Now that we are on the doorstep to winter, activity around our bird feeders is going to increase. In fact, during the winter our feeders will be visited by more birds than at any other time of the year. When this occurs, we are always on the lookout for a rare bird. Some rare visitors to our feeders, such as the yellow-headed blackbird, are easy to spot. However, others such as hybrids are much more difficult to identify. One such hybrid is a cross between a white-throated sparrow and a dark-eyed junco.
The white-throated sparrow winters throughout Georgia. On the other hand, the dark-eyed junco commonly winters across the entire state, with the exception of extreme southeast Georgia. However, in New England and Canada portions of their individual breeding ranges overlap.
For reasons that are not fully understood, these birds will occasionally interbreed and produce offspring. The resulting hybrids will display traits of both parents. Since the combinations of these plumage patterns vary widely from bird to bird, trying to figure out what you are looking at is often perplexing. For example, in the case of dark-eyed junco/white-throated sparrow hybrids, observers have reported birds with the wing pattern of a white-throated sparrow and the head pattern of a dark-eyed junco. Other birds look much like white-throated sparrows but sport the white outer tail feathers of dark-eyed junco.
In order to spot one of these hybrids, you must carefully study the flocks of sparrows that converge on your feeding area. With a little luck, you will spot any bird that just does not seem to to look right.
If you see a bird that is a potential hybrid, take lots of pictures of it and share them with others (please include me on this list). Sometimes it takes many people to reveal the true identify of a hybrid.
White-throated sparrow/dark-eyed junco crosses are more common than you might think. Such birds have been seen in many states such as Minnesota, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and even Georgia. Who knows? There is no reason why the next sighting of this fascinating bird may occur in your backyard.