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Nature - Birds

The trails of Coal Mine Ridge Nature Preserve are a wonderful place to watch or look for birds.  Species vary with season and location, and regular visitors will discover their own "hot spots" for viewing.

Please remember that except for Toyon Trail, all of the Nature Preserve’s trails are open to equestrians, who have right-of-way.   Please step aside for hikers, as well, as they may not expect a stationary observer in the middle of a trail.

Below are pictured just a few of the more than 100 species observed in the Coal Mine Ridge area.  The Portola Valley Ranch Bird List was compiled by residents of Portola Valley Ranch based on their observations.

Want to learn more?  Learning to identify birds by their songs and calls is a skill that takes time and practice.  

If you’re not sure what you hear, stand still and listen.

Now can you identify the bird? 

  • Can you pinpoint the location? (High or low, near or distant?)

  • Can you follow the sound to find the bird?

  • Is there just one bird, or more than one?

  • Is it singing, or just “chipping" (one or two note call) calling out to another bird?

There are phone apps and websites than can help.  Click a button below to find some great Phone Apps and Websites, or examples of birds you might see in given season.

There are phone apps and websites than can help.

California Quail

(Callipepa californica)

Female Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

b22Female Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes f
b09Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) (2
14Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californ
a36California Quail (Callipepa californi

Red-tailed Hawk

(Buteo jamaicensis)

Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

b11Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).j

Lesser Goldfinch

(Spinus psaltria)

What bird is that?

For those unfamiliar with birds, the Merlin app created by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology can help you begin to identify what you’re seeing.  Merlin asks you a short series of questions and, based on your answers, suggests what you may be seeing, with pictures to help you.


What’s that I hear?

Often, a bird is heard before it’s seen, and its song or call can help you to find it.  If you don’t recognize what you’re hearing, the “explore” button on the Merlin app provides a catalog of birds, including a variety of songs and calls.  Another helpful app is Song Sleuth.


There are numerous phone apps avalilable to supplement or replace books carried in the field.  Two that are authoritative and easy to use are: 

  • Sibley Birds:  This app allows searches by family, alphabetically, or through “smart search.”  Illustrations are by one of today’s most outstanding bird artists.  Includes seasonal range, sounds, physical description and habitat.

  • iBird Pro:  This app uses drawings and photographs and allows search by Common or Latin name or Band Code.  In addition to general description and field marks, it includes range, sounds, comparison with similar birds, ecological and behavioral information.


For more practice, LarkWire is a game app that presents sounds and pictures of birds and challenges you to identify them.  It’s a good learning tool that allows you to increase the level of difficulty as you progress.


Additional resources on the web:

eBird at

Cornell University oversees this amazing tool, which allows birders to report sightings, search for “hot spots,” find out about current migratory patterns and much more.  It also enables individual “citizen scientists” to contribute data to a worldwide effort to better understand the health and habits of individual species.  Thanks to Garth Harwood, Director of Education at Hidden Villa, Portola Valley Ranch is listed as a “hot spot.”  Use this point of entry to see what has been seen recently, and to record your sightings.


AllAboutBirds at

This website, another Cornell resource, provides identification (text and photos) of North American Birds.For interested beginners or those in unfamiliar territory, it’s a great learning toolA subdivision of the website, (also available as phone app), lets you answer questions about a bird you see, then offers photo choices to help you narrow in on an identification.

Birds of North America Online at

This subscription service provides in-depth scientific information on all species of North American Birds.Visitors are allowed to see information on a single species; frequent users must pay to subscribe.Produced by Cornell University and the American Ornithological Society.

Audubon Field Guide at

The National Audubon Society’s online guide is simpler than All About Birds but includes information on the impacts of climate change on individual species and links to other projects of the Society.

Local Organizations protecting and advocating for birds:

These groups often offer field trips, classes, lectures, and volunteer opportunities:

Some Spring Birds
Some Summer Birds

What to watch for by season:


Spring is the best time to begin looking for birds in the Nature Preserve. As nesting season begins, birds sing constantly to establish and defend their territory, find a mate, and communicate with each other and their young.  Watch for birds carrying twigs, leaves, needles, or other nesting material.  When there are young, you may see adults carrying food or feeding young.  Birds constantly fluttering their wings and “cheeping” may be young ones calling to parents for food.


​​Summer is the quietest season here.  Adult birds are recovering from nesting, molting, and some are preparing to migrate.  Young are busy learning to find food and fattening up for winter.  Listen for “chip” notes and scratching in leaves, and watch for movement.  In the grasslands, watch for seed-eating finches and sparrows picking seed from grasses or thistles.  A few birds, such as crows and jays, call loudly all year and may lead you to others.

Fall for birds is a time to prepare for winter.  Some that aren’t usually here are migrating through and provide a chance to see something unexpected.  Others are gathering food for winter.  Watch for birds carrying acorns or hiding them.  Open sections of the trails are great spots to watch for migrating hawks or flocks of smaller birds.


​​Winter is a good time to learn local birds, when leaves are absent and birds are more visible.  Watch for small birds flitting from branch to branch.  Look (and listen) for Acorn Woodpeckers hammering on dead “granary” trees, removing acorns stored there in the fall.  In late afternoon, listen for owls calling.


      Some Spring Birds

Click on bird photo to learn more.

Courtesy of

Spotted Towhee.jpg

Spotted Towhee

white-breasted Nuthatch.jpg

White-breasted Nuthatch

Varied Thrush.jpg

Varied Thrush

Black-throated Gray Warbler.jpg

Black-throated Gray Warbler


      Some Summer Birds

Click on bird photo to learn more.

Courtesy of

California Quail.jpg

California Quail

Western Scrub Jay.jpg

California Scrub Jay

Male House Finch.jpg

Male House Finch


      Some Fall Birds

Click on bird photo to learn more.

Courtesy of

Acorn Woodpecker.jpg

Acorn Woodpecker

Red-tailed Hawk.jpg

Red-tailed Hawk

Great Blue Heron.jpg

Great Blue Heron


      Some Winter Birds

Click on bird photo to learn more.

Courtesy of

Turkey Vulture.jpg

Turkey Vulture

American Robin.jpg

American Robiin

Seed Eater.jpg

Dark-eyed Junco

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