This is a good time to sprinkle some mixed bird seed around the yard’s bushes or, where possible, under existing feeders. The golden-crowned sparrows arrived last month and mixed in with them were white-crowned sparrows. These are in addition to the white-crowns that nested in our neighborhoods.
Their various plumage types can add some challenge to identifying these sparrows. Some white-crowns will have beige stripes on their crowns instead of the expected white stripes. These are the immatures. The plumage of the golden-crowns also varies. Sometimes the yellow patch on their heads is almost nonexistent. Even the adults lack some of the brilliant yellow bordered by black which they wear during the breeding season.
When those birds that bid us farewell last spring return, it’s logical to wonder where they have been. Where did they spend the summer and raise their families? We are the southern wintering area for many birds that head north for the summer. Many of these nest in the far north, and the golden-crowns are among these. Some only go as far north as British Columbia. Others travel to northern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. It’s humbling to consider that those handsome sparrows scratching away under the feeders traveled on their own power to and from those distant regions.
The song of the white-crowned sparrow is one that heralds the coming of spring. You can hear them in your own yard or in the middle of a shopping center’s landscaping plants. Many of those singing will move to another area to nest, but this sparrow is resident throughout the state. Some leave the lowlands and nest in the mountains in areas where there is an abundance of thick brush. In that type of habitat the birds will nest closer to other nesting white-crowns. A long row of thick wild roses makes a great white-crowned sub-division.
Increasing numbers of golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows in the fall is a reminder to look for another sparrow in this family, known as Emberizidae. These are sparrows that have no striping on their breasts but are gray-breasted and have heavily striped backs. The white-throated sparrow also has distinctive head markings like the other two. White-throated sparrows may have a white striped crown like the white-crowned, but they also have a well-defined white throat. It’s like a bib under their chin. In addition, they have a yellow spot in front of their eyes and their bill is dark, not pink like the white-crowned.
White-throated sparrows can be seen in two color forms that show up in their head stripes. One has the white stripes and the other has tan stripes. Those birds that have tan head stripes seem to show up more than the ones with white stripes. That’s all I’ve seen in my yard and I would like to see the other. Most important to remember in the identification of this occasional visitor is its white throat patch. It does stand out. This sparrow nests mostly in Central and Eastern Canada accounting for its rare appearance in the Northwest. Sightings have increased in Western Washington, but it is still a rare bird.
These handsome sparrows plus more are looking for areas to spend the winter. That bird seed scattered about in the habitat they prefer is a good way to get a good look at them.
Write to Joan Carson at P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org