Saturday, November 7, 2020

White-crowned Sparrows, eating aster seeds


A subadult White-crowned Sparrow feeds on the ripe seeds of White Panicled Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, in my backyard. Two of these robust, handsome sparrows have been hanging around for several days. While the immatures are not nearly as distinctive as the adults with their dashing ivory-white crown stripes, the youngsters have the classic White-crowned physique. This is a big chunk of a sparrow, as sparrows go. Using a familiar benchmark, the ubiquitous Song Sparrow, The White-crowned Sparrow is a third heavier, and an inch longer in length and wingspan. It has a characteristic big-bodied, small-headed appearance.

The other White-crowned Sparrow caught in the act of plucking aster seeds. White Panicled Aster is a very common native plant around here and throughout Ohio. It came into my yard as a volunteer, along with Tall Goldenrod, Wingstem, and some other native members of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). I would never consider "weeding" them out, for obvious reasons. While these White-crowned Sparrows do graze on spilled seed below the feeders, they seem to prefer ripe fruit fresh from the vine, as it were.

The other, more obvious pinkish-fruited plant is American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. It is native to the southeastern U.S. but makes it no further north than Tennessee. I am not such a purist that I would expel it, though. This shrubby member of the Vervain Family (Verbenaceae) forms a wondrously dense thicket often used for cover by the songbird crowd. Especially when the local Cooper's Hawks stage raids. While the fruit do not seem to be especially favored by birds, the copious flowers are unbelievably attractive to all manner of pollinating insects.

My little suburban Worthington (Ohio) yard is serving as a refueling waystation for these White-crowned Sparrows, and many other migrant birds. All the native plants play a big part in making the half-acre plot attractive to wildlife. Most of my neighbors help, too, as they maintain highly manicured yards comprised mostly of turf grass and exotic plants. Thus, my space is an oasis for birds and other critters.

White-crowned Sparrows breed across the Canadian tundra, as far north as the Arctic Ocean and throughout much of Alaska and south at high elevations in the western mountains. If "my" birds came from the nearest breeding locales, they have traveled over 800 miles on their inaugural southbound journey. Chance are good they came from further north than that, though. This species typically winters from the Great Lakes region south to the Gulf Coast, so they may travel much further yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely images.
Your blog and your books are incredible.
Just caught up on last few posts.
Callicarpa americana here
looks a lot like Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.

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