Weekly Wings and Migration Madness are part of a seasonal series. To see past entries, click here!

Weekly Wings: White-throated Sparrow

When I first started birding, I was not, shall we say, particularly discerning. So thrilled to be out in Central Park and looking at NATURE through binoculars, I’d stare at almost anything with wings that stayed still for 15 seconds.

This usually ended up being your relatively common park birds: Lots of pigeons. Some robins. Blue jays. Sparrows.

Oh, sparrows.

Once, on what was probably my second guided bird walk ever, I was examining an especially charming house sparrow taking a dust bath when a fellow birder whispered, “Ok, come on, let’s go! It’s just a sparrow.”

It’s JUST a sparrow?! Boy oh boy, that stuck with me. I don’t think it was meant to be dismissive, and yes, house sparrows are everywhere, but to me, birding was (and still is) all about peeling back the ordinary layers of this city to reveal something new.

You’ve seen a million sparrows, sure, but have you ever watched one through binoculars? Taken the time to note their markings and properly identify them? There are 29 varieties to be found in New York City you know, and they’re all pretty great.

Which brings us to our Weekly Wings. These days, most birders I know appreciate birds of all kinds (I truly think my chiding colleague was a seasonal anomaly)—even sparrows. One of my favorites is the White-throated sparrow.

Unlike our last two featured species who have just arrived in New York City, the White-throated sparrow is about to depart, heading to the northern reaches of Canada for the summer season.

Here’s a great graphic that shows the pulse of migration in spring and fall:

The migration pattern of the white-throated sparrow.
Animation credit: Ebird.org (Click here for a larger version)

The White-throated sparrow is about six to seven inches long. Males are easy to recognize, with a white throat patch, black and white stripes on the head, and bright yellow blotches in front of the eye. Females are duller, without the yellow blotches.

As distinctive as its markings is the sparrow’s clear, slow song. The whistle is high-pitched, and often sounds like “Old Sam Pea-body Pea-body Pea-body.” Take a listen in this video—I bet it will sound familiar.

White-throated sparrows can be found throughout New York City—in parks and backyards, on sidewalks and feeders. They forage low in shrubby cover or on the ground, hopping and scratching with both feet, and are remarkably curious: they respond well to pishing and readily visit bird feeders for millet and black oil sunflower seeds.

Sadly, though the White-throated is one of our more common sparrow species, it is also one of the most frequent victims of window collisions, according to urban bird monitoring programs around the country.

Migration Madness: Bye-Bye, Boreal Birds?

Yellow-bellied flycatcher. Photo credit: Jerry Oldenettel via Creative Commons
Yellow-bellied flycatcher. Photo credit: Jerry Oldenettel via Creative Commons

A new study from the Wildlife Conservation Society finds that several iconic Adirondack birds are in trouble thanks to climate change and habitat destruction.

In her paper, “Dynamics of Boreal Birds at the Edge of Their Range in the Adirondack Park, NY,” author and WCS Adirondack Program Science Director Michale Glennon explores occupancy patterns over time for eight bird species in lowland boreal forest wetlands in the Adirondacks.

“When I incorporate data collected since 2011, I am seeing declines for all species except palm warbler, some modest but some of them more troubling,” Glennon said in a statement. “The number of boreal wetlands occupied by five species—rusty blackbird, gray jay, yellow-bellied flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, and black-backed woodpecker—has decreased by 15 percent or more since 2007.”

You can read more about Glennon’s study in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.