Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Juncos and Sparrows

A jehosephat of Juncos and a ‘splosion of Sparrows

Juncos and Sparrows, like many members of the finch family, are noted for abrupt and large migrations, but April 3rd was the biggest accumulation of these birds, and others, that I have witnessed in quite a few years.  Even though the day was relatively sunny and mild, one was easily distracted at driving by trying to avoid a veritable cloud of small birds that periodically arose from the shoulder of the road.  These birds are normally woodland birds, but the snow there largely prevented any foraging, and the roadside was the only place available.  The dark color of the wet ground warmed quickly in the April sun, and encouraged many hibernating insects into motion, and these bugs were often a welcome snack for the hungry birds.

A dark eyed junco sits in a balsam fir tree.

A dark eyed junco sits in a balsam fir tree.

The Dark-eyed Junco,Junco hyemalis, has at least six recognizable populations with various and sometimes confusing differences in color, but they all have the characteristic white outer feathers on their tail.  Some Juncos hang around the Quoddy region all year and breed here, but some nest as far north as Northern Labrador and some over winter as far south as the Gulf coast.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow, Melopizamelodia, has recently arrived in our area in substantial numbers, after wintering further south, especially along the coast as far away as Florida.  The male establishes a territory with his song, which to us sounds sweet and melodious, but to other male Song sparrows this song is challenging and threatening.  Unlike most of the other passerines, like warblers, the female Song sparrow also sings before nesting begins.  Some birders claim that the song of the male has a richer, (more threatening?) quality, but with my electronically assisted hearing I can’t vouch for that.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

 

The Tree Sparrow, Spizellaarborea, has been here all winter, and will leave shortly for its breeding ground way up north near the tundra. It’s a pretty quiet bird here, but can be noted by its bicolored beak (upper dark; lower light yellow), and virtually unstriped breast.

The Fox sparrow is the largest of our sparrows at about seven inches overall length.  It is unique to North America, and our version has a handsome rufous tail and its upper parts are also reddish (hence the name ‘fox’) with a gray wash.

The Fox sparrow is the largest of our sparrows at about seven inches overall length. It is unique to North America, and our version has a handsome rufous tail and its upper parts are also reddish (hence the name ‘fox’) with a gray wash.

The Fox Sparrow, Passerellailiaca, is considerably bigger than the other sparrows and is generally not very commonly seen around here, although we have had as many as six at one time under our feeders.  There are several distinct populations of Fox Sparrows in North America and we have the red version here on the East coast.  A vigorous ground feeder, the Fox Sparrow kicks energetically with both feet simultaneously and can uncover and stir up a good stretch of turf for that sized bird.  I’ve seen a lazy Mourning dove elbow out a Fox sparrow after the sparrow had uncovered a supply of bird seed.  The Fox sparrow winters in a range from Long Island down to the Gulf coast, but its breeding area ranges from Northern New Brunswick up to Alaska.  The Fox sparrow apparently has a very nice song, described by Sibley as the “…richest and most melodious of all sparrows…”, but unfortunately it only sings at its nesting grounds.  Fox sparrows apparently do come through the Quoddy region in the fall, but they must ignore our welcome feeders because I have never noticed them.

Comments

  1. I’m noticing increasing numbers of sparrows here in southern Maine, too, including the first Savannah and Swamp Sparrows. Last Saturday, a sweet, unfamliar-to-me song caught my attention and led me to its source – one of a dozen Fox Sparrows gathered together at a spot along a river here in Kennebunkport. Though most Fox Sparrows may wait to sing until they reach their breeding grounds, I’ve noticed more than one singing quite emphatically in recent days.