Bald Eagle on a wooden jetty
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Gallery: Bald Eagles, American Robins and more

We travel to see things we cannot see at home: different cultures, different landscapes, different wildlife. It’s easy to think that because we share a common language, Britons visiting the US might find it too much like home. But I’ve never found it so.

Take birds for instance. Many of the birds I see in the US cannot be found at home in the UK. And two species in particular always attract my attention; one because it is such an icon of US culture, the other because it is an interesting contrast with a favourite British bird.

Bald Eagles

Is there a more iconic American bird than the Bald Eagle? Surely not, as it is the country’s national bird. I’ve been excited in the past to glimpse them but it was only on our most recent road trip there, in Washington State, that I managed to get some decent photos. I have already posted a couple of those, taken in Cornet Bay. Although that was probably my most exciting sighting, it wasn’t the only one, so here are a few more photos of this iconic bird taken in various parts of the state.

Wikipedia tells us that:

The bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder which subsists mainly on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 4 m (13 ft) deep, 2.5 m (8.2 ft) wide, and 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) in weight. Sexual maturity is attained at the age of four to five years.

Bald eagles are not actually bald; the name derives from an older meaning of the word, “white headed”. The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are about 25 percent larger than males. The yellow beak is large and hooked. The plumage of the immature is brown.

American Robins

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along

There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song

What image do you have in your head when you hear that song? I guarantee that it will differ depending on where you live. Here in the UK we are very fond of Robin Redbreast, as we call him. It was many years before I discovered that our European Robin looks very different from his US cousin. And indeed they are cousins in name only, as they are from distinct species. Our European Robin is a member of the chat family, while the American Robin is a thrush.

They have in common the distinctive red breast, but the American Robin is larger, almost twice as long. And as with the Bald Eagle, it was in Washington State that I got my first good look, and decent shots, of one. Or in fact two, as these images show.

American Robin with insect in its mouth
In a garden near Mount Rainier
American Robin on a wooden post
In the North Cascades

And just for contrast, here is a European Robin, photographed just a few days ago in my local park.

European Robin in a tree
European Robin, Walpole Park, Ealing

I’m sharing these for Lisa’s Bird Weekly theme of ‘Birds perched up’. So to finish, here are some more perching birds photographed on that trip through Washington State, not all of which I’ve been able to identify. Maybe US readers can help me out?

Small brown bird on a wire cable
Swallow on a wire near the N Cascades visitor centre in Newhalem
Bird on a dead tree
Is this a Waxwing? Seen by the Columbia River near Chelan
Brown bird on a rusty can
I need help identifying this one – seen near Mount Rainier
Black seabird with colourful sheen
Cormorant at the ferry terminal in Anacortes – love the colours!

I visited Washington State in 2017

30 Comments

  • rosalieann37

    I couldn’t identify the bird on the wire as a swallow since I couldn’t see the tail, but I do think the next bird is a cedar waxwing. If the suspect junco is too big, it might be a common grackle (although they have yellow eyes) or a cowbird.

    We have bald eagles on the east coast too. One landed in our back yard a couple of years ago, and the cat and Bob were looking out the window and the cat’s eyes got huge. Bob said to the cat “That’s why we don’t let you go out there.” Benjamin Franklin thought our country’s bird should be a turkey because the bald eagle is a robber and will take a fish from an osprey or a smaller bird. I think that eagles look like grumpy old men. I sent my grandson (who has a beard) a sweatshirt with an eagle on it and the caption said “I AM smiling”.

    I’ve known that your robin and ours were different for a fairly long time. Are your robins also a harbinger of spring?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Rosalie 🙂 Cedar Waxwing seemed likely to me too – we don’t get them here but I checked some photos of US birds and it looked very like my one. The possible Junco isn’t that large – I think that’s an old milk churn he’s perched on so that will give you a sense of scale (I should have mentioned that sooner!)

      We tend to associate our robins with the winter, as you see them on Christmas cards. But it’s true they sing more at this time of year so it they way you could say they are a harbinger of spring.

      • rosalieann37

        Most US robins migrate south in the winter in search of food. They eat fruit in the winter. They come north in response to increasing food supply of insects and earthworms. So the song and sight of a robin here means spring has come. I think UK robins are more sedentary.

  • Lisa Coleman

    Awesome set of photos. The Bald Eagle is majestic as you know and what a great capture. The Robin…well, what can you say about that? Incredible shot with the bug in the beak. The unidentified birds look like Dark-eyed Juncos. There are several subspecies of this bird and they all look a bit different. They both look like the same species to me. Hard to tell with the light, but that is my guess. Thanks for sharing your birds from Washington. We were supposed to go there last September but of course cancelled our trip because of the pandemic. We are probably going to go this fall or next spring. Depends on the numbers! 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Lisa. I was wondering about a Junco myself for that second one but the other seems to have a shorter tail, although it could be the angle! As you say, hard to tell 🙂

      I hope you make it to WA, I thought it was such a beautiful state with so much variety!

      • Lisa Coleman

        Frank lived out there for 20 years. He has hiked all over Mt. Rainier and the cascades. He is itching to get back out there as he has been back in Florida for the past 20 years. I’m really looking forward to it. 🙂

  • wetanddustyroads

    I’m unfortunately not a bird expert – just know the couple of feathered friends we see daily around our house, but I do like to watch them … some are so pretty!
    I like your photo of the bald eagle that you took at Cornet Bay – such a stunning image!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m no expert either, although I do like to try to identify any birds I’ve managed to photograph 😆 Glad you liked the Cornet Bay image – that was such a special experience!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Susanne 🙂 I was very happy to get these shots. We’ve seen them before, in British Columbia, but nowhere near as close as this – my only photo there is a distant blob!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Michaela 🙂 You need time, patience, a decent zoom and a lot of luck to get bird photos – and even then 90% of them are disappointing, in my case at least!!

  • Rose Vettleson

    Our Eagles always fill me with awe. We have many that live near us in Minnesota. And like SandyL, we’ve witnessed the smaller birds zoom bomb them when they get too near their nests.
    I find our robins plentiful and adorable, and excitedly viewed my first Albino Robin this spring. But your UK robins are so cute.
    Sorry I can’t help identify your bird photo. You’ve probably tried the Google Image search. Maybe if there were a little less shadow and more surrounding info to help detect size, it would help? Hopefully someone can answer your query. Or we can just enjoy another delightful mystery.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose 🙂 I always associate the eagles with the north west coast but I’m learning through these comments that they’re more widespread than I realised.

      Is the albino robin white all over, without the red breast? And yes, I tried Google images without success although it did seem it might be some sort of flycatcher. It’s the only photo I have of that bird unfortunately. I’m hoping a keen birdwatcher might be able to identify it despite the shade, but no matter if not!

      • Rose Vettleson

        I tried to verify if my robin was a ‘true’ albino, partial albino, or leucistic , but found too much confusing criteria. I’m not a birder or biologist, and had a difficult time trying to figure out who the ‘real’ experts were. The Audubon says that “Not all white birds are albino, and not all albino birds are white”. The ‘albino’ robin I saw was all white with a very light orange, splatter-colored breast. I could not tell what eye-color it had (which is usually a definitive marker for an albino?). I’m happy to have seen it, and I’m fine with letting the experts argue its proper label. 😊

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I’m no bird expert either, I just like how they look and enjoy the challenge of photographing them! Like you I’d be happy just to have seen your white robin – he sounds very special 🙂

  • Graham

    Love those eagle photos. Such an impressive bird. That next to last bird, if it’s fairly small, could be a junco. Not sure which kind.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Graham. It’s a few years since I took that photo but if I remember rightly it was a similar size to the robins (American version) so I think too large for a junco

  • starship VT

    Wonderful post and fabulous photos, Sarah! The first time I remember seeing a Bald Eagle was in Alaska, but oddly enough, now nesting pairs can be found in New Jersey too! I’ve even seen one or two in the town where I live!! Robins are a favorite bird, and when you begin to see lots of them here, it usually means spring is right around the corner! What a fantastic trip you had to the northwest coast!!

  • SandyL

    I didn’t know that robins were so different. Although I must say, your British robin looks a lot less predatory than ours.

    Bald eagles are such a treat to see. At my B.C. home we have a nesting pair close by andi it’s always wonderful to see them flying over the water. What is a surprise though, is how easy it is for smaller birds to harass them. The eagles are large and powerful, but at the same time less agile than the much smaller black crows and seagulls.

    In spring whenever the eagles get too near to the nests, there’s a racket of heckling and zoom bombing. Seagulls too can be such pests. My neighbor sighted one incident where the eagle had had enough of it; he grabbed the seagull and drowned him in the surf! Sorry, no sympathy from me on seagulls.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, it was years before I realised American robins weren’t the same as ours 😆 It’s confusing that they have the same name but aren’t even the same species!

      I wouldn’t have much sympathy with the seagull in that scenario either – give me an eagle over a seagull any day! It must be wonderful to have them nesting nearby and watch them daily 😀

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