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47 White Birds in Washington State

white birds in washington state
Glaucous Gull in King, Washington: Photo by Joshua Glant

Introduction

Washington State’s diverse habitats have made it a sanctuary for a vast array of bird species. Among these avian residents, the white birds stand out, radiating a grace and serenity that captures the heart of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Let’s explore the splendid white birds of Washington State.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

  • Features: Dressed in pure white with contrasting black wingtips, the snow goose is a sight to behold during its massive migratory flocks.
  • Locations: Abundant in the Skagit Valley and other farmlands during their winter migrations.
  • Fun Fact: These geese are known to travel in huge flocks, often with thousands of birds, creating impressive formations in the sky.

Ross’s Goose (Anser rossii)

  • Features: A smaller counterpart to the snow goose, it’s distinguished by its compact size, shorter neck, and petite bill.
  • Locations: While more sporadic, they can be occasionally seen during migrations in wetlands and agricultural fields of Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their smaller size, Ross’s geese are known to be quite vocal, often mingling their calls with larger flocks of snow geese.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

  • Features: As North America’s largest native waterfowl, its all-white body and long neck are emblematic of grace on Washington’s water bodies.
  • Locations: Commonly spotted in the wetlands of western and northeastern Washington, especially during the cold winter months.
  • Fun Fact: Their name is derived from their loud, trumpet-like calls, which can resonate across large distances.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

  • Features: Slightly smaller than the trumpeter swan, the tundra swan exhibits a dazzling white body. It’s distinguished by the yellow spot near its eyes.
  • Locations: These birds are migratory visitors to Washington, often found on lakes, ponds, and rivers during their seasonal movements.
  • Fun Fact: Tundra swans make one of the longest migratory journeys of any North American bird. They travel from the high Arctic tundra to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

  • Features: This swan, with its extensive white plumage and a pronounced yellow patch on its bill, stands out among its counterparts.
  • Locations: Rare in Washington, there have been occasional sightings, likely wanderers from their typical range.
  • Fun Fact: Whooper swans have a strong pair bond, often forming lifelong monogamous relationships.

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: Known for their striking contrast of black upperparts and white underparts, these birds have incredibly long pink legs, adding to their unique appearance.
  • Locations: Sporadically found in freshwater wetlands and salt ponds in Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Their long legs allow them to wade deeper into waters than other shorebirds, giving them access to a different niche of food.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

  • Features: This elegant wader is easily recognized by its upwardly curved bill. It possesses a unique color pattern: white on the underparts and, during breeding season, a deep rufous on the head and neck.
  • Locations: They can be spotted in shallow freshwater wetlands across Washington during their breeding and migratory periods.
  • Fun Fact: American avocets often engage in elaborate courtship dances, strengthening their pair bonds.

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

  • Features: Although named the grey plover, during breeding season, this bird transforms, showcasing a mottled, black underbelly and white face. Its silver-grey appearance during non-breeding times gives it its name.
  • Locations: Grey plovers are primarily coastal birds in Washington, spotted along the state’s shorelines during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Despite being coastal birds, grey plovers breed in the high Arctic tundra, making a long journey twice a year.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

  • Features: A small plover with a distinctive single black neckband. Their name “semipalmated” refers to the partial webbing between their toes.
  • Locations: Common on mudflats, beaches, and shores of Washington during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike many shorebirds, they don’t form large flocks, preferring smaller groups or solitude.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

  • Features: Recognizable by their double black neck rings and their incessant “kill-deer” call. They possess a reddish-brown back and white underparts.
  • Locations: Found throughout Washington in varied habitats – from shorelines to parking lots.
  • Fun Fact: Killdeer are known for their “broken-wing” act, a tactic used to lead predators away from their nests.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

  • Features: These small shorebirds are notable for their pale non-breeding plumage and their habit of running back and forth on beaches, chasing waves.
  • Locations: Frequently seen along Washington’s coastal beaches.
  • Fun Fact: Sanderlings undertake incredible migratory journeys, some traveling from the Arctic to South America.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

  • Features: Characterized by their long, drooping bill, dunlins have a dramatic black belly patch during the breeding season, making them easily distinguishable.
  • Locations: In Washington, they frequent mudflats, estuaries, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Dunlins often form large, synchronized flocks, performing aerial acrobatics that are a delight to watch.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)

  • Features: As small wading birds, they have a short, stout bill and display a grey-brown upper and white underside. The “semipalmated” in their name refers to the slight webbing between their toes.
  • Locations: These birds can occasionally be seen in Washington, especially on muddy or sandy shores.
  • Fun Fact: Their breeding grounds are in the Arctic, and they migrate great distances, with some reaching as far as South America.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

  • Features: Easily recognizable by its long, bright yellow legs, the greater yellowlegs also boasts a slightly upturned, long bill. Its call is a series of high-pitched notes, often repeated.
  • Locations: Found in various wetlands across Washington, especially during migration. They prefer marshes, mudflats, and the shores of ponds and lakes.
  • Fun Fact: Despite its name suggesting size, distinguishing the greater yellowlegs from its counterpart, the lesser yellowlegs, often depends more on bill size and voice than leg length.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

  • Features: This gull is medium-sized with a distinctive black “M” pattern on its wings. Its legs and bill are both yellow, adding a touch of color to its primarily white body.
  • Locations: Mostly seen off the coast of Washington during non-breeding seasons, particularly in winter.
  • Fun Fact: The black-legged kittiwake is named for its call – a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake’.

Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)

  • Features: Sabine’s gull stands out with a striking black triangle on its wingtips. In breeding plumage, they have a black hood, which contrasts their white body.
  • Locations: They are occasionally seen off the coast of Washington, especially during their migratory periods.
  • Fun Fact: This gull is known for its migratory prowess, traveling from Arctic breeding grounds to the southern hemisphere.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: One of the smaller gulls, Bonaparte’s gull is distinguished by its white body, gray wings, and in breeding season, a black hood.
  • Locations: They frequent Washington’s inland lakes and coastal areas, particularly during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike most gulls, Bonaparte’s gulls often nest in trees.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

  • Features: With a deep black head, gray wings, and white underparts, the laughing gull is best known for its loud, laughing call.
  • Locations: Rare in Washington, but there have been occasional sightings along the coast.
  • Fun Fact: Their distinctive laugh-like call can often be heard before the bird is even spotted, making it a vocal presence in its habitat.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

  • Features: A small gull, the black-headed gull displays a chocolate-brown head during breeding season which distinguishes it from other gulls. Outside of this period, they have a white head with just a dark spot behind the eye.
  • Locations: This gull is a rarity in Washington, but there have been sporadic sightings along the coast and in wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: Despite its name, its head isn’t truly black but rather a deep brown. They’re known to be more vocal and less aggressive than other gulls.

Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)

  • Features: As the name suggests, this is the smallest gull species. With a dark hood in breeding season, pale gray wings, and a white body, they flutter above waters like butterflies.
  • Locations: They are a rare find in Washington, mostly sighted during migrations along coastal regions.
  • Fun Fact: Their delicate, fluttery flight often sets them apart from other gulls, giving an almost tern-like appearance.

Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

  • Features: In its breeding plumage, it showcases a black hood, contrasting white arcs around the eyes, and a dark red bill, making it uniquely attractive.
  • Locations: Although primarily breeding in the interior regions of North America, occasional visitors have been recorded in Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Named after the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, these gulls have a distinct “kek-kek” call.

Short-billed Gull (Larus brachyrhynchus)

  • Features: Resembling the California gull (see below), the short-billed gull has a more rounded head, shorter bill, and deeper eye color. Their white head, gray back, and yellow legs make for a classic gull appearance.
  • Locations: Found along the coastlines of Washington, particularly during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Their name is somewhat misleading as their bill size varies and overlaps with the long-billed gull.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: Medium-sized, these gulls boast a white head and body, gray wings, and a distinctive black ring around their yellow bill.
  • Locations: Widespread throughout Washington, they can be found in parking lots, beaches, lakes, and rivers.
  • Fun Fact: These adaptable birds have thrived alongside humans, often seen foraging in urban and suburban environments.

Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)

  • Features: Recognizable by its slate-gray wings, white head and body, and robust yellow bill with a red spot, the western gull is one of the larger gulls you’ll find in Washington.
  • Locations: Primarily along the Pacific Coast of Washington, they frequent beaches, harbors, and nearby offshore islands.
  • Fun Fact: Western gulls are known for their assertiveness. They’ve been observed “stealing” food from other birds and even from humans at picnic sites!

California Gull (Larus californicus)

  • Features: This medium-sized gull has a white head, gray wings, and a characteristic black ring around its yellow bill. Its legs are a vibrant shade of yellow-green.
  • Locations: Migratory visitors, they often flock to lakes, rivers, and coastal regions of Washington.
  • Fun Fact: The California gull is celebrated in Utah for helping early settlers by eating crickets that were destroying crops.

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

  • Features: A large gull, it boasts a pale gray back, white underparts, and a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible. In their winter plumage, they display streaking on the head.
  • Locations: Ubiquitous in Washington, these gulls inhabit coastal areas, lakes, and urban environments.
  • Fun Fact: They’re known to live up to 30 years in the wild, showcasing impressive adaptability to diverse habitats.

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

  • Features: Sporting a pale overall appearance, the Iceland gull lacks the black wingtips seen in many gull species, which gives it a more “gentle” look.
  • Locations: A rare visitor to Washington, the best chances of sighting this bird are during the winter months along the coast.
  • Fun Fact: The Iceland gull is known to hybridize with other gull species, sometimes making identification a challenge for birders as if it wasn’t hard enough already.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

  • Features: Distinguished by its slate-gray to black back and wings, this gull stands in contrast to many of its lighter-backed relatives. It also has yellow legs and a yellow bill with a red spot.
  • Locations: Rare but increasing in Washington, they are occasionally spotted along the coast.
  • Fun Fact: This species has been expanding its range westward from Europe and is now regularly seen on the East Coast of the U.S, with occasional sightings in Washington.

Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus)

  • Features: This robust gull possesses a slate-gray back, yellow legs, and a hefty bill. Its wingtips are darker, almost black, with distinctive “string of pearls” white spotting.
  • Locations: Extremely rare in Washington, but there have been confirmed sightings along the coast during winter months.
  • Fun Fact: The slaty-backed gull breeds in northeastern Asia and migrates down the Pacific Coast, making sporadic appearances in North America.

Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)

  • Features: This large gull has a pale gray back and wings, which blend seamlessly with its white-tipped primary feathers. Their eyes are dark, contrasting with their yellow bill which has a red spot on the lower mandible.
  • Locations: Commonly found along the Pacific Coast of Washington, they’re especially prevalent in marine environments and even urban areas near the shore.
  • Fun Fact: Glaucous-winged gulls are known to hybridize with western gulls, producing offspring that can be challenging to identify.

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)

  • Features: The glaucous gull is one of the largest gulls and is recognized by its pure white wingtips, contrasting most other gull species. Adult birds are pale gray on their upper wings and back, with a yellowish bill showcasing a red spot.
  • Locations: Mainly coastal in Washington, these birds can be spotted on beaches, harbors, and sometimes inland garbage dumps during their winter migration.
  • Fun Fact: The term “glaucous” describes the gull’s powdery, pale coloration. This bird is known for its fearless nature, often pushing other birds away from food sources.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

  • Features: As the largest tern, they exhibit a smooth gray body, white underparts, and a striking black cap. Their robust red bill is a standout feature.
  • Locations: They frequent Washington’s coastal areas, lakes, and large rivers, often seen diving for fish.
  • Fun Fact: Caspian terns have a distinctive raspy call that sets them apart from other terns and is often likened to a “croak.”

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

  • Features: With a slender body and long wings, these terns have a black cap, red bill, and a deeply forked tail. In flight, their wingtips look dark against the rest of their pale wings.
  • Locations: During their migration, they can be observed along Washington’s coastlines and larger inland bodies of water.
  • Fun Fact: These agile birds are known for their graceful flight patterns and impressive aerial dives when fishing.

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

  • Features: Resembling the common tern, Arctic terns are lighter in build and have a shorter bill. Their migratory journeys are legendary, spanning from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
  • Locations: While they breed in the Arctic, they occasionally pass through Washington during their migration.
  • Fun Fact: Arctic terns undertake one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom, traveling over 12,000 miles one way from their Arctic breeding grounds to their Antarctic wintering grounds.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)

  • Features: In breeding plumage, these terns boast a black cap that contrasts their pale body. Their tail is deeply forked, and they sport a bright orange bill.
  • Locations: Although not commonly seen in Washington, they do visit the state’s freshwater wetlands and coastal estuaries.
  • Fun Fact: Forster’s terns have a hovering hunting style, often remaining stationary in the air for a few moments before diving for prey.

Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

  • Features: This large seabird possesses a primarily white body with contrasting black upperwings. Its bill is pinkish with a dark tip. The eyes are encircled by a dark shadow, giving it a unique appearance.
  • Locations: Off the coast of Washington, especially during non-breeding seasons. Most breeding populations are centralized in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
  • Fun Fact: Laysan albatrosses are known to cover vast stretches of ocean and can sleep while flying.

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma furcata)

  • Features: This bird has a uniformly dark gray plumage which almost appears purple under certain light. Its long wings and deeply forked tail allow it to glide effortlessly above the ocean’s surface.
  • Locations: Mostly offshore in the waters of Washington, especially during breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: These petrels emit a musky odor which can be a distinguishing feature when handling them.

Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

  • Features: At a glance, they might be mistaken for gulls. However, their tube-like nostrils, which are a characteristic feature of petrels and albatrosses, set them apart. They can be either light gray or dark brown.
  • Locations: They are pelagic, meaning they spend most of their life out at sea, but they can be seen off the coast of Washington.
  • Fun Fact: They have a peculiar defense mechanism where they can spew a foul-smelling oil at predators, effectively fending them off.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

  • Features: A large bird with predominantly white plumage, a broad wingspan showcasing black flight feathers, and a large orange-yellow bill. Their bill has a peculiar growth during the breeding season.
  • Locations: While they breed inland, they can be seen in freshwater habitats and coastal bays within Washington during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike their brown counterparts, American white pelicans do not dive for their food. Instead, they cooperatively herd fish and scoop them up.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: A statuesque bird with all-white plumage, the great egret is easily distinguishable by its long yellow bill and black legs. During breeding season, they develop beautiful, delicate plumes on their backs.
  • Locations: Found around freshwater ponds, marshes, and tidal flats in Washington, though they are more common in other parts of the U.S.
  • Fun Fact: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these birds were nearly hunted to extinction for their plumes. Conservation efforts and laws were put in place to protect them, marking one of the first successes of the North American conservation movement.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

  • Features: Slightly smaller than the great egret, the snowy egret has pristine white feathers, a slim black bill, and strikingly yellow feet which look as though they’ve been dipped in paint.
  • Locations: These elegant birds are rare in Washington and are mainly found in the southern parts of the U.S. However, occasional visitors might be spotted in coastal areas and wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: Their bright yellow feet play a role in hunting. The birds shuffle their feet in water to stir up aquatic animals, which they then quickly snatch up.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

  • Features: While not entirely white, ospreys have a predominantly white head with a characteristic dark eye stripe. Their underparts are white, contrasting with their brownish wings and back.
  • Locations: Widely distributed across Washington, they are often seen near lakes, rivers, and coastal areas, perched high up or diving spectacularly for fish.
  • Fun Fact: Ospreys are unique among North American raptors for their diet of live fish and ability to dive into the water to catch them.

White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)

  • Features: A raptor of elegant appearance, the white-tailed kite showcases a gleaming white body and wings with a hint of gray on the back and wingtips. Their red eyes stand out against the pale plumage.
  • Locations: Though they primarily reside in the southern and central parts of California, there have been occasional sightings in Washington.
  • Fun Fact: These kites have a fascinating hovering behavior, often seen suspended in mid-air as they scan the grounds for prey, earning them the nickname “Angel Hawk.”

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

  • Features: A large, powerful owl, the snowy owl is predominantly white with minimal black barring, giving it a ghostly appearance. Females and juveniles have more extensive black markings than males.
  • Locations: These owls breed in the Arctic tundra, but during irruptive years, when food in the north becomes scarce, they travel south and can be spotted in open areas of Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Snowy owls are diurnal, meaning they are active both day and night. This behavior is adapted from their Arctic habitat, where there’s continuous daylight during the breeding season.

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)

  • Features: While primarily a brownish bird, the common redpoll does sport a vibrant red forehead patch. They are petite finches with a streaked appearance and a small, conical bill.
  • Locations: During winter, they can be seen in flocks in open woodlands and fields of Washington, often visiting bird feeders.
  • Fun Fact: To combat the cold temperatures of their habitats, these birds have a specially adapted area in their throat to store seeds, allowing them to forage during the day and digest at night.

Arctic Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni)

  • Features: Similar in appearance to the common redpoll, the Arctic variety has a more extensive red cap, a paler face, and less streaking on the flanks.
  • Locations: Rare in Washington, they hail from the high Arctic and occasionally make an appearance in the state during irruptions.
  • Fun Fact: These birds can survive temperatures of below -65°F. They accomplish this by tunneling into the snow to roost at night.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

  • Features: With a fluttering flight reminiscent of snowflakes, the male snow bunting is white with black wingtips. In non-breeding plumage, they exhibit more brownish tones.
  • Locations: They breed in the high Arctic and migrate south during winter, sometimes reaching the open fields and mountains of Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Snow buntings undergo a massive transformation between winter and breeding plumages, achieved not by molting but by wearing away feather tips to reveal the colors beneath.

Conclusion

In Washington, these white birds paint strokes of elegance and beauty. It’s a shared journey of admiration and conservation, ensuring that future generations are also privy to the white spectacles of Washington’s skies.

Washington has some stunning birding locations that you can find along the Great Washington State Birding Trail – a great way to find the state’s birds.