We’re passionate about birds and nature. That’s why we opened a Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in our community.
Vintage Oaks at Novato,
104 Vintage Way, Suite A-7
Novato, CA 94945
Phone: (415) 893-0500
Fax: (415) 893-0511
Email: Send Message
Mon - Sat: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Located between Macy's Furniture/BevMo and Pier 1.
White-crowned Sparrow with mealworm – Local photo by S. Hunt
The single most prominent event in a yearly go-round of birdfeeding is the arrival of our winter sparrows – an arrival that is ongoing as you read this. No other migratory birds are so abundant and so easily attracted to feeding stations. The most common are the two crowned sparrows, the white-crowned sparrow and the golden-crowned sparrow, who typically first appear in backyards around the middle of September and then increase through October. These two birds are also the most prominent singers of early fall, when most resident birds have fallen silent – listen to their songs below and then listen on a fall walk around the neighborhood.
Joining the crowned sparrows are a number of other, less abundant species such as the fox, white-throated, and Lincoln's sparrows. While all of these birds eat seeds such as sunflower and white millet, they are most comfortable feeding on the ground or on a broad platform feeder. (If you have a WBU tube feeder, you can easily attach a tray to make it more sparrow-friendly – or let them clean up whatever scraps fall beneath your feeder.) Sparrows will also eat suet, Bark Butter, or mealworms if they can reach them.
Identification: Adults are easily recognizable due to their bright white and black crowns, as shown above. Immature birds have brown and tan striped heads, rather than the vivid black and whites. You will see them in your yard – don't be fooled, they're white-crowns too! Their orangish bills are another quick marker for white-crowns of any age; golden-crowns and white-throats have darker, grayish bills.
|First winter White-crowned Sparrows (born this year) have brown and tan stripes on their head.||Songs vary in their details, but you can get the idea – typically one clear whistle followed by a brief but musical jumble.
Identification: The breeding plumage (shown here) is mainly what they look like in Alaska, although you may see some birds with this sharp yellow crown and bold black eyebrow on the borders of winter, when they first arrive in September and then again in March and April before their departure. For most of the winter though, golden-crowns sport only a dully golden cap and lack the thick black eyebrow. Still, even a dull golden crown identifies them pretty easily. Golden-crowned sparrows have no vivid head stripes or breast streaks to speak of.
Identification: Fox sparrows are large (our largest sparrow, in fact) and dark overall, with heavily streaked breasts. Unlike the bird in the video below, our local "sooty" fox sparrows are dark brown all over except for their breast, which is white with dark brown streaks. They are the "most common of the less common" winter sparrows; while not ubiquitous like the white-crowns and golden-crowns, a good number of yards will see a few over the course of winter, particularly yards with more sheltering brush to hide under.
Identification: White-throated sparrows have a conspicuous white throat and a yellow spot in front of their eyes. The head has either black and white stripes (pictured) or tan and brown stripes. White-throated sparrows are the least common of these four species and many yards won't see any – at least not with merely casual observation. If you regularly supply accessible seed and keep a sharp lookout though, your odds improve dramatically.
Want to read more pages like this? Visit our Bird of the Month Archive.