A Chestnut Backed Chickadee posing on a log that has little tufts of lichen green lichen on it with a blurred green background. The chickadee has a black head with white lines under its eyes. It has a chestnut brown back and a greyish white belly. The image is to demonstrate what this type of bird looks like.

A Chestnut Backed Chickadee Just Chilling / Image via Veronika Andrews on Pixabay

Spring is here! The days are getting longer, the grass is greener, and the air feels fresher than ever.

Walking around Nanaimo, I can’t help but notice the plethora of melodies singing in the trees and appreciate all the lovely notes that songbirds have to offer this time of year. 

Why do songbirds sing? Singing in birds is primarily for communication purposes, such as declaring their territory, attracting a mate, and alarming others. For most songbirds, it is only the male that sings, and their sounds can be separated into two general categories: song and call. These are distinguished by how long and complicated the sound is, as well as when it is sung.

Songbirds tend to sing the most in the morning, starting around 4am, in something known as the “dawn chorus”. This chorus lasts several hours and is usually sung this early as it is still too dark to find food as well as too dark to be spotted by predators yet. Songbirds usually sing their songs in the springtime and is an integral part to their spring breeding process. 

When doing some light birdwatching in the past, I have often focused on the appearance of the bird to try to identify it. However, this year I am more curious to identify the beak that matches the birdsong. 

For any novice birdwatchers or simply curious humans interested in the songs playing around them this time of year, I’ve devised a short list of some boisterous songbirds singing in Nanaimo right now.

American Robin

The American Robin has a black head, yellow beak, greyish body, and a reddish orange belly. Many of you may know what this common bird looks like, and maybe even what they sound like, but I would be mistaken not to add this bird to the list. I seem to hear a robin almost anywhere I go in Nanaimo, though don’t let their commonness discredit their happy, beautiful songs and calls.

Click here to hear an example of an American Robin for yourself.

Red Winged-Blackbird

These inky-black birds are distinguished by the reddish-orange patches on the shoulders of their wings. I have heard these birds frequently at Buttertubs Marsh, while walking near VIU, and at Westwood Lake. 

Here is a tidbit of what the Red-Winged Blackbird sounds like.

Steller’s Jay

Steller’s Jay are noticeable for their striking black mohawks that fade into their dark blue bodies. I have heard these birds on many hikes around Nanaimo, including Westwood Lake and Ammonite Falls. There is one jay that always comes by my window that I have dubbed as Mr. Jay. Steller’s Jays have a louder, almost alarm-like song.

For a sample of the Steller’s Jay, click here.

Red House Finch

This bird has a dusty red feathered head that fades into its brown plumage on the rest of its body. Personally, I have not spotted one of these birds before, though I have been told they are more common. I really enjoy their song, and have heard some sing near my house in the mornings.

Here is the Red House Finch’s birdsong.

Bewick’s Wren

These poufy little guys have a light brown back with a white belly, as well as a white stripe above their eyes. I have never spotted one of these, but I have heard their songs. Bewick’s Wren sings a sort of plink plink or pee sound.

An example of the Bewick’s Wren song can be found here. 

Brown Creeper

This brown, white bellied, dart-like bird is often found “creeping” along the sides of trees hunting for insects. I have heard and spotted Brown Creepers at both Buttertubs Marsh and Morrell Sanctuary.

Click here for a little sample of what a Brown Creeper sounds like.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

I saved my favourite little bird for last. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee’s are distinguished by their black heads with bold white stripes under their eyes. They have greyish-white plumage and a beautiful chestnut-brown back that appears to look like they are wearing a little open vest.

In Alberta, I loved hearing the sounds of chickadees in my grandma’s garden. Though the chickadees I was spotting were called Black-Capped Chickadees, the Chestnut-Backed Chickadees I see flying together—appearing very social and friendly while singing in the trees—are a little reminder of home.

Hear the sounds of the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee for yourself here.


I wish I could fit all of the wonderful birds on the island in this article, but there are simply too many. For a greater chance of hearing them, I advise listening a little earlier in the mornings. Some places I have greater luck finding birds include Buttertubs Marsh, Morrell Sancturary, and Westwood Lake.

If you are curious to learn more, here are a few resources online to help get you started!

The Woodland Birds section on Gohiking.ca;

Nanaimo-specific birds on The BC Bird Trail website;

And birding.bc.ca




Sabrina is a fifth-year Psychology and Creative Writing student. Her poem "They Are Waiting" won last year's Portent Prize and was featured in Portal's 2021 Magazine. She loves exploring Vancouver Island, telling people about the UFO Landing Pad in her hometown, and is a wannabe free diver. In her last year of schooling she has realized just how much potential there is in being a student at VIU.

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