When the temperatures begin to drop and the woodlands don their multi-colored cloak of yellow, orange, and red, I find myself eagerly awaiting arrival of those birds that make the long trek from the north to winter in my backyard. Yesterday my wait for the first of these special visitors to arrive ended. The first bird to show up this year proved to be a white-throated sparrow.
Although I was not lucky enough to see it, I heard its clear, unmistakable call. As far as I am concerned, it is arguably the sweetest bird song we Georgians are likely to hear each winter. Some are convinced this sparrow seems to be saying, “Pure sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” However, may others believe it is repeating the phrase, “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”
Now that I know white-throated sparrows are here, I hope I will soon catch a glimpse of this distinguished member of the sparrow family. The white-throated sparrow is a cinch to indentify. Like many sparrows it displays a gray breast as well as black and white stripes down the length of its head. Likewise, the feathers on its wings, back, and tail colored varying shades of brown. There are, however, a few field marks that set it apart from its kin. Adult white-throated sparrows also have snow-white throats. In addition, bright yellow patches adorn the birds’ lores (the areas located just in front of the eye).
During the time I host these birds, they spend most of the day on the ground beneath the thick shrubs that border two sides of my yard. Here they scratch away leaves looking for something to eat.
When they venture out into my yard, they prefer to feed on the ground. The birds are especially fond of white millet, which I scatter on the ground. They will also dine on canary and sunflower seeds, cornbread, and suet.
Banding studies have found that once whitethroats winter in a yard, they are apt to return to the same location the following year. In fact, some white-throated sparrows have been known to return the same backyard up to six years in a row.
I hope that you will be lucky enough to have white-throated sparrows winter in your backyard this winter. If they find your yard to their liking, you will soon learn why I think they are so special.