Seward Park offers a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats for birds. Diving ducks, western grebes, coots and glaucous-winged gulls are often seen on the open lake. Great blue herons, pied-billed grebes, double crested cormorants and kingfishers are more frequently seen on sheltered Andrews Bay. Red-winged blackbirds are found in the marshes, while downy woodpeckers favor the Lombardy poplars planted along the lakeshore. Dippers visited the fish hatchery stream when it was in operation. Robins, starlings, crows and Canada geese frequent the lawns. Western tanagers, song sparrows and chickadees are often seen in the more open wooded and shrubby areas in the south part of the park. The old-growth forest hosts pileated woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, winter wrens, western screech-owls and red-breasted nuthatches.
Many birds are resident all year long, while others visit seasonally. Most people are familiar with songbirds that visit in the summer to breed but fly south for the winter. The Seattle area also receives many winter visitors from farther north. Other birds merely pass through our area on their way northward or southward in the spring or fall. Some birds migrate seasonally not north or south, but between the lowlands and the mountains, between the west and east sides of the Cascades, or between coastal and interior waters.
Among the year-round residents are mallards, pied-billed grebes, great blue herons, western screech owls, crows, Steller’s jays, chickadees, nuthatches, bushtits, woodpeckers, wrens, song sparrows and towhees.
Summer visitors include ospreys, rufous hummingbirds, western tanagers, swallows, warblers and Swainson’s thrushes. Greater white-fronted geese and migratory Canada geese pass through the park in the spring and fall. Many kinds of waterfowl are winter visitors. Double-crested cormorants, common loons and most kinds of grebes, gulls and ducks are seen primarily in the winter. Varied thrushes and dark-eyed juncos are among the birds that come to the lowlands from the mountains for the winter.
Hummingbirds and the Forest
Birds play important roles in the health of the forest. Many birds help disperse seeds or control insect populations. Rufous hummingbirds are major pollinators of three important understory plants in the park: orange honeysuckle, salmonberry, and red-flowering currant. The nectar of these plants is an important food source for hummingbirds, which transfer pollen between flowers as they feed. Migratory rufous hummingbirds arrive in March around the time that salmonberry and currant are in flower and stay through the summer feeding on honeysuckle, hedge nettle, other plants and insects. Anna’s hummingbirds can be found in the park throughout the year, but unlike their migratory relatives, they depend primarily on ornamental plants and feeders, and are relative newcomers to the Seattle area, first seen in 1964.
In the 1960’s bald eagles were threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states, resulting in their federal protection and a ban on DDT in the early 1970’s. Signs of a local comeback were evident when the first eagle nest within Seattle was found in 1980 in Seward Park. Currently, two pairs of eagles nest in the park within a half mile of each other, an unusually close distance. In 1999 each pair raised two chicks. The eagles are often seen fishing or hunting coots or ducks along the lakeshore.