In the fall, I mentioned White-crowned Sparrows in a column about birds from the north that come by. I said I’d write about them another time. It seems that time has come.
I actually hadn’t seen them since the fall until three or four came visiting this week. I am particularly inspired by a bonding experience with one of them.
On about day four of rainy weather, I looked out my kitchen window to see one sitting on my plant stand, looking as dismayed as I felt about more rain. We made eye contact and commiserated in silence for a few moments through the glass.
The sparrow then began to sing. I don’t know if it felt cheered by finding a kindred spirit, or if it was teaching a lesson to find joy in the moment. It did have the latter effect and its enthusiasm for song was cheering.
This singing bird was likely a male as female singing by White-crowned Sparrows is less common. The males learn to sing in first three months or so of life, adopting a “dialect” found in its area of birth. “Although the White-crowned Sparrow typically is not a repertoire species, it is common to find bilingual males at dialect border,” according to BirdsOfTheWorld.org.
These birds are widespread across North America. They can be found year round in some parts of the west. In Ontario they are mostly seen as they migrate in the fall and spring. They breed around Hudson Bay, in the Artic and Sub-artic. They move in small groups, or on their own, not in large flocks as some birds do.
AllAboutBirds.org says, “At the end of summer the pairs break up and winter separately, but when both members of the pair return the next summer, about two-thirds of the pairs re-form”.
I suspect the little group here moved from the south together as they arrived at the same time and place. They do like sunflower and other seeds but you are most likely to find them below feeders. They also scratch through dead leaves and eat last year’s seed heads. It is suggested having a brush pile will keep them on your property longer.
In watching all the birds in my garden picking up dried stalks and looking for seeds and bugs, I noticed a bird very similar to a White-crowned Sparrow. I was able to get a photo of it sitting on the dried sedum flowers. It turned out to be a White-throated Sparrow. It is curious to have two similar looking sparrows with hyphenated white identity indicators appear about the same time: something that makes me go hmm.
Something else that makes me go hmm, is the following from AllAboutBirds.org, “White-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave”.
I haven’t seen this.
The article I referred to earlier was about Dark-eyed Juncos. They have been here all winter in varying numbers. A few remain. There are also Chipping Sparrows here. It’s hard for me to accept the White-crowned Sparrows as bullies, as I feel emotionally connected after the singing in the rain experience.
Before sitting down to write this, we repeated the experience in sunshine.
I assume it was the same bird sitting on the plant stand in almost exactly the same place when I looked out the window this morning. It seems an affirmation that choosing to change energy in troubling times can lead to brighter days.
I share experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every couple of weeks. Until next time, keep your eye to the sky, and look for birds that may come by.
Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website.