Who claims biggest bird title on Whidbey? | WHIDBEY BIRDING

Recently a five-year-old friend asked me, “What’s the biggest bird?” and I was reminded of our fascination with the biggest. To him biggest equated to best.

Recently a five-year-old friend asked me, “What’s the biggest bird?” and I was reminded of our fascination with the biggest. To him biggest equated to best.

Since I’m often asked this question, I had a ready answer: the bald eagle. But what about, say, the five biggest birds that are commonly seen on Whidbey Island? Care to take a guess?

I quizzed my husband, a fairly experienced birder, and off the top of his head, he suggested (in this order) 1) Bald eagle 2) Great blue heron 3) Red-tailed hawk 4) Turkey vulture 5) Great-horned owl.

Figuring out the biggest common birds isn’t all that easy. Do we gauge by length or weight? Do we factor in wingspan? Since all birds are designed to be very lightweight, I wondered if there would be much difference between, for example, the bald eagle and the red-tailed hawk.

What about a long skinny bird like the great blue heron? Birds are measured from the top of their head to the bottom of their toes. If we only considered a bird’s length, the heron would be the biggest at, on average, nearly 50 inches. Whereas the bald eagle only stretches to 39 inches. Clearly we can’t award the biggest bird prize to the long gangling heron.

Wingspan also doesn’t seem the best yardstick of the biggest birds. The length of the wings is determined by long-distance flight needs, mainly migration. Swallows and terns have some of the longest wings, in comparison to body length, for just that reason. The bald eagle and the great blue heron are neck-and-neck in regard to wingspan, with the eagle having a slight edge.

So, that leaves weight as our determiner of biggest bird. In this category the bald eagle clearly wins at 10.5 pounds. Second prize goes to a sleeper, the common loon, which weighs in at a little over nine pounds. And third prize to the Canada goose — gads, how could we forget that eight-pound mother?

Then we drop down to five and one-half pounds and find the great blue heron, followed by the double-crested cormorant at four pounds. Continuing on down the list there is a close tie between the turkey vulture and osprey at three and one-quarter pounds.

What happened to the red-tailed hawk? Several additional birds, including the great-horned owl and common raven, surpassed it.

Many birds and especially eagles, hawks, owls have significant sexual dimorphism, meaning one sex is larger than the other. For example, the female bald eagle can be 20 to 30 percent larger than the male. So technically I should have told my young friend that the female bald eagle is the largest common bird.

What if we widen our criteria to include some less common birds? Take those wild turkeys often seen on Bayview Road. They outweigh the bald eagle by over six pounds.

Every winter trumpeter swans visit Whidbey. At 25 pounds they beat out the bald eagle by two and one-half times.

Even though the swans, turkeys and also the American white pelican clearly outweigh the bald eagle, some of us have a hard time accepting any of them as the biggest bird. Perhaps our claim of “biggest” also needs to include something majestic, something to make the bird the best, not just the heaviest. That would explain why we tend to put the red-tailed hawk so high on the list.

I’m sure my five-year-old friend wanted the bald eagle to win and I’ll have to admit that I did, too. The regal eagle perched atop a tall spire, a bird that fought off endangered species status and rebounded to a large healthy population, certainly deserves the prize.


More in Life

Some rhododendrons possess a velvety underside on the leaves that act as a moisture collector.
Changes bloom at Meerkerk

New paths mark perennial gardens

Vivienne Duchanne performs with Queens of the Island by night at Off the Hook in downtown Oak Harbor on the second Tuesday of every month. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Life is a drag

‘Queens of the Island’ reeling in Whidbey fans

Twins’ art spotlighted in gallery show

Dan and Mike Burroughs: ‘Brothers with Brushes’

Making art out of life’s leftovers

‘C.R.A.P.’ coming back for annual show

Enter your best outdoor photos in the Land Trust photo contest

It’s time to showcase the natural beauty of Whidbey and Camano islands… Continue reading

Wirth named Washington National Geographic State Bee semifinalist

Eva Wirth, a seventh grader at South Whidbey Middle School and daughter… Continue reading

Over a dozen land on Skagit Valley College fall honor roll

Sixteen South Whidbey students were named to the Skagit Valley College academic… Continue reading

A ‘Whale of a Tale’ in Langley Feb. 24-25

By BETTY FREEMAN For Whidbey News Group For 34 years, Langley has… Continue reading

Dancing Fish Farm to buzz with The Bee Eaters fiddlers

Acoustic concert features fiddling siblings

Puget Sound Energy Foundation awards grant

The Puget Sound Energy Foundation recently awarded more than $4,500 to the… Continue reading

Coupeville woman earns Coastal Volunteer award

Coupeville resident Sandy Dubpernell was recently named the Jan Holmes Island County… Continue reading