Saturday, April 4, 2009

In the backyard... Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned SparrowGolden-crowned Sparrow, Tualatin Hills Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon on 13 March 2009 by Greg Gillson.


For most of the fall and winter this large sparrow occurs in rather drab plumage. The first year birds show a diffuse yellow forehead and brownish crown. Winter adults aren't much brighter. But, then, beginning in March (as in the photo above), the birds develop the wide black lateral crown stripe with the golden yellow median for which this bird is named. The birds begin singing in spring, as they make their way north into the mountains. Their song is a three-note plaintive whistle in descending notes, weee peee peer, which some render quite appropriately as: "oh dear me."

In fall and winter, first year Golden-crowned Sparrows might be confused with first year White-crowned Sparrows. However, the White-crowned Sparrows have a more definite brown lateral crown stripe and pale center crown stripe. Also note that the upper mandible of the bill of Golden-crowned Sparrow is dark, while the bill of White-crowned Sparrow is yellow or pink.

Golden-crowned Sparrows breed in willow bogs and dwarf conifers at or above timberline in mountains from western Alaska and Yukon south to southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, rarely in the extreme northern Cascades of Washington state.

In winter, birds occur from coastal southeastern Alaska south, primarily west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas, in lesser numbers to northern Baja California. They are found in brush piles, blackberry tangles, and deciduous woodland edges, as well as in residential areas with similar dense brushy edges.

They are more widespread in migration, occurring in towns in the Great Basin deserts and mountain foothills to southeastern Idaho, though in much diminished numbers.

Their primary foods are seeds and plant material. The bird in the photo above is eating the new buds of Oregon Grape. They are attracted to backyard bird feeders from September to April.