Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Excellent Sparrow Migration

A Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow
The latest group of migrant birds to populate the nature preserve has been the sparrows. Over 200 sparrows representing a half dozen species are congregating in and around bird feeding stations, brushy areas and especially, around the beaver meadow.

Formerly, a beaver pond -- now a meadow rich in migrant sparrows
A Swamp Sparrow in relatively dull fall plumage
Feeding primarily on the seeds of field wildflowers, the sparrows travel mostly around edges of the meadow, usually never straying far from brushy cover. If a hawk or another predator is seen by any member of the flock, an alarm call will send all diving for safety.
White-throated Sparrows are our most common fall migrant sparrow
Lately, our most common sparrows are the White-throated Sparrow and the Song Sparrow; we probably have over 80 of the former species and over 50 of the latter. Neither of these species are particularly shy, and if you casually scan over a flock, these are the ones that you’re most likely to notice.
Our most common summer resident sparrow is the Song Sparrow
Currently the 3rd most common sparrow on the property is the White-crowned Sparrow. Unlike the other 2 mentioned, the White-crowned doesn’t nest in the region, but only passes through here when migrating between its Canadian breeding grounds and its wintering grounds in the southern US. Their black and white striped crown makes them resemble the White-throated Sparrow, but the White-crowned Sparrow shows more gray on the back and sides of the neck. Also, its beak is orange. Juvenile White-crowns, which often outnumber the adults, have brown stripes on their heads instead of the black and white.
Adult White-crowned Sparrow eating hulled sunflower seeds

Lincoln’s Sparrow has been more common this year than any year that I can remember. I’ve now seen them down at the beaver meadow for at least 10 consecutive days. Occasionally, they keep company with Swamp Sparrows and some of the other species I’ve already mentioned. Lincoln’s Sparrow is much shier than your average sparrow, and often they have to be coaxed out of their hiding place with “spishing” sounds. If you ever see anyone with a pair of binoculars, pursing their lips and making weird airy sounds to a bush, then you may have just found someone that is keen on seeing a Lincoln’s Sparrow –or they might be legitimately crazy.
Lincoln's Sparrow is usually one of our least common migrant sparrows

The Fox Sparrow is easily our largest sparrow
The most recent new arrival is the Fox Sparrow. This sparrow’s general appearance is similar to a Song Sparrow, but they are more ruddy-colored and a size larger. Their size is comparable to a Hermit Thrush. The Fox Sparrow never show up in large numbers –usually no more than a handful of birds are seen at any one time. When they first come through in early spring, they are frequently singing, and so they are easier to find in the brush. In fall however, they make little noise apart from an infrequently given alarm call that is fairly distinctive.
Pine Siskins are small finches that often can be found with flocks of Goldfinches
Purple Finches have been quite common this season
Technically, all of the sparrows are  finches, which is pretty logical if you take the time to examine their bills. The bills of all finches are generally short, conical and perfect for seed cracking. At this time of the year, the sparrows might be joined by several other finches including American Goldfinch, Purple Finch and Pine Siskin. Still more finches by other names include the Cardinal and the Eastern Towhee, both which can currently be seen in the same habitat with our migrant sparrows. 

A female Eastern Towhee 

No comments:

Post a Comment