Since I am part of the Save Shuswap Songbirds committee, I’m always watching for birds that fit the description of ‘songbird’ — a small perching bird that sings well. Called passerines, they belong to the order Passeriformes. Various kinds comprise nearly half of all the world’s 10,000 bird species. A suborder, oscines, are the award-winning songsters. Passerines share a physical characteristic of having three toes pointing forward, and one backward which assists with grasping a perch.
One example, this western tanager, is a woodland songbird found in western North America. We often see them in spring and fall in the tall cedars behind the house. British Columbia is within its breeding territory so it may nest nearby. Its song is a bit like that of a robin with a scratchy throat. Its brilliant colors are reminiscent of tropical birds, so it is a treasured sighting here – and even moreso when it this visible.
While we are on the subject of toes, here’s something different: it’s a pileated woodpecker that is called a ‘near-passerine’. Although it also inhabits woodlands, like other woodpeckers it has zygodactyl feet. That means four toes with the first and fourth facing backward and the second and third facing forward. Better for gripping and climbing tree trunks, it seems.
It might not come to mind when thinking of a songbird, as its clarion voice could hardly be described as melodious. Seen on and off all year around this area, it arrived one day to clean out the suet from my feeder.