White-throated Sparrow Dossier

by Carl Strang

The white-throated sparrow is a common migrant and uncommon wintering bird in DuPage County, but it nests well north of here, so my observations are limited accordingly. Most of these notes were made before I knew there are dusky-colored adults, so some of the observations of “immature” birds no doubt were adults.

Sparrow, White-throated

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

This is a common migrant, observed around Culver, Lafayette, south central Pennsylvania, and DuPage County, Illinois. They occur in flocks, and forage on the ground in woods or old fields with at least some low brush. Often they scratch through litter. Their whistled song has been rendered “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” The first two syllables are on the same higher pitch, the remaining ones on the same lower pitch.

6NO86. On dry leaf litter in dense brush in Willowbrook’s Back 40, one hopped along a straight course nearly upright, scanning the ground beneath and just ahead of it.

22AP87. First singing I have heard from this sparrow this spring.

27AP87. White-throated sparrows were foraging in the wooded riparian area at Willowbrook by kicking litter backwards with both feet while staying in place and looking down.

29AP87. Young sparrows were foraging up in shrubs and the lower branches of trees, making occasional “tseed” notes (high, thin, but fairly level in pitch). They used a probing-reaching-hopping foraging style.

1MY87. White-throateds are still abundant, adults using the in-place kicking technique on the ground. They also were hopping and looking (10-inch hops, pausing for 1-2 seconds). Two other adults on the ground and a youngster in the trees were probing, looking, hopping and walking among branches.

5MY87. Young birds were eating elm seeds (4 individuals doing so in the same treetop). They pulled seeds off with a sideways twist of the neck.

11MY87. There are still some white-throats around.

23SE87. First fall migrants in Willowbrook’s Back 40 riparian strip. Also observed SE25, 28, 30, and OC9, 11 (Pratts Wayne Woods), 13, 16.

4AP88. A number of white-throated sparrows have arrived in Willowbrook’s Back 40, but are only uttering high-pitched contact calls. A few were singing by 18AP.

13SE88. First fall appearance, Willowbrook Back 40.

21AP89. In the small park across from Newberry Library in Chicago, towhees, hermit thrushes and white-throated sparrows all were feeding out on the mowed lawn at noon like robins, the thrushes even with the run-and-pause.

2NO89. A few still at Willowbrook.

28AP99.  First white-throated sparrows of the season noted at Willowbrook. Also seen 5MY99 at McDowell Forest Preserve. Last seen this spring at Willowbrook 12MY, but only a few observed there this year.

13OC99. White-throated sparrows are much more abundant in fall than in spring at Willowbrook this year. One heard singing occasionally today.

26OC99. Willowbrook. White-throated sparrows are in the old field, brushy prairie area today (yesterday they were in the woods; today it is overcast, cold, calm; yesterday was clear, cool, breezy).

1NO99. At Willowbrook, sparrow eating dried gray dogwood berries.

18NO99. A sparrow eating Amur honeysuckle berries.

19JA00. Two white-throated sparrows at Willowbrook, on ground under dense brush, using the in-place kicking technique.

29-31AU01. Algonquin Park, Ontario. White-throated sparrows are in small groups, feeding on the ground and calling, once singing. Their behavior is the same as in migrants at Willowbrook, except that they are in smaller and very widely spread groups.

2FE04. Two at Waterfall Glen near Poverty Savanna, adult plumage.

24OC07. Fullersburg. I spshed out a sparrow that was giving the thin-ending call. It was a young white-throated sparrow, which immediately began emitting the “bink” call while turning in a rapid, jerking manner and turning its head quickly to look around. No other sparrows were calling in that area. (I have come to associate this “bink” contact call with young birds; certainly it is used much more often in the fall migration, seldom in the spring, when the thin whistled contact note predominates).

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Kirtland’s Warbler Tour

by Carl Strang

Last Thursday and Friday I drove into the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I had two goals, the first of which I’ll detail tomorrow. My secondary goal was to take the Kirtland’s warbler tour. This is a seasonal education opportunity offered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Michigan Audubon (nearly done for this year). The tours begin with a video introduction at the Ramada in Grayling, and then the guide leads participants in a car caravan to the tour site. We drove to an area where the current crop of jack pines was mainly 3-5 feet tall.

The pines are on a harvest rotation, with large areas clear-cut and replanted, so that there always are large areas covered with the small pines the warblers favor.

Kirtland’s warbler is a federally endangered species, but the population trend is upward and the range is expanding thanks to the intense management efforts. Now some are breeding in Wisconsin and Ontario as well as both peninsulas of Michigan. The rarity of the species draws birders to the area, and about 15 of us were on the Friday morning tour.

Allison, our guide, was knowledgeable, and there were plenty of competent birders in the group to assist with the spotting.

The area appears to be structurally and botanically fairly simple. The pines were dominant in the area, with scattered oaks and cherries the other large woody plants.

Jack pine has short needles and small, curved cones.

Between the pines were a few shrubs, mainly huckleberries or blueberries, as well as sweetfern, one of my favorites.

The wonderful odor of sweetfern leaves I associate with wild places. Sadly it does not occur in DuPage County, as it is a sandy soil species.

Among the herbaceous plants were scattered hairy puccoons.

This is another sandy soil plant.

The puccoons frequently threw off some of the more anxious birders whose search image was tuned to the color yellow. Kirtland’s warbler males were singing loudly at all times, but for a while they stayed out of sight. In the meantime we enjoyed a surprising diversity of birds for such a simple ecosystem: four sparrows (field, vesper, clay-colored, Lincoln’s), 3 warblers (Kirtland’s, Nashville, palm), nighthawk, upland sandpiper, brown thrasher, towhee, Brewer’s blackbird, and rose-breasted grosbeak were notable ones. Eventually a male Kirtland’s warbler perched and sang on an exposed branch.

This is an expanded view of the dot on my photo that represented the warbler. We had good spotting scope views.

The tour was highly satisfying. However, it did not allow me to further my primary goal, which was to find Roesel’s katydids in the Lower Peninsula. More on that tomorrow.

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