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21 Birds with Yellow Beaks in North America

birds with yellow beaks
Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Toledo, Belize: Photo by Jorge Eduardo Ruano

Introduction

North America is home to an astonishing diversity of bird species, each with its own unique set of characteristics. Among these features, the color of a bird’s beak can sometimes stand out prominently, making them easier to identify. A yellow beak, in particular, is a striking feature that captures attention. Let’s delve into some of the fascinating bird species in North America that sport yellow beaks.

Why Are There So Many Birds with Yellow Beaks?

It is generally assumed that color in beaks is an adaptation solely for sexual success, but that may not be the case. Birds with yellow beaks do not obtain their coloration naturally, but through the food they eat. The warm colors, yellow, orange, red, come from pigments called carotenoids that are contained in certain food items in the diets of the birds that have beaks of those colors (it’s also carotenoid supplements that give koi fish their bright color). Because the intensity of color comes from what the bird eats, researchers have found that a more intensely colored beaks can signal social status and dominance during competitive settings, rather than just sexual communication.

Jump to a species!

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra)

  • Features: A robust seabird with elongated, pointed wings, a sturdy neck and head, and a relatively lengthy, tapered tail. Its legs are short, complemented by sizable, webbed feet. The beak is extended, robust, and dagger-shaped. Mature individuals display a white plumage with black feathers on the wings and tail, a yellowish bill, and a dark marking near the base of the bill. Variants observed off the coast of the U.S. typically exhibit olive-colored legs and feet. Young birds feature white undersides, dark brown upperparts edged with white feathers, a white collar around the hindneck, a brownish head, and a somewhat muted greenish bill. Subadult birds primarily exhibit white plumage with hints of brown speckling, notably on the upper wings, head, and rump. They can be differentiated from Northern Gannets by their black secondary feathers and a black facial mask.
  • Behavior: Soars gracefully above the ocean, scanning diligently for prey before executing rapid plunge-dives. During the breeding season, males engage in spirited displays, parading around females with an exaggerated strut and engaging in “sky-pointing” with their bills. Paired birds engage in intimate behaviors such as touching bills, preening, and maintaining vigilant eye contact with each other.
  • Habitat: Inhabits open expanses of tropical oceans worldwide; constructs nests on the ground of small tropical islands, typically in vegetation-free zones.
  • Range: Masked Boobies are found across vast stretches of tropical oceans worldwide. To spot them near the United States, consider visiting the Dry Tortugas islands in Florida (boat excursions depart from Key West). While there, you might also encounter other tropical seabird species like the Brown Booby, Brown and Black Noddies, as well as Sooty and Bridled Terns. On occasion, Masked Boobies venture as far north as the Gulf Stream waters off Hatteras, North Carolina, presenting an opportunity to observe them during pelagic birding expeditions.
  • Fun Fact: The term “booby” originates from the Spanish word “bobo,” meaning “fool,” perhaps due to their awkward courtship rituals.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

  • Features: A colossal aquatic bird characterized by exceptionally wide wings, a lengthy neck, and a substantial bill that contributes to its distinctive elongated head. These birds possess robust bodies, short legs, and abbreviated, squared-off tails. During the breeding period, adults develop a unique protrusion or “horn” on the upper portion of the bill near its tip. Mature American White Pelicans exhibit a pristine white plumage, with black flight feathers visible only when the wings are outstretched. Additionally, a small cluster of decorative feathers on the chest may transition to a yellow hue in spring. Both the bill and legs of adults are yellow-orange in color. Immature pelicans predominantly display white plumage, although their heads, necks, and backs may varyingly appear dusky.
  • Behavior: American White Pelicans forage by skimming the water’s surface, dipping their bills to capture fish and other aquatic prey. Similar to sizable dabbling ducks, they frequently tip forward or upend during this feeding behavior. Unlike Brown Pelicans, they do not engage in plunge-diving. Renowned for their soaring abilities, American White Pelicans, among the largest flying birds globally, traverse significant distances in expansive flocks by utilizing thermals for flight. When in flight, their wingbeats are deliberate and unhurried.
  • Habitat: American White Pelicans usually nest on islands within shallow wetland habitats located inland on the continent. During the winter months, they primarily inhabit coastal waters, bays, estuaries, or areas slightly inland.
  • Range: Breeding populations from the northern regions migrate to southern California, the Gulf States, Mexico, and Central America. However, populations breeding in Texas and Mexico remain resident year-round.
  • Fun Fact: American White Pelican embryos emit squawks prior to hatching to indicate discomfort in response to extreme temperatures, whether excessively hot or cold.

American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

  • Features: Ah, identifying gulls – the ultimate extreme sport. Herring Gulls are sizable gulls characterized by stout bills and sturdy bodies. When in flight, they appear broad-chested and wide-winged, distinguishing them from smaller species like Ring-billed Gulls (see below). Adults display light-gray backs, black wingtips, and white heads and underparts. During winter, their heads bear dusky streaks. It takes four years for Herring Gulls to attain adult plumage. Juveniles exhibit a mottled brown appearance, while second-year birds retain brown hues but begin to show gray on their backs. By the third year, they display more gray on the back and increased white on the head and underparts. Throughout all stages of development, their legs remain a subdued pink color.
  • Behavior: Herring Gulls diligently patrol shorelines and the open sea, scavenging for food scraps on the water’s surface. Whether gathering around fishing vessels or scavenging at garbage dumps, they are vocal and assertive scavengers, readily seizing opportunities to steal another bird’s meal. They frequently perch near sources of food, often gathering in groups with other gulls.
  • Habitat: During winter, search for Herring Gulls along coastlines and in proximity to expansive reservoirs, lakes, and significant rivers. They forage in a variety of habitats, including open water, mudflats, cultivated fields, and refuse sites, and can be found congregating in nearly any available open area close to food sources. In summer, they are predominantly found along the Atlantic Coast, Great Lakes, and coastal regions of Alaska. Additionally, they breed across the northern boreal regions.
  • Range: The American Herring Gull breeds throughout Alaska and northern Canada, extending southward to the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic Coast, reaching as far south as North Carolina.
  • Fun Fact: While incubating, Herring Gulls frequently pant as a means of cooling down. They position their bodies to minimize direct sunlight exposure to their darker plumage, although their most effective method of dissipating heat, short of immersing their feet and legs in water, is through panting, utilizing the lining of their mouths.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull characterized by a relatively short, slim bill. When perched, its long, slender wings extend well beyond its square-tipped tail. In flight, these birds move gracefully with easy flaps of their slender wings. Adults exhibit clean gray plumage on their upper parts, with a white head, body, and tail; their black wingtips are adorned with white spots. They possess yellow legs and a yellow bill adorned with a black band. Nonbreeding adults can be identified by their brown-streaked heads. Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls display a mixture of brown and gray plumage during their first two years, along with a pink bill and legs.
  • Behavior: These social gulls frequently soar in large groups overhead or gather to feed at locations such as golf courses, beaches, or fields. Known for their strong and agile flight capabilities, Ring-billed Gulls display acrobatic maneuvers as they circle and hover in search of food. They opportunistically forage both in flight and on foot.
  • Habitat: Ring-billed Gulls frequently gather near human activity, such as garbage dumps, parking lots, and freshly plowed fields. Although they are commonly seen on coastal beaches, especially in winter, many Ring-billed Gulls primarily inhabit inland areas and may never encounter the sea.
  • Range: In North America, Ring-billed Gulls breed across a broad expanse, including coastal regions like Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as central areas such as the Great Lakes and parts of the Northwest Territories. They prefer nesting near freshwater habitats but can also be found along the coasts.During winter, they migrate to various locations across the continent, including the southern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
  • Fun Fact: At research sites in California and Oregon, certain Ring-billed Gull nests were discovered to contain pebbles resembling the size and shape of gull eggs. It seems that the parent gulls inadvertently incorporated these pebbles into their nests, mistaking them for misplaced eggs from their surroundings.

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

  • Features: Red Phalaropes, although small shorebirds, are the largest and stockiest among phalarope species. They have relatively short and thick necks, with noticeably thicker bills compared to other phalarope species. During breeding season, females exhibit a bright reddish-cinnamon body, while males are a duller orange-red. Breeding adults also feature a white cheek, black crown, and yellow bill. In nonbreeding plumage, they appear smooth gray above and white below with a black eye patch. Juveniles display buffy tones in their plumage.
  • Behavior: Like other phalaropes, the Red Phalarope swims on the water’s surface, foraging for invertebrates. It is typically observed in small flocks but can also gather in larger numbers. It often associates with Red-necked Phalaropes.
  • Habitat: Breeds in Arctic tundra habitats; migrates and winters at sea. Seldom observed inland.
  • Range: Red Phalaropes are found in a wide range of coastal and offshore habitats across the Northern Hemisphere during the breeding season, including the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia. During winter, they migrate southward to pelagic waters in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
  • Fun Fact: Red Phalaropes occasionally assemble near gray and bowhead whales to feed within the muddy water plumes stirred up by these large mammals. Historically, whalers referred to Red Phalaropes as “bowhead birds” and relied on the presence of these flocks as indicators when searching for whales.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

  • Features: Mallards are sizable ducks characterized by robust bodies, rounded heads, and broad, flat bills. Similar to many dabbling ducks, they have elongated bodies, with the tail sitting high above the water, resulting in a blunt shape. During flight, their wings are broad and positioned toward the rear of the body. Male Mallards feature a dark, iridescent-green head and a vibrant yellow bill. Their gray body is flanked by a brown breast and black rear. In contrast, females and juveniles display mottled brown plumage with orange-and-brown bills. Both males and females possess a distinctive blue “speculum” patch outlined in white on their wings.
  • Behavior: Mallards are classified as “dabbling ducks,” known for their feeding behavior of tipping forward in the water to graze on underwater vegetation. They rarely dive and are typically quite approachable, especially in urban pond settings. Mallards frequently congregate with other Mallards and various other species of dabbling ducks.
  • Habitat: Mallards thrive in nearly any wetland environment, whether natural or man-made. You can find them in a variety of locations, including lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, coastal areas, as well as parks in urban and suburban areas, and even residential backyards.
  • Range: Within North America, Mallards breed across a vast range, spanning from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, northern Alaska, and throughout Canada and the United States, extending southward to northwestern Baja California, Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, the Ohio River valley, and Virginia. Additionally, they inhabit southeastern California, the Gulf Coast, and southeastern Florida, with some populations breeding southward only to central Texas, northwestern and southeastern Louisiana, southern Tennessee, and South Carolina. Mallards are occasional summer visitors to Newfoundland. During the winter, they are found along the southern coast of Alaska, southern British Columbia, southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces. They also winter throughout the United States, with some exceptions in southern Texas and southern Florida. (Check out our fact-checking article on the new movie, Migration, that features a traveling family of Mallards!)
  • Fun Fact: Mallards are the ancestors of nearly all domestic duck breeds.

Clark’s Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)

  • Features: This bird is notable for its large size, long and slender neck, straight and fine bill, and relatively small body. It boasts a striking contrast of blackish plumage above and white below, with a white face extending to and around the eye, where it meets a black cap. Its bill is vivid orange or orange-yellow, and at close proximity, the eye appears red.
  • Behavior: Throughout the day, Clark’s Grebes engage in diving for prey or leisurely resting on the water’s surface. During courtship, paired birds participate in elaborate displays, characterized by synchronized racing across the water in a nearly vertical posture. These grebes fly infrequently and typically migrate during the night.
  • Habitat: Western Grebes are seldom encountered away from aquatic environments. Breeding individuals inhabit freshwater lakes, while nonbreeding birds can be observed in both freshwater habitats and along saltwater coastlines.
  • Range: Clark’s Grebes have a seasonal presence on large lakes and suitable wetlands throughout much of the western half of North America, comprising two distinct populations: a Northern race (A. c. transitionalis) and a Mexican subspecies (A. c. clarkii). The Northern subspecies, transitionalis, is widely found alongside Western Grebes (A. o. occidentalis) but is generally less common throughout its range. It breeds across a broad northern and western area of North America, from southern British Columbia through South Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas, extending to the Pacific coast and Baja California Norte. In contrast, the Mexican race, clarkii, is more locally abundant and resides in interior Mexico, ranging south to Guerrero and Puebla. Transitionalis winters predominantly along the Pacific Coast, while clarkii is scarce from Washington to central California and Baja California Norte.
  • Fun Fact: Clark’s grebes engage in a mesmerizing synchronized “rushing” courtship display where pairs run atop water.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

  • Features: The Bald Eagle is significantly larger than many other raptors, such as the Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk. It possesses a robust body, large head, and a lengthy, curved bill. During flight, the Bald Eagle extends its broad wings flat like a board. Adult Bald Eagles display distinctive white heads and tails alongside dark brown bodies and wings, with bright yellow legs and bills. Immature eagles typically exhibit mostly dark heads and tails, with brown wings and bodies adorned with varying amounts of white mottling. It takes approximately five years for young eagles to develop the characteristic plumage of adults.
  • Behavior: Bald Eagles can be observed soaring gracefully in the sky, gliding low over treetops with deliberate wingbeats, or perched on trees or the ground. They often scavenge for meals by intimidating other birds or feeding on carrion and discarded waste. While their diet primarily consists of fish, they also hunt for mammals, gulls, and waterfowl.
  • Habitat: Search for Bald Eagles near lakes, reservoirs, rivers, marshes, and coastlines. To increase your chances of spotting numerous Bald Eagles, visit wildlife refuges or expansive bodies of water during the winter across various regions. Alternatively, explore fish processing plants and dumpsters throughout the year in coastal Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
  • Range: Bald Eagles breed across North America near aquatic habitats with forested shorelines or cliffs, ranging from Alaska’s southern Brooks Range to coastal areas of southeastern Alaska, extending across to the Aleutian Islands. They also breed extensively in Canada, from northern Yukon and southern British Columbia east to Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, with significant populations in coastal British Columbia and southern Quebec. In the contiguous United States, Bald Eagles breed in every state, with notable populations along the Atlantic Coast, in the Great Lakes region, and the Pacific Northwest. A few pairs breed in Mexico. During winter, Bald Eagles predominantly inhabit the contiguous United States, coastal and southern Canada, and southeastern Alaska, favoring aquatic areas with open water for foraging. Some individuals winter in interior Alaska and in northern Mexico. Major wintering areas include midwestern river systems, Chesapeake Bay, the southeastern U.S. coast, Florida, the Pacific Northwest river valleys, the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California, and reservoirs and rivers of the Intermountain West.
  • Fun Fact: If Benjamin Franklin had his way, the Wild Turkey might have become the emblem of the United States. In 1784, Franklin criticized the Bald Eagle for its perceived shortcomings, including its reputation for theft and vulnerability to harassment by smaller birds. He expressed his preference for a different national symbol, stating, “For my own part, I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. … Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.”

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  • Features: Peregrine Falcons are the largest falcon across much of the continent, characterized by their long, pointed wings and elongated tail. When identifying them, consider both their size and shape—noticeably long primary feathers give the Peregrine a distinctive long-winged appearance. Like many raptors, males are smaller than females, allowing for potential overlap with large female Merlins or small male Gyrfalcons. Adults exhibit a blue-gray upper body with barred underparts and a dark head adorned with thick sideburns. Juveniles display heavy markings, featuring vertical streaks rather than horizontal bars on the breast. Despite variations in appearance based on age and location, a general steely, barred appearance remains consistent.
  • Behavior: Peregrine Falcons skillfully capture medium-sized birds mid-flight using swift, breathtaking dives known as stoops. In urban areas, they excel at preying on pigeons, while elsewhere they predominantly target shorebirds and ducks. Frequently, they perch at great heights, patiently awaiting the ideal moment to launch their aerial attack.
  • Habitat: Search for Peregrine Falcons roosting or establishing nests atop skyscrapers, water towers, cliffs, power pylons, and similar tall structures. If a mudflat bustling with shorebirds and ducks suddenly bursts into flight, be sure to scan the skies as a Peregrine (or Merlin) is likely nearby. While Peregrines are distributed throughout North America, they are more frequently encountered along coastal regions.
  • Range: Peregrine Falcons are found throughout much of North America, breeding near aquatic ecosystems with forested shorelines or cliffs. They range from Alaska, Canada, and Greenland to the United States, including every state in the contiguous U.S. and large populations along the entire Atlantic Coast, in the Great Lakes, and the Pacific Northwest. They are also present in Mexico, primarily in Baja California and islands in the Gulf of California. Peregrine Falcons predominantly winter in the contiguous United States, coastal and southern portions of Canada, and southeastern Alaska. They can be found along major midwestern river systems, the Chesapeake Bay, the southeastern U.S. coast, Florida, the Pacific Northwest river valleys, and reservoirs and rivers of the Intermountain West.
  • Fun Fact: The Peregrine Falcon is renowned for its remarkable speed, typically flying at an average of 40-55 km/h (25-34 mph) during travel and reaching speeds of up to 112 km/h (69 mph) when actively pursuing prey. During its impressive hunting dive from heights exceeding 1 km (0.62 mi), the peregrine can achieve astonishing speeds of 320 km/h (200 mph) as it descends toward its target.

Sora (Porzana carolina)

  • Features: Soras are small, plump birds reminiscent of chickens, characterized by their elongated toes and distinctive short bill, which sets them apart from other rails found in the United States and Canada. Often, they hold their abbreviated tail upright. Sporting a mottled pattern of gray and brown feathers with white-fringed edges, their most striking feature is their yellow, candy-corn-like bill. Additionally, they bear a black mask and throat patch, vertical white lines along the sides, and a white patch beneath the tail. While males typically exhibit brighter hues and more extensive black markings on the face and throat, females are generally less vividly colored in comparison. Juveniles lack the distinct black mask seen in adults.
  • Behavior: Soras navigate shallow wetlands by gingerly advancing their heads with each step, often flicking their tails upward in a jittery manner, revealing the white feathers underneath. While they primarily forage amidst thick foliage, they occasionally explore open spaces. Their elongated toes enable them to traverse atop floating vegetation mats with ease.
  • Habitat: Soras establish their habitats in freshwater wetlands adorned with emergent plants like cattails, sedges, and rushes. Throughout migration and the winter season, they also frequent brackish marshes, flooded fields, and wet pastures.
  • Range: In North America, Soras breed locally in suitable wetland habitats across a broad range. Their breeding range extends from northern British Columbia and the Yukon in the northwest to Newfoundland in the east, and as far south as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. They also breed in areas such as Kansas, West Virginia, and Virginia, although less commonly. Soras can be found breeding in California, Oregon, and Washington, mainly east of the Cascades, and occasionally westward in localized regions. During the winter, they migrate to regions including the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Delaware to Georgia, throughout Florida, along the Gulf Coast to Texas, and into Mexico and Central America. They also winter along the Pacific Coast from southern Oregon through California and Baja California.
  • Fun Fact: While spotting a Sora requires some effort, it’s worth noting that this species is actually the most plentiful and widely distributed rail across North America.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: The largest among North American herons, the Great Blue Heron boasts long legs, a graceful neck, and a robust, dagger-shaped bill. Its head, chest, and wing feathers contribute to a shaggy appearance. During flight, it elegantly arches its neck into an “S” shape, with broad, rounded wings and legs extending well past the tail. From afar, Great Blue Herons exhibit a blue-gray hue with a distinctive black stripe above the eye. When in flight, the upper wing displays a two-toned pattern: lighter on the forewing and darker on the flight feathers. A variant of pure white plumage is found in coastal southern Florida.
  • Behavior: Great Blue Herons employ a patient approach to hunting, either wading methodically or remaining motionless like statues, carefully tracking fish and other prey in shallow waters or open fields. Keep an eye out for their rapid, precise strikes, as they swiftly extend their necks and heads to pierce their prey with powerful bills. Their leisurely wingbeats, tucked necks, and trailing legs create a distinct silhouette in flight, unmistakably characteristic of these majestic birds.
  • Habitat: Search for Great Blue Herons in both saltwater and freshwater environments, ranging from coastal areas, marshlands, and riverbanks to lakes and even residential goldfish ponds. They are also known to hunt in grasslands and agricultural fields. During the breeding season, these birds congregate in colonies known as “heronries,” where they construct stick nests elevated high above the ground.
  • Range: In North America, the Great Blue Heron nests along the southeastern coast of Alaska and northern British Columbia, primarily in colonies in British Columbia’s south coast and mountain valleys. They also breed in central Canadian Prairies, southern Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritime provinces, extending south to Florida, Texas, Baja California, and Central America. The Great White Heron inhabits coastal areas of southern Florida, Cuba, and nearby islands. They winter along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts to Colombia, with occasional sightings in South America and the Galapagos Islands.
  • Fun Fact: Great Blue Herons possess specialized neck vertebrae that enable them to swiftly capture prey from a distance.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: Great Egrets are tall, long-legged waders characterized by their lengthy, S-shaped necks and slender, dagger-shaped bills. During flight, they retract their long necks while their legs extend well beyond the short tail. Adorned entirely in white plumage, these birds boast yellowish-orange bills and black legs.
  • Behavior: Great Egrets forage in shallow waters, both freshwater and saltwater, preying on fish, frogs, and other small aquatic creatures. They often adopt a motionless stance, patiently awaiting the approach of unsuspecting prey. When the moment arises, they swiftly jab with their long necks and bills to capture their meal.
  • Habitat: Great Egrets inhabit both freshwater and saltwater environments. They nest colonially, often constructing stick nests elevated in trees, particularly on secluded islands inaccessible to mammalian predators like raccoons.
  • Range: In Canada, Great Egrets breed in various locations, including southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, southern Ontario, and southern Quebec. Updates for Ontario from 2001-2005 show colonies concentrated in the southwest part of Lake Erie and southern Georgian Bay. In the western United States, breeding locations include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In the eastern United States, breeding extends from southern Maine to coastal Virginia, and southward through several states.
  • Fun Fact: In the early 20th century, these birds were hunted almost to extinction for their plumes, but conservation efforts have since brought them back.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

  • Features: Barred Owls possess a robust stature, featuring rounded heads, absence of ear tufts, and medium-length, rounded tails. Their appearance is characterized by mottled brown and white feathers, complemented by dark brown, nearly black eyes. Vertical brown bars adorn the underparts against a white background, while horizontal brown bars adorn the upper breast. Additionally, their wings and tail display distinct brown and white barring patterns.
  • Behavior: During the day, Barred Owls perch silently within forest trees, occasionally emitting calls even in daylight. By night, they actively pursue small prey, particularly rodents, while emitting their distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, easily recognizable in the darkness.
  • Habitat: Barred Owls inhabit expansive, mature forests consisting of both deciduous and evergreen trees, frequently in close proximity to water bodies. They typically nest within tree hollows. In the Northwestern region, they have encroached upon old-growth coniferous forests, leading to competition with the endangered Spotted Owl. Notably, in 2021, a distinct population of Barred Owls in Mexico, previously classified as a subspecies, was reclassified and named the Cinereous Owl (Strix sartorii).
  • Range: The Barred Owl is a widespread resident east of the Great Plains and has recently expanded into parts of western North America. It resides locally from southeastern Alaska to extreme southeastern Yukon, extending south through montane and coastal forests of British Columbia, including southeastern Vancouver Island. In the eastern region, its range extends through the east slope of the Rockies in western Alberta and across southern boreal forests of central and northern Alberta. It also inhabits southern boreal forests of central Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, including woodlots and riparian forests in southern agricultural areas. In the United States, its range spans from Minnesota and North Dakota to eastern Texas, and it also resides in Mexico, with disjunct populations from Durango to Oaxaca.
  • Fun Fact: Barred Owl fossils dating back to the Pleistocene era, over 11,000 years old, have been discovered in Florida, Tennessee, and Ontario through archaeological digs.

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)

  • Features: Pyrrhuloxias are robust, medium-sized birds known for their tall crests and elongated tails. They possess stout, short bills designed for cracking seeds, featuring a curved upper edge. Typically gray or gray-brown in color, Pyrrhuloxias exhibit striking accents of red. Male Pyrrhuloxias display a distinct gray plumage with a red face, crest, and stripe along the breast, accompanied by a reddish tail. Females, on the other hand, appear buffy gray with less pronounced red markings compared to males. Both genders showcase yellowish bills and hints of reddish hues in their wings.
  • Behavior: Pyrrhuloxias predominantly forage on seeds found either on the ground or nearby, although they will consume insects opportunistically. Their movement between patches of cover is characterized by short, undulating flights. Male Pyrrhuloxias often produce their distinctive, ringing melodies from prominent perches like cacti, while both males and females emit sharp, cardinal-like chip notes.
  • Habitat: Pyrrhuloxias are year-round inhabitants of desert habitats, preferring scrublands, dry grasslands, open mesquite forests, and areas with cactus gardens for nesting. During winter, they may make brief migrations to more verdant areas closer to water sources.
  • Range: Pyrrhuloxias are found in various states across the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., they inhabit regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, with breeding territories extending into specific counties and latitudinal-longitudinal blocks. In Mexico, they are present in states along the Atlantic slope, the Mexican Plateau, and the Pacific slope, spanning from Tamaulipas to Jalisco. They have also been observed in some areas outside their typical range, including Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, California, and possibly Nevada.
  • Fun Fact: Their name originates from the Greek words “pyrrhos” (flame-colored) and “loxia” (crossbill) – referring to the male’s color and the bird’s slightly crossed bill tips.

Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

  • Features: Evening Grosbeaks are robust finches characterized by their large size and sturdy, cone-shaped bills. They possess a thick neck, full chest, and short tail. Male adults display vibrant yellow and black plumage with a striking white wing patch and a distinctive yellow stripe above the eye. In contrast, females and young birds are predominantly gray, with wings adorned in white and black, and a hint of greenish-yellow on the neck and flanks. Adult males feature a pale ivory bill, while females exhibit a greenish-yellow hue.
  • Behavior: These gregarious birds are commonly spotted in flocks, especially throughout the winter season. Their foraging habits vary throughout the year, as they hunt for insect larvae among treetops in summer, feed on buds during spring, and consume seeds, berries, and small fruits during the colder months of winter.
  • Habitat: In certain winters, they exhibit highly unpredictable migrations southward into the continental United States, sometimes frequenting backyard feeders in large numbers. Beyond residential areas, they spend the winter in forested areas, feeding across both deciduous and coniferous trees, often at elevated altitudes. Their breeding grounds are situated in various forest types, including spruce-fir, pine-oak, pinyon-juniper, and aspen forests across northern North America and the Western mountain ranges.
  • Range: Breeding across western Canada and the western United States, this bird extends from southeastern Yukon to southern Manitoba and into regions such as British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. It also occupies areas from the Canadian border southward through states like Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Additionally, disjunct populations are found in Saskatchewan and the Black Hills of South Dakota. In the eastern part of North America, its breeding range extends from central Ontario and southern Quebec southward to states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In Mexico, it’s found from western Chihuahua to western Durango and the central Volcanic belt. During winter, it remains resident throughout its breeding range but may vacate some northern areas. It also winters in regions outside its breeding range, primarily in the eastern half of the United States, with variable numbers and distribution each year.
  • Fun Fact: Their name “grosbeak” is derived from the French word “gros-bec,” meaning “large beak.”

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

  • Features: Starlings are robust birds, similar in size to blackbirds, yet distinguished by their short tails and elongated, slender beaks. During flight, their wings appear short and pointed, resembling small, four-pointed stars, which accounts for their name. From afar, starlings appear black, but during summer, they exhibit a purplish-green iridescence with yellow beaks, while in the winter, their plumage turns brown, adorned with striking white spots.
  • Behavior: Starlings are characterized by their lively and vocal nature, often seen flocking in sizable groups alongside blackbirds and grackles. They energetically traverse fields, diligently foraging for food with their beaks directed downwards into the grass. Alternatively, they perch atop wires or trees, emitting a continuous array of rattles, whirrs, and whistles.
  • Habitat: Starlings are frequently encountered in urban areas, suburbs, and rural regions adjacent to human habitation. They can be observed foraging on the ground in locations such as lawns, fields, sidewalks, and parking lots. Additionally, they often rest and roost at elevated positions on wires, trees, and buildings.
  • Range: Present throughout most of North America, this bird is more consistently found in the eastern regions of the continent. In the western parts, especially in mountainous and forested zones, its distribution may be less consistent. At the edges of its range, particularly in the north, starlings tend to inhabit urban and suburban areas where they can access additional food sources and find sheltered spots for roosting and perching during the day.
  • Fun Fact: Introduced to North America in the 1890s from, you guessed it, Europe, they have now spread across the continent.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

  • Features: American Robins are sizable songbirds characterized by a rounded body, long legs, and relatively lengthy tail. As the largest thrush species in North America, they serve as a useful model for understanding the general morphology of thrushes. Their gray-brown plumage is complemented by warm orange tones on the underparts, while females typically exhibit lighter heads compared to males, which have darker heads. During flight, a noticeable white patch is visible on the lower belly and under the tail, aiding in identification.
  • Behavior: American Robins are diligent creatures often seen hopping across lawns or perching upright, their beaks angled upward as they scan their surroundings. Upon landing, they frequently flick their tails downward several times. During the fall and winter seasons, they assemble in sizable groups, congregating in trees for roosting or to feast on berries.
  • Habitat: American Robins are widespread throughout the continent, inhabiting gardens, parks, yards, golf courses, fields, pastures, tundra, as well as deciduous woodlands, pine forests, shrublands, and forests recovering after fires or logging activities.
  • Range: The American Robin has a vast breeding range extending across North America, from Alaska and northern Canada down to the southern United States, including parts of Mexico. It breeds in various habitats, from northern forests to southern coastal plains. In winter, it retreats from most of Canada but can still be found across the southern United States, Mexico, and the western Caribbean. It occasionally overwinters in parts of the northern U.S. and southern Canada.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name and appearance, American Robins are actually thrushes, not true robins.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

  • Features: Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender birds with a distinctive appearance. Their elongated bodies are complemented by a long, slightly curved bill, and they feature a flat head and an extended tail. During flight, their pointed wings create a swept-back impression. Their upper parts are a warm brown hue, while their underside is a clean white. A black mask adorns their face, encircling a yellow eyering. In flight, the outer wings reveal a rufous hue, while the underside of the tail displays wide white bands interspersed with narrower black ones. Their bill is predominantly yellow.
  • Behavior: Yellow-billed Cuckoos meticulously search treetops for sizable, hairy caterpillars, employing a deliberate and unhurried foraging style that can render them inconspicuous. Yet, despite their stealthy demeanor, they are known for their distinct and melodious calls, characterized by slow, rolling, guttural notes. During flight, they maintain a straight trajectory with precise wingbeats, punctuated by brief pauses between each stroke.
  • Habitat: They primarily inhabit the upper branches of deciduous trees, often found in woodland areas characterized by open spaces and clearings. In the western regions, they are uncommon and typically confined to forests dominated by cottonwood trees along major rivers within arid landscapes.
  • Range: The Yellow-billed Cuckoo breeds across temperate North America, extending from southern Maine to Florida and westward to Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. It’s rare in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains but breeds along river valleys in the Southwest and at isolated sites in California. In Mexico, it’s fairly common, with potential breeding in Guatemala and El Salvador.
  • Fun Fact: Often called the “rain crow,” they’re believed to sing just before rain. This bird also has an incredible appetite for hairy caterpillars, including tent caterpillars.

Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli)

  • Features: A robust songbird with a sizable body, prominent head, and an exceptionally elongated tail. Its bill is sturdy and gently arched, while its wings are broad and rounded. Sporting a striking black-and-white plumage with shimmering blue hues on the wings and a vivid yellow beak. While perched, its white shoulders and belly contrast sharply against the black body. In flight, the outer wing feathers reveal prominent white markings.
  • Behavior: Moves leisurely on the ground in search of grains, insects, and rodents. Flies with deliberate, unhurried wingbeats. Sociable by nature, often found in small groups during the breeding season and larger gatherings outside of it.
  • Habitat: Breeds in lofty trees within oak savannas or comparable habitats in central California. Hunts for food in grasslands, pastures, cultivated fields, and orchards, occasionally venturing into trees.
  • Range: Confined to upper California, mainly in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, and valleys southeast of San Francisco Bay to Santa Barbara County. No records from Coast Range north of San Francisco Bay or from the San Diegan district south of extreme southwest Los Angeles County.
  • Fun Fact: They are one of only four American birds restricted entirely to California.

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis)

  • Features: A diminutive songbird with a stubby, cone-shaped bill and a relatively short tail. Subspecies inhabiting the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands exhibit notably larger proportions, resembling grosbeaks more than small finches. Mature males display a rich brown hue tinged with pink across the body, featuring gray patches on the head’s sides and a blackened forecrown and throat. Adult females share similar characteristics but with less pronounced pink hues. Their bills are yellow. Juveniles sport a brownish overall appearance with grayish wings and a dusky bill.
  • Behavior: Scampers along the ground, seeking seeds and insects, often near snowfields or areas where snow has melted. During winter, it frequently joins mixed flocks with other rosy-finch species, taking flight in swirling groups from feeding grounds and roadsides.
  • Habitat: Builds its nest at high altitudes, often on mountain slopes, among boulder fields, and on cliffs. Forages across various terrains such as scree slopes, ice fields, glaciers, meadows, and avalanche-prone areas. During winter, descends to lower elevations, venturing into open areas, and occasionally into forests and urban areas, particularly where there are feeders.
  • Range: The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch breeds predominantly in high-altitude western mountain ranges, often above 3,000 meters, as well as on the Aleutian and Bering Sea islands. Breeding sites are generally remote, making nest findings scarce. In Alaska, it’s a common resident in the southwest, including the Aleutian Islands, with breeding also occurring in the mountains of central and southeastern regions. In British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta, it breeds commonly in high mountainous areas but avoids coastal regions and extreme southwestern Yukon. In the western United States, it’s a common resident along the Sierra Nevada crest, Cascade Mountains, and Rocky Mountains, with limited breeding on the highest peaks of certain ranges. During winter, it disperses to lower elevations of mountains, coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, and occasionally to areas east of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, with irregular winter distributions in British Columbia and coastal regions.
  • Fun Fact: The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch likely claims the title of the highest-altitude breeding bird in North America, nesting on the slopes of Denali in Alaska, the continent’s tallest peak.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

  • Features: A diminutive bird resembling a sparrow, compact in size with a sizable head and relatively short tail, featuring relatively long wings. Breeding males exhibit a striking black facial pattern outlined by a sweeping yellow-white line, accompanied by a vibrant rufous patch on the nape. Females share a similar appearance but lack the extensive black markings. During winter, both males and females retain traces of their facial markings but lose the bold colors, transitioning to an overall pale brown hue with streaks. Throughout all plumages, the tail remains dark, with white outer tail feathers.
  • Behavior: Lapland Longspurs traverse open terrain by either walking or running, frequently seeking refuge amidst plant stalks or remaining motionless on the ground, relying on their superb camouflage for concealment. During winter, they gather in sizable, wandering flocks. When startled, they may soar to considerable heights before alighting far from their initial location.
  • Habitat: Nests in Arctic tundra habitats and migrates to open environments during winter, such as cultivated fields, turf farms, and coastal dunes.
  • Range: Breeding mainly across northern North America, including the Canadian arctic archipelago, coastal lowlands of Greenland, Alaska’s coastal and western tundra, and the alpine tundra of Alaska and Yukon. In temperate North America, it winters from southeast Newfoundland to northern California, with sporadic sightings in Mexico and rare occurrences in parts of the United States, primarily west of the Great Lakes and east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Fun Fact: Their name “Lapland” comes from the region in northern Europe where the species was first described.

Threats and Conservation

Birds in North America face various threats to their populations, including habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and collisions with man-made structures like buildings and wind turbines. Conservation efforts are vital to mitigate these threats and protect bird species. Organizations such as the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the American Bird Conservancy play crucial roles in bird conservation through habitat restoration, advocacy for policies protecting birds and their habitats, public education, and scientific research.

Additionally, initiatives like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act provide legal frameworks for bird protection and conservation across North America. By supporting these conservation organizations and implementing effective conservation measures, we can safeguard bird populations and preserve biodiversity for future generations.

Citizen Science

Citizen science plays a pivotal role in bird conservation efforts across North America by harnessing the collective power of volunteers to collect valuable data on bird populations and behaviors. Platforms like eBird, which I use regularly to keep checklists of all the birds I see or hear, managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, enable bird enthusiasts to contribute sightings and observations, which are then used by scientists and conservationists to track bird populations, identify trends, and inform conservation strategies.

Other notable citizen science programs include Project FeederWatch, NestWatch, and the Christmas Bird Count, all of which engage volunteers in monitoring and studying birds in their local communities. By engaging citizens in scientific research, these programs not only generate valuable data but also foster a deeper connection to nature and empower individuals to contribute to conservation efforts.

Conclusion

North America’s amazing diversity of yellow-beaked birds, from elusive cuckoos to enormous pelicans, greatly enrich our natural areas. Conserving the habitats these unique species depend on and reducing human-caused threats will help ensure our beautiful birds continue brightening lakeshores, coasts, and backyards for generations to come.

Credits:

All About Birds

Birds of the World

Sibley, D. (2020). Birds of Eastern North America. Helm.