About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When is frost free day for mid-Michigan?

Officially frost free day for the Lansing area is May 15th. However when I see the White-crowned and White-throated sparrows around I go ahead and start planting. If you've never noticed these birds don't feel bad, they are only in our area for a couple weeks in the spring and a couple weeks in the fall. The White-crown breeds in the far north, in alpine environments and the White-throated breeds in northern Michigan and the Upper Penninsula as well as farther north.

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Both are medium sized sparrows with brown streaked upper parts, plain gray underparts, and black-and-white striped heads. The White-throated has a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill.

White-throated Sparrows like to scratch on the ground with a series of quick kicks when they feed and remind me of chickens. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows. The oldest male birds are the ones that sing the most. They are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. Through the analysis of bird banding records, the average life span of a White-crowned Sparrow is thought to be around 16 months while the longest known lifespan was just over 13 years. While migrating north in the spring, their average travel distance is about 70 miles per day.

You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" and the White-crowned sparrow says "poor-wet-wetter-chee-zee".


Anonymous said...

I live in Port Huron. Last summer I observed two or three visits of what I identified as a white crowned sparrow, although my field guide said that it was a bird of the west and would be rare in the east. Today, I had another such visitor which I could very clearly see was indeed a white crowned sparrow and not the white throat...having no white throat or yellow near the eye. It, too, was scratching at the ground and scampered across the lawn before disappearing from view. I hope to get a good photo of it yet.

Anonymous said...

Bunches of these active little pleasant sounding in Gaylord, Michigan. They love the millet and sunflower mix. Not too timid.

Anonymous said...

I live in Macomb, Michigan and I have what I believe is a white crowned sparrow just like the picture.

Kim Mi said...

I saw two of these today. :)

Anonymous said...

Two in my yard today--Southfield Michigan

Anonymous said...

I had two or three white-crowned sparrows at the ground below my feeders this evening in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

Anonymous said...

The white crowned sparrows have arrived in Wales MI this morning. Eating from the sunflower oiler seed feeder. Happy to see them arrive, especially since there allegedly not in this area! Guess no one told them..... Lol

Anonymous said...

Two white crowned sparrows showed up today. They ate a little from the suet cakes sang us a song and moved on. It was nice to see them here in Mt. Morris MI

Pat H said...

The white crowned.sparrows arrived in Lexington, MI this weekend. Took some nice pics in a thicket by a hummingbird, and returns to hopping on ground by feeder.Pat H.

Anonymous said...

In all my long years in Michigan, I never recall seeing a sparrow with a white stripe on its head. But I spotted here in Ann Arbor yesterday morning near my bird feeder. I had go online to find out what kind of sparrow it was. So beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I have a crew of these birds at my feeder....first time I have seen. I also looked up & discovered they were birds of the west. I wonder if the wildfires & droughts are making them move east. Michigan was once thought of as the "west." I noticed less white-breasted nuthatch this year & the Audubon site have named them as "climate endangered."