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.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

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 in the garden. 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 in Mid-Michigan. 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".

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