Backyard Brief: Little White King

The other day, my husband spotted another striking, first-time visitor to our house, a male white-crowned sparrow. One day in rain, the next in sunshine, he stuck to the grass to forage for fallen seed.

According to my slightly outdated North American birds guide, we’re in His Majesty’s winter range. Perhaps he has been dethroned and is migrating northward to a new seat of power. I wonder if he is related to the White King in my Alice novel. Look closely: This fancy little monarch even wears white eyeliner on his lower lids.

He must be French, or maybe Quebecois.

Backyard Brief: Sparrow Sparring

Fierce  feathered  flying  feeding  frenzy

Backyard Brief: Mystery Bird Unveiled

In my post last Monday about the wildlife in my backyard, I mentioned I was uncertain about the identity of one of the birds frequenting my feeders. As it turns out, it was neither a chipping sparrow nor a white-crowned sparrow, as I had conjectured. In fact, it wasn’t a sparrow at all–it was a female red-winged blackbird!

Using my bird guide books, I was able to sleuth it out and identify her. The books mentioned that female red-winged blackbirds are commonly mistaken for sparrows. Here’s what Mrs. Red-Winged Blackbird looks like in my backyard.

She’s the first of the 4 birds from top in the above group photo, followed by a mourning dove pair and a male house sparrow.

She was darker than I had remembered, with heavy brown streaking along breast and belly and a bright white eyebrow against that darkness. A buff or gray cheek and reddish shading on her throat also help to distinguish her. The beak is longer, narrower, and pointier than a sparrow’s, and the tail is longer and more fanned. There is also the distinctive tail bobbing behavior, and she is a larger bird.

Although of similar shape and behavior, her mate, in addition to being larger than his lady, looks rather different. . . .

Another male is hanging out with these two, but it is a duller black, almost brown, and without a prominent yellow wing stripe of maturity, so I think that’s a juvenile.

Mystery solved!

Backyard Brief, May 2016

The red-winged blackbirds have grown bold and frequent in their visits. I counted two males at once about the feeders this morning. I keep singing the Beatles–“Blackbird singing in the dead of night . . .”–and recalling Wallace Stevens’ poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” There is something magical about them. And that distinctive call; I hear it, grab the camera and go hunting.

Another visitor of late seems to be a female or juvenile chipping sparrow. She has a barred or striped breast, and the stripe over the top edge of her eye distinguishes her from the house sparrow riff-raff. Pig birds, I call them. Numerous and sloppy in their feasting. The chipper’s beak is too narrow to be a house finch female’s. I’ll try to snap a shot of it. It was something like this:

Chipping_Sparrow_s52-12-065_l_1

Image credit: Brian E. Small. Audubon.org

I had hoped the suet feeder would attract at least that one remaining woodpecker I keep hearing throttle in the woods across the street, or a white-breasted nuthatch, but so far, no luck. The starlings, usually in flocks, have started coming around for the suet, along with the red-winged blackbirds and the grackles. Even the robins have ventured upwards from the worm-rich yard. The flying pigs, of course, will go for it as well.

Resident mourning dove pairs, two of them: They sit in the grass or the flower bed beneath the dogwood, relaxing but with wary black eyes. They are relentless in seeking out leftovers.

The diminutive goldfinches are few, but their feeder is large. I keep hoping for a flock. Even one is a treat to me. Too bad I broke my CJ Wildlife mug with the American goldfinch and sunflower on it the other day. I’ll have to order more.

Patches of red come in the form of house finches and cardinals.

I spotted a dark-eyed junco a couple of times in early April.

Black-capped chickadees darted in and out in March, but I’ve seen none since. I did change the birdseed. Perhaps a return to the previous variety. . . .

Interestingly, no squirrels or chipmunks yet, though I’m sure the nocturnal rabbits are active.

Barn and tree swallows were snatching bugs low across the grass at the Silver Springs soccer field yesterday for my niece’s game. Canada geese flew overhead, and the red-winged blackbirds abound in the reeds beside the field.

So, let’s see, the spring tally for the backyard so far:

  1. red-winged blackbirds – 2
  2. chipping sparrow (?) – 1
  3. house sparrows – so many, they hardly count
  4. starlings – 5 or more
  5. grackles – 2
  6. American robin – up to 3
  7. mourning doves – 4
  8. goldfinches – 4
  9. house finches – 6 or more
  10. cardinals – a couple of pairs
  11. dark-eyed junco – 1
  12. black-capped chickadee – 1 or 2

That’s quite a few different species! Upwards of 50 individuals.

It brings a smile–and lots of droppings, but I’ve got it covered.

We planted a serviceberry tree (Amelanchier canadensis) at the dog’s grave on Saturday. The berries should pop out in summer. For now, after the drench of the past few days, some delicate white flower bunches, like little balls of popcorn, remain. The tree is about 8 feet tall. Autumn should bring red and gold foliage.

Forget-me-not seeds will nestle soon there, too. Rest in peace and beauty, bird dog.