The day began when I woke up to what sounded like chickadees singing under water. Even though I was anticipating the arrival of the White-throated Sparrows it was still a surprise to hear their song among our usual backyard glee club members. You’ll only hear this yodel-like song of White-throated Sparrows for a few weeks in the spring and fall as they pass through the Lansing area.
When I went downstairs for a cup of tea, it was just getting light. I glanced out the window and saw what looked like old dry leaves, rustling in the wind. As I focused the leaves came alive and I saw it was a mixed flock of sparrows including one Song Sparrow, one Junco, some House Sparrows, and many White-throated Sparrows scratching away under the bushes.
I opened the door to go refill the feeders and there was an explosion of startled birds, wings flapping, to the trees. They immediately settled and gradually fluttered back to the ground even as I was still filling the feeders. I think they gave me dirty looks trying to hurry me along out of their breakfast area. (Although I want to think the chickadee was saying “thank you” even though it sounded more like “new food here!”) The White-throated Sparrows immediately started feeding on the ground, flipping aside leaves with their bill and scratching away leaf litter with a series of quick kicks.
These white-throats may stay for a few weeks, however with winter looming, the day will come when the last one will leave for a more hospitable wintering grounds. I'm already missing them, just thinking about it. But today I enjoyed how the White-throated Sparrows welcomed dawns first light with their song and added a flurry of activity to the yard.
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)
• Individual White-throated Sparrows have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own. They all have distinct white throat feathers.
•White-throated Sparrows 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.
•A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.
•The white-throated and White-crowned sparrows only pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate north or south in the spring and fall.
•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"