Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Sparrows Arriving to Fields and Feeders
September 24, 2011

By Steve Grinley

     Last week’s cold front that came down from Canada and the ensuing north and northwest winds have triggered the migration for hawks and passerines (songbirds). The hawk watchers at Mount Wachusett and Mount Watatic are reporting kettles of broad-wings hawks moving through, along with Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks. Turkey vultures and a few black vultures have been seen migrating. Of course we are still seeing the local turkey vultures riding the thermals and hunting the farms and fields. I often see them, as I look out the store windows, over the traffic circle.

     We have seen some warblers and vireos on Plum Island this past weekend. The Hellcat Swamp Trail was active, and we saw redstarts, black-throated blue, black-throated green, magnolia, parula, Nashville, and Canada warblers there on Sunday. Four red-eyed vireos and a Baltimore oriole were foraging in the trees along the same trail. The day before, we saw a brown creeper and a gray-cheeked thrush along the Pines Trail on the island.

     The sparrows are starting to move through our area. We found an uncommon, but handsome lark sparrow at the Maintenance Area on the refuge on Saturday. A few song sparrows and Savannah sparrows were feeding along the refuge road.

     We decided to go the Spencer Pierce Little Farm on Sunday and walk along the fields in search of pipits and sparrows. It as too early, apparently, for American pipits as we didn’t see or hear any, even though a couple of fields were plowed. Those birds should appear in the next several weeks. We did encounter a few bobolinks dressed in their yellow fall plumage.

     There were flocks of robins, especially around the fruit trees and in the berry bushes along the edges of the field. But more plentiful than the robins were Savannah sparrows. These birds were darting in and out of the rows of produce, many times disappearing under the vegetation and walking or running undetected. There were probably less than a hundred throughout the fields, so there numbers will grow to 200 or 300 or more in the next few weeks.

     Our best birding was along the tree line on northeast side, where we found more Savannah and a few song sparrows. Some warblers were flitting in the trees in the trees. I heard a dickcissel, but never saw it. We did spot a Lincoln’s sparrow low in the shrubs, but that was the only unusual sparrow we found. In a few weeks, white-crowned, white throated, chipping, field and swamp sparrows will be moving through.

     The chilly mornings give a feel of fall to the air, and the birds certainly feel the change. They are more active at the feeders once again. You can expect some of the aforementioned sparrows to be visiting your feeders in the weeks ahead. Sprinkle some white millet onto a tray or even on the ground to attract them. In addition to the ones I’ve mentioned, you might be lucky enough to have a visit from a fox sparrow, or the rarer clay-colored and Harris’ sparrows. Soon the more common juncos and tree sparrows will arrive and, likely, stay the winter.

     Most of us get plenty of house sparrows, but they are not true sparrows. They are weaver finches introduced to this country more than a century ago from Europe and Africa. They often dominate feeders, but sometimes that activity draws more uncommon birds to your feeders. Look carefully among them and you may spot an uncommon sparrow, or even a dickcissel. The latter looks a bit like a house sparrow, but it usually has a splash of yellow in the face, throat or chest. Finding new birds at your feeders is part of the joy of feeding birds and new birds are on these crisp fall days.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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