towhees may mate for life; when you see one,

always look for a nearby mate.  Males and females look alike.  The male will defend the nest a

ggressively, attacking intruding males  or even his own reflection.  Nest is usually in a low shrub

or tree, not on the ground like Spotted Towhee's.  The call note is a metallic chink.






Song Sparrow (melospiza medodia)

This permanent resident in Hercules nests in very low shrubs or on the ground. 

A widespread, melodious sparrow often found perched on tall grasses.  Also found near

creek sides, and woodland edges, and, in spring, singing loudly.  In summer, song sparrows

feed mostly on insects and spiders; in winter mainly on grass seeds and weeds. 

Forages mostly on the ground like Spotted Towhee’s. 



Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

This handsome, large sparrow is a specialty of the far west, nesting in Alaska

and western Canada.  In the fall these birds move south along the Pacific slope,

arriving in Hercules in October and staying through March.  Their song is distinctive;

a series of three or more plaintive whistled notes coming down the scale, “oh dear me.”

Especially fond of buds, flowers, new shoots and seeds, they are the bane of

gardeners in Hercules.




Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Red-wings seem to sing their nasal song in every march and every wet field from coast to coast. 

These birds visit Hercules sporadically in flocks, foraging for seeds and insects in tilled fields.  T

hey are bold birds and often attack a larger bird such as a hawk or crow that they think is

threatening their nesting territory.  The epaulets are usually hidden by body feathers, but are

colorfully displayed if male is courting a female, defending territory or singing.


Dark-eyed Junko (Junco hyemalis)

These small sparrows are found by the hundreds in Hercules all year.  Look for these

dark-headed birds in small flocks on the ground feeding and scratching.  As they take

flight, two white outer tail feathers conspicuously and easily identify this species.  The

pinkish bill is also a good field mark.  Summer diet consists mostly of insects including

caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders.  In winter they feed mostly on seeds

and berries.  Nest site is almost always on the ground, well hidden under overhanging

grass or in a shallow hole in dirt bank.




Lesser Goldfinch  (Carduelis psaltria)

With its black cap, greenish back, yellow belly and tiny size, this finch is easy to overlook

as it flits acrobatically among the sun-dappled green leaves.  Found nesting in Hercules

between April and August before migrating south for the winter.  Especially fond of seeds

of the daisy family such as thistle and wild sunflowers.  Also feeds on flowers and buds of trees. 


Western Meadowlark  (Sturnella neglecta)

Usually present all year in surrounding area.  Meadowlarks are found in Hercules in

flocks during fall and winter.  They may be seen in the fields feeding on insects and

seeds especially right after the fields have been disked in preparation for planting

red oat hay.  Not larks at all but relatives of the blackbirds and orioles, their melodious

flutelike song is a familiar one.





Acorn Woodpecker  (Melanerpes formicivorus)

A clown-faced woodpecker living all year in oaks. Usually lives in a communal group

and stores acorns in dead or dying trees.  Such "granary trees" may be used for generations

and may be riddled with up to 50,000 holes.  They tend their acorns faithfully. Acorns are

pounded in pointed end first.  As the fresh acorns dry, they shrink and become loose in the

holes. The woodpeckers rotate them or remove them to tighter fitting holes so as not to lose

them to squirrels and robber birds.  Nesting is a group activity consisting of, at least, 2-5

breeding males and females, assisted by their previous offspring.  Everyone takes part in

incubating the eggs and feeding the young in a single nest.




Red-breasted Sapsucker  (Sphyrapicus ruber)

Seen fall and winter in Hercules.  Nests on the Pacific Northwest coast and well

up into Canada.  These are woodpeckers with the off habit of drilling holes in tree

bark, usually in neatly spaced rows, and then returning to them periodically to feed

on sap that oozes out.  They also eat the insects that are attracted to the sap.  The

sap wells may be visited by other birds including other woodpeckers and even

hummingbirds, as well as by squirrels.




Northern Flicker  (Colaptes auratus)

Sometimes seen but always heard calling loudly in fall through winter in Hercules.  These large

brown woodpeckers spend much of their time on the ground where they hop around searching

for ants.  Also eat other insects, many fruits, berries, seeds and nuts.  There are two different

forms of flickers in California-Yellow-shafted in the east and north and the Red-shafted Flicker

here in the west.  Feathers of these birds were highly prized by the Ohlones who used them

in ceremonial headdresses.  Unlike most woodpeckers flickers seldom drum on trees, but like

most woodpeckers, tree cavities are selected for nest sites.


Black Phoebe  (Sayornis nigricans)

This black and white flycatcher may be seen all year in Hercules perching in an

open conspicuous spot, usually near a water source.  It darts out to catch insects

in midair.  The nest is usually an open cup, semicircular and attached to a vertical

wall.  Water ensures the availability of mud which is mixed with grass and weeds to

form the nest.  Phoebes often return to the same nest site year after year. 

Violet-green Swallow  (Tachycineta thalassina)

This iridescent swallow migrates in flocks and is seen in Hercules as early as March

and stays through August.  Forages in flight caching a wide variety of insects in the air. 

Look up over the parking lot on a warm spring day to see them swooping overhead. 

They have been known to nest in Hercules.  Nest site is in a cavity in a tree, in a hole

or rock crevice or in a birdhouse. 





Steller's Jay  (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Diet is similar to Scrub-jay's with a particular fondness for wasps and wild bees. 

Often aggressive and noisy, sounding the forest alarm to alert other animals of possible danger. 

Enjoys imitating the calls of other birds and can imitate, almost perfectly, the call of the

Red-shouldered Hawk.  Many a hiker, hearing this call, looks up for the hawk while the jay is

perched in a nearby tree seeming to laugh at his hoax.  The Steller's nest is different from

the scrub-jay's in that it is a bulky, ragged cup of twigs, weeds, moss and dry leaves

cemented together with mud. 




Swallows: Cliff Swallows, Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows

Cliff Swallow: Has a nearly square tail, pale breast and underside
Tree swallow has buff belly with glossy bluish green above.


photo by J. Mills at Hercules Albersons

Photos by Jeffra Cook




Sea Gulls (genus Larus)

They are typically medium to large birds, usually gray or white, often with
black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and
webbed feet. Gull species range in size from the Little Gull, at 120 g (4.2 oz)
and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the to larger varieties at 1.75 kg (3.8 lbs) and

76 cm (30 inches).


photo by J. Mills




Eared Grebes  (Podiceps nigricollis )

Length: 9 inches Wingspan: 23 inches

Small, stocky-bodied grebe with short, thin bill with lower mandible beveled upwards at the tip 
Feet set far back on body and trail awkwardly behind body in flight Head triangular, with a peak

towards the center of the head


photo: J. Mills


American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

Habitat: Freshwater and saltwater wetlands.
Weight: 1-2 pounds.  Length: 28 inches.Wingspan: 42 inches.
Life Expectancy: Approximately 8 years of age. Food: Frogs,

salamanders, crayfish, water scorpions, diving beetles, dragonflies,

killifish, pickerel, suckers, small eels, garter and water snakes, and occasionally voles.


Photo by J. Mills



Great Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula)
Length: 20 inches Wingspan: 38 inches Sexes similar
Medium-sized long-legged wading bird
Usually holds necks in "S" curve in flight
Entirely white plumage
Adult: Thin black bill and yellow facial skin
Black legs with yellow feet
Shaggy plumes on head, neck, and back in alternate plumage

photo by J. Mills at Refugio Creek


Blue Heron Ardea herodias

photo: J. Mills


Mallard Ducks

photo: J. Mills at Shoreline Park

Common Moorhen

Black-necked Stilt

American Avocet