Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sparrows At Springbrook, Song, Fox, White Throated, and Swamp

 At Springbrook Nature Center's bird banding program today sparrows were prominent. These birds are easy to confuse, so here are pictures of the four we caught, so the differences can be seen.
 The Song Sparrow, above and to the left, nests at Springbrook and can be commonly seen.  It has a streaked breast with a central dark spot in the middle. 

It is mostly shades of brown with some black.

All sparrows have a short heavy beak for cracking seeds open.
This Fox Sparrow is the largest sparrow we see at Springbrook.  It is often mistaken for a thrush because of its reddish brown colors, its spotted breast, and its behavoir. But its short beak shows it is definately a sparrow.

Fox Sparrows are only seen during migration in the fall and spring at Springbrook, as they spend summers farther north, and winter in the warm southern areas. 
White Throated Sparrows are also seen only during migration times at Springbrook.  Their cheery song is always pleasant to hear in the woodlands as they feed before continuing their journey.

The yellow above the eye is a sure way to identify these sparrows.  The yellow at the back edge of the beak is left over from this birds "gape" this past summer as a baby bird. 

The "gape" color signals the adults to feed the baby birds, and will be gone by spring.
 To determine for sure that this bird was a baby this summer we look closely at the skull to see if the bone has completely formed.  This bird's skull was not completely "ossified" so we know that it is a "hatch year" bird.  By next spring its skull will be fully formed for its return journey north.
 This Swamp Sparrow has a buffy breast and rusty brown feathers on its tail, wing coverts (the feathers covering the ends of the long primary flight feathers) and head. 
Watch for all these sparrows over the next few weeks as they migrate south, and use this area as an important refueling station in the middle of their long migration journey.

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