Tag Archive | sparrows in calgary

Backyard Birds: White-crowned Sparrows

It’s a sure sign of spring in my yard when I see the White-crowned Sparrows are back.

A fairly large sparrow at 5 1/2-7″ (14-17 cm), White-crowns don’t fit the miscellaneous sparrow category of LBJ’s – little brown jobs – that are hard to distinguish from one another. These dapper little sparrows are always in bright white and black, and easy to identify.

The white crown has two black stripes, they have a black eye line (a line going to the back of the head from the eye), and a yellow-orange bill. They have white streaking on a brown back and wings, and their underparts are pale grey. Males and females look alike.

Small flocks of White-crowned sparrows pass through Calgary in late April to May, and then again in Sept-Oct. Their spring visits to our city are just a stopover for their trip to their breeding habitat in the northern boreal forest. They prefer open environments with shrubby meadows, alpine and willow shrubs, and build cup nests in shrubs or small conifers.

These sparrows are tireless singers, and are known to even sing under the light of a full moon.

Sparrows forage on the ground, usually in fairly open areas, and fly up into a small tree or hedge when flushed. We have a dedicated bird area at the back of our yard, and spillage from the hanging bird feeders provides an excellent sparrow feeding ground. Like other sparrows, the hyperactive White-crowns make quick jumping back and forth movements, scratching the ground to expose insects and seeds.

If you have White-crowned Sparrows in your yard right now, enjoy them while you can. They won’t be here for long, and then we’ll have to wait for their re-appearance in the fall.

By the way, the bird singing in the video background is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which I’m still attempting to capture with my camera.

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Backyard Birds: American Tree Sparrow

At this time of year, American Tree Sparrows are moving through the Calgary area on their way north.  They like to frequent brushy thickets and back yards across the city.  I’ve had a pair in my yard since April 2, and I’ve seen them in many other parts of the city in the past week.  These sparrows can also be seen in Calgary on their southward migration in the fall, with some of them occasionally overwintering. 

American Tree Sparrows have a brownish-red cap and eyeline, and a dark spot in the centre of the breast.  Despite its name (which was bestowed due to its resemblance to the European Tree Sparrow), these birds forage and nest on the ground.  Their nesting areas lie north of the treeline. 

 They seek shelter in thick bushes…

Like many of our native sparrows, they prefer to feed on the ground…

American Tree Sparrows are a beautiful little bird with a beautiful song: one or two clear notes followed by a sweet, rapid warble.  Just this week, I heard that song in my yard for the first time. 

So don’t just assume that all of those little brown birds in your yard are House Sparrows and House Finches; if you look carefully, you might find that one of them is actually an American Tree Sparrow.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre