Every game in Nintendo’s long-running Legend of Zelda series has essentially the same story, but each one puts a unique spin on the world of Hyrule, adding another layer of depth and richness as the player discovers how the familiar elements come into play.

The latest installment, Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch system, is the most immersive telling of the legend yet. It reminds me the most of my previous favorite in the series, Windwaker, because of its huge world and beautiful cel-shaded graphics.

But while Windwaker used the vastness of the ocean to achieve its large feel, Breath of the Wild has a landscape made up of widely varying climates, absolutely packed with detail. For people who want to get on with the story, it provides a “fast travel” option that allows the hero Link to teleport to places he’s already discovered, but I haven’t used that, preferring to cross country on foot or on horseback and enjoy the sights and experiences I come across along the way.

One of my favorite elements of the game is that it gives you a camera you can use to capture amazing scenery or important information you want to remember. There are dozens of animals in the game, each with its own habitat, behavior, and sound effects programmed in, and as you photograph each species, the game gives you an entry in Link’s “Hyrule Compendium” about the animal. (You can do the same for plants, enemies, and weapons, giving you a total of a few hundred objects to try to capture in photographs.)

My girlfriend Megan is a real-life birdwatcher— she has submitted reports of the birds she’s observed. That gave me the idea of submitting my own virtual birdwatching report on the birds of Hyrule. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally gotten a photo of each bird in the game.

Sparrows come in six varieties, and I was impressed to find that they differ not just in color but also in behavior.

blue_sparrowBlue sparrows are the easiest variety to find. They prefer temperate zones near mountains, which is the climate of at least half of Hyrule. They are also fairly laid-back, cheery little birds that like to find streams and puddles to bathe in, so you can usually find them just by walking down a road near a brook, especially if it’s raining. Just walk quietly, or stand still, and one may come hopping right up to you to give you a questioning look.

golden_sparrowGolden sparrows live on the outskirts of the Eldin region, which is a volcanic mountain range with the live Death Mountain volcano at its center (where nothing lives except monsters). According to the Hyrule Compendium, their down is resistant to burning, and they eat small insects that hide between the rocks. You can tell when they are nearby when you hear their high-pitched chirping. In other parts of Hyrule, the chirping could be coming from invisible birds in the trees, but in the Eldin region there are no trees.

sand_sparrowSand sparrows are a beautiful reddish-brown color, which helps to camouflage them in the Gerudo Desert. They can be a real challenge to get close to, because it’s hard to move quickly and softly in the desert sand. Link might have to find special Sand Boots to allow him to sneak up on one. There are a lot of dangers in the desert, so these birds can be quite skittish.

red_sparrowRed sparrows are actually a very pale pink. I have only seen them in the vicinity of the Rito Village in northern Hyrule (which, oddly enough, is a village of bird-people). They don’t seem to go up into the frigid mountains surrounding the village, instead scrounging for wild plants and nuts in the foothills.

rainbow_sparrowRainbow sparrows live in the Faron region of Hyrule, which is a bit like a mixture between a swamp and a rainforest. Despite their bold plumage, they seem fairly shy. I could only reliably find them on a certain bridge early in the morning before road traffic scared them away. (That’s why the light in the photo is so dim; it would have been nice to get a picture in full sunlight so that the colors would be more brilliant.)

common_sparrowThe “common” sparrow was the bird I spent the longest time trying to get a photo of! Common they may be, but they are also very easily scared. Their pretty green plumage makes them hard to spot when they are hiding in the grass, too. I can’t count how many times I was sneaking up on the sound of chirping only to hear the flutter of wings and then silence. Even when I had Link wearing stealth gear and using an elixir of stealth, there were any number of things beyond his control that would scare the sparrows away– like a monster suddenly rising up out of the ground, or dropping out of a tree, or another animal blundering through, or even an assassin suddenly appearing to kill Link. (I can just hear Link now, drawing his sword and yelling “YOU SCARED THE BIRDS AWAY!”)

Next are the four varieties of pigeons (or doves) native to Hyrule…

wood_pigeonWood pigeons live all over central Hyrule– pretty much anywhere there are forests. You can tell that one is nearby when you hear cooing and other vocalizations lower than the sparrows’ chatter. The game programmers really did a great job capturing the mannerisms of these birds, as they bob their heads, strut, and puff themselves up if the air is cold. They’re fun to just watch for a while as you try to catch them looking at the camera in an interesting pose.

hotfeather_pigeonHotfeather pigeons live in the volcanic Eldin region, and will venture a little closer to lava than golden sparrows will. They are some of the boldest birds in the game, which is a good thing, because Link has to wear a bulky suit of armor in order to survive the heat where they live, so he can’t really sneak. The handsome specimen I photographed here was at a hot-water spring. The coloration kind of reminds me of a pheasant. The hot-water springs will heal Link’s health if he swims in them, but all I can think of is that they must smell a lot like sulfur.

white_pigeonWhite pigeons live at the opposite extreme– you can find them on Hyrule’s highest mountains above the snow line. Their pure white feathers serve as camouflage and keep them warm in the bitter cold– Link’s Rito armor that allows him to climb the mountain peaks without freezing to death may be lined with some of those feathers!

rainbow_pigeonRainbow pigeons were the last bird remaining for me to photograph before I uploaded this post. Link was passing through a region of Hyrule covered with huge, bizarre mushroom-like trees with flat tops. I looked up and saw that a huge flock of birds was swarming near the top of one of the strange trees. So I had Link drink a stealth elixir and climb the tree. The flock of brightly colored birds were wheeling in circles, so I was able to wait for one of them to enter the camera frame and get a photograph of the bird in flight. I’m not sure why they were behaving that way.

Besides the sparrows and pigeons, Hyrule is home to quite a variety of larger birds.

pink_heronblue-winged_heronThe ones Link comes across the most frequently are the herons— both the pink and the blue-winged varieties. Their stately sillhouette is unmistakable, and you will commonly see them scatter from the path when Link rides his horse. According to the Compendium, the blue ones live along the waterfront, while the pink ones are more common inland, but I saw both kinds all over Hyrule– sometimes both were part of the same flock! You can also see these birds traveling high up in the distance in a V-formation. (I’m not sure that I’ve seen herons do that in real life; it seems more typical of ducks and geese.)

bright-chested_duckSpeaking of which, the bright-chested duck is Hyrule’s main species of waterfowl. You can find them paddling around in ponds and other slow-moving bodies of water. They will duck their heads underwater looking for food, their tails sticking up into the air just like real ducks.

mountain_crowSometimes a photo just happens to come at the perfect time. I think my favorite bird photo in my current save file is this one I snapped of a couple of mountain crows. It looks like they are laughing! Caw!

Link knows that he isn’t just in this quest for birdwatching. He has a princess to save, after all. But sometimes you can do both! In this case, I had Link perched at the top of a pine tree on a high mountain, because he was told that he could see the way to a hidden shrine from there. While I was up there, though, a neat opportunity presented itself. islander_hawkThe Islander Hawk is usually only visible from far below– it glides on air currents high in the sky. It’s pretty unusual to get a look at one from above. But Link happened to be in the perfect place to see it! I like how you can see the patterns on the back of the hawk’s wings this way.

eldin_ostrichThe largest species of bird in the game (well, aside from the Rito people) is the Eldin ostrich. These funny birds live in the volcanic Eldin region, and while they can’t fly, they are very fast runners. They are also the only species of bird that can harm Link, as I discovered to my surprise when one charged him and knocked him down. They are much less likely than rams, wolves, or bears to attack and will usually just run away from Link, but maybe one time out of ten, they’ll charge straight at him!

seagullJust two more birds left, and they’re both familiar old friends for fans of the Zelda series. First is the seagull, which was ever-present in The Windwaker. It wouldn’t feel like the beach without hearing seagulls calling over the sound of the surf.

cuccoAnd finally, there is the Cucco, Hyrule’s version of the chicken, which has been part of the game ever since A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo. Their feathers are a lot more colorful in Breath of the Wild as opposed to their previous white color. And as always, they complain persistently if Link picks them up. I’ve played enough Zelda games to know better than to torment the Cuccos past their breaking point, though. (I guess it’s not strictly true that the Eldin ostrich is the only species that can harm Link!)