Posts Tagged ‘White-throated sparrow’

American Goldfinches in various stages of colour change.

When I step out the door these mornings, what a joyful noise greets my ears! The air is filled with the songs of birds. The many Robins are “Cheer-up!”ing. The Red-winged Blackbirds are “Oak-a-lee!”ing. The Mourning Doves inquire “Oh, who? Who? Who?” The Chickadees whistle “Seaaa-beee!” The Grackles cackle. The Crows caw. The Cowbirds burble. The Phoebe wheezes his name. The Goldfinches and Juncos twitter. Overhead, Canada Geese honk their way across the sky. The neighbours’ pen of Turkeys gobble. The Blue Jays, seated high in the tree branches, call out “Jay!” as they wait for me to bring forth my daily offering of peanuts. In the last few days, a Hairy Woodpecker has been rat-a-tatting noisily on some metal siding.

Purple Finch and American Goldfinch at niger feeder.

Some bird-feeders stop putting seed out once the snow has melted away, figuring the birds can forage for themselves. If you carry on filling your feeders, however, you can enjoy the pleasure of having a whole raft of “spring” birds close at hand. It is fun to watch for the new arrivals and observe the Goldfinches changing out their drab gold feather coats for brilliant yellow ones. I didn’t see Purple Finches all winter, but now a few have joined the Goldfinches at the niger feeder. If you can keep your suet feeder stocked in spite of the assault of the melting sun and aggressive Starlings, you may be rewarded with the sight of parent Downy Woodpeckers feeding their youngsters at the suet station.

In the cacophony of spring voices, one of the sweetest belongs to the White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). They are easily recognized by their yellow lores, spots over the eyes, and white throats. They sing a pure, whistled “Oh! Sweet! Canada! Canada! Canada!” And how sweet it is, indeed.

Whitethroated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco

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By the beginning of January, the routine at the bird feeder is pretty well-established. I put seed out for the birds after I feed the horses in the morning. There is usually a crowd hanging about in the trees near the feeders, tapping their frosty little toes, waiting on me. Chickadees, juncos, tree sparrows, mourning doves and blue jays, lots of blue jays, are among the usual suspects. Recently, though, a couple of strangers have joined the crowd. A lone White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) was keeping company with the tree sparrows for a couple of days.

White-throats are natty little sparrows, with striped heads and a white chin and a distinctive yellow dot at the lore, in front of the eye. In the summer, they breed across much of southern Ontario in small numbers, but their main breeding ground is far to the north in the boreal forest. It is common to hear them calling in the spring as they pass through the area on their way north. Their song is easy to recognize. It sounds like a whistled “Ohhhh! Sweeeeeeeet! Can-a-da-Can-a-da-Can-a-da!” I was surprised to find that the White-throats in Maine sing the same patriotic song, apparently missing The True North. The White-throat population is doing better than many other bird species, owing in part to their preference for the second growth forest that follows forest fires, or as happens often these days, clear-cut logging. White-throats are short to middle-distance migrants, moving south of the Great Lakes and down to the southern states. The stray White-throat I observed may not be too far north of his compatriots’ winter range, but this is the first White-throat I have ever observed in winter in Ontario.

The other unusual visitors were Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater). A small group of five or six birds first showed up at the feeder together on Christmas day. Since then, a lone male has been a semi-regular visitor. Like White-throats, Cowbirds winter south of the Great Lakes, into the southern states. This is my first winter Cowbird sighting.

Cowbirds are brood parasites. That is, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds rather than nesting themselves. They get their name from their habit of following grazing livestock, foraging on invertebrates stirred up by the animals. A female is usually courted by three or four males who follow her about. Cowbirds are most common where agricultural land suitable for foraging is interspersed with forest habitat appropriate for breeding. For this reason, the Cowbird population is the most concentrated in southwestern Ontario, although they are common breeding birds in this area as well.

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