For the love of Sparrows

There are so many birds that come to our feeders. The visitors come and go during migration and then there are the ‘old standards’ that stay with us year round. They know our habits just like the squirrels do. Every day we put out the food and water and wait for them to come just to know they are alright.

One of the issues that I have is identifying the sparrows. While the majority that remain are Old World House Sparrows just like this young man enjoying playing in the water today, there are other varieties and I want to learn about and appreciate them, too.

I love Sparrows.

This male House Sparrow had such fun playing in the water.

Did you know that House Sparrows were introduced into New York City in the 1850s to help with insect control? They didn’t help much because they are vegetarian preferring seeds and fruit. Today, most of the bird books indicate that they do feed on insects now. Birds adapt. House sparrows are not related to the other sparrows but, rather, originated in Eurasia and are a member of the Weaver Finch family of birds. In my province, they are abundant year round and we certainly love it when they are flitting about between the deck and the lilacs.

Not so common in my garden is the Harris’s Sparrow. This is an immature Harris’s Sparrow below. This one is just getting started on his black crown. Notice the pink beak and those lovely pink legs. He has a bib which also helps to identify him.

I am really grateful for one of our e-Bird ‘birding giants’ in my community for confirming the identity. The Harris’s Sparrow is not in Manitoba Birds. These sparrows migrate to their breeding grounds in the far reaches of Canada’s boreal forests near Hudson’s Bay and in Nunavat through Manitoba. They are arriving in Winnipeg now to begin their long journey to Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (straight south of Winnipeg).

You have a long way to go little fella. Happy to help you fatten up for your journey.

Then there was this little cutie. If you look carefully you can see the spot of yellow between the beak and the eye. These are called lores. There is a white throat with a striped crown. The rusty underparts are just coming; there are no stripes on the light breast. The bill is grey. This is a White-throated Sparrow. It is known for its beautiful songs in the early morning. These lovely little sparrows visit from April to October. Their winter homes range from a line running through Kansas to Pennsylvania down to the very southern tip of New Mexico, Texas and across to Florida (and all parts within those borders).

Some were scratching in the grasses looking for invertebrates.

Others were taking baths.

You will notice that our grass is long and we are leaving all of the leaves. We not want to disturb the butterfly larvae, microbes, and worms. Leaf litter is where many of our butterflies and moths overwinter. It is a good excuse to put away the mower and the rake and those dreaded leaf blowers – which should never have been invented.

Oh, they are all so sweet. Each of them has been feeding on a variety of seeds that included insects and berries. Most of all they loved the water today. If you are reading this and live in a place where birds are migrating, please leave out shallow dishes of water for bathing and other dishes of water for drinking. Water is so important to them on their journeys. They can easily get dehydrated.

One of the favourite dishes for baths, other than the bird bath, is actually a shallow dish meant to go under a planter. You can see that it is not very deep. The depth is, however, perfect as the birds are not afraid of being drown.

If you don’t have dishes, check at your local secondhand or charity shop. They tend to carry lots of ceramic dishes that would be perfect for the birds at exceedingly reasonable prices.

The Dark Eyed Juncos are here, too. The numbers arriving on the deck are growing each day. I hope to get some images of the Juncos in the dill tomorrow. My goodness they seem to love the stuff! or maybe there are insects in there that I cannot see.

Juncos will not normally eat from the feeders. They prefer to scratch the ground for invertebrates, dig in my outdoor carpet for fallen seeds, or help the sparrows make a mess with the fruit, bug, and nut seeds that are left in bowls. Those that breed in Manitoba during the summer are the ‘Slate’ coloured Juncos. They winter throughout the US midwest to the southern most parts of Texas across the Gulf and up to Georgia. They seem to not winter in Florida according to Peterson’s guides. I wonder why?

They are certainly easily recognized and they come through in huge groups. We know that spring has arrived when the Juncos appear and that fall is definitely here when they leave. Something to look forward to again next April will be their return.

All of the usual suspects were here today. Mr Blue Jay would like it if more dry corn cobs appeared on the deck but, he did seem satisfied with his peanuts in the shell. Little Woodpecker has a new cylindrical suet and he and she are happy. The easiest to please these days are the Black-capped Chickadees and the squirrels. They seem to be willing to eat almost anything – the squirrels that is. It is doesn’t matter what species they are, each day they bring so much joy.

Thank you so much for joining me as I share some of the visitors to the garden with you today. Take care everyone. Stay safe!

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