Declining songbird populations—it’s a serious issue in the bird world. So it was refreshing to see one species appear in healthy numbers in my yard this week. The White-crowned Sparrow arrives on migration in late April in this area, sweeping through in large flocks that hang around a couple of weeks, before moving farther north for nesting. They stand out with their distinctive bold black and white head stripes and pinky-orange beak. They are a sturdy looking bird, fast moving on the ground as they pick at seeds, and taking off in a flurry if disturbed.
I have an ambivalent relationship with this bird. Since moving from the prairies, where the White-throated Sparrow was my #1 favorite spring songster, the White-crowned’s lilting, lispy whistle has taken over that spot. It’s lively and uplifting to hear a flock of 20-30 in concert together. However, their habit of scouring the ground like a living carpet for seeds—in particular the grass seed I just planted—makes them less popular. Timing is everything: I thought I’d beaten them to it this spring, planting the seed on a bare patch of lawn a couple of weeks ago. It has been slow to germinate and then… the ‘living carpet’ moved in for a banquet. Anything left to grow? I’m afraid to look. (Sorry, hard to capture the crowd in a photo as they are always on the move).
I have another issue with White-crowneds this spring. Project FeederWatch (see below) kept me busy all winter noting the species that visited my feeder for 2 consecutive days each week. The project wound up this week, and after a small flock of White-crowneds touched down a few days ago, I was gleefully anticipating large numbers to report. My hopes dwindled—down to only 3 birds on count day. Classic Murphy’s Law scenario. So imagine my mood the next day when, about 20 minutes after I’d submitted my final report to the website, suddenly I heard that tell-tale wispy call, in great volume. On the deck, in the yard, all over the shrubs, around the feeder….dozens of White-crowneds! It would have been a spectacular way to end my counting records, if only…..
For that final count record, though, a couple of other feathered regulars provided a satisfying finish: both Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds showed up to be included.