Tuesday, May 13, 2014

White-crowned Visitors

I recently wrote about White-throated Sparrows, who are winter residents here in NE Ohio.  They are joined by migrants from farther south in April into early May as all of them head north.  The White-throateds are also joined by their big cousins, the White-crowned Sparrows, in the first part of May.  White-crowned Sparrows are an unusual find in the winter, but they are expected migrants.  They’re not here for long, but I always love listening to them when they stop in our back yard for a few days.

Their songs start out rather similarly, but end with what sounds like a couple of buzzy notes rather than the clear, repeated pitches of the White-throated Sparrows.   White-crowneds also have a catchy, bouncy rhythmic pattern that helps identify their songs. I’ll compare them for you: first, a White-throated, then a White-crowned.  In our back yard in early May, we hear both of these songs together.

I haven’t heard the degree of variation in their songs that I’ve heard in the White-throated Sparrows, but White-crowned Sparrows aren’t here for long and I only hear their songs very briefly each year.  Perhaps over time I’ll get a more diverse collection of White-crowned songs I’ve heard - the ongoing process is something I always find quite engaging! Here are a couple I have so far, and both recordings are from my Cleveland Heights, OH back yard.

The first time I heard White-crowneds in the back yard, I didn’t know exactly who was singing.  My guess was White-crowned because the song was obviously related to the White-throated Sparrows I knew so well.  Back then, however, I was learning bird songs from CDs, not online.  This was a problem, as the White-crowned wasn’t on my CD of Eastern US bird songs,  These sparrows are a western bird, and I would have to get a CD of western bird songs for confirmation unless I actually saw one sing.  

Needless to say, I invested the money and got my audio confirmation.  

I was quite surprised when I visited Northern California in recent years and found that White-crowned Sparrows were singing up a storm in their coastal breeding territories.  At Point Reyes, they were running around the parking lot as if they were House Sparrows! (Point Reyes is the location of the picture below.)

Here in the city, however, our beautiful White-crowned visitors have to contend with all our urban noise and hazards during their brief stopovers.  This male made the trumpet vine and clematis vines on the fence by the driveway his personal stronghold for a couple of days.  Look at him, singing his heart out on the neighbors’ fence next to our driveway!

But recording him was quite a problem.  Listen to what this bird has to sing over:

That’s how it is for them when they're around humans, unfortunately.   He was on his way north, but our resident birds contend with this all the time. 

White-crowned Sparrows are still here for another few days, but the southerly winds we – and the birds – have been waiting for will help the last of them on their way across Lake Erie.  I’ll leave you with a final recording, which was made at Case Western Reserve University’s Squire Valleevue Farm on the eastern edge of Cuyahoga County.  

I hope you have a chance to hear these sparrows – and preferably without too much noise!

1 comment:

  1. The White-crown is one of my all-time favorite birds. I worked for a summer at Point Reyes and their songs greeted me daily. Here in Oregon they sound nothing like your recordings from Ohio. They begin with a long clear note but then descend, not ascend, into trills and buzzes. If I'd heard your recordings with no label I never would have guessed White-crown! I hear that even within the Pt Reyes National Seashore the songs vary tremendously. And here in Portland they are so adaptable that they nest in the landscape hedges of malls and supermarkets!