Golden-crowned Sparrow – June Bird of the Month – 2018

Golden-crowned Sparrow

(Zonotrichia atricapilla)

Photo by Mossy Kilcher
Photo by Michelle Michaud

General Information:  The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a common, large sparrow in the family Passerellidae, genus Zonotrichia. This genus consists of four species:  Golden-crowned, White-crowned, White-throated, and Harris’s Sparrows.  Both the Golden-crowned and White-crowned species are commonly found in the Homer area.

Range:  Birders in Homer are fortunate to have this species as a summer visitor since it is not wide-spread – restricted in its range.  Its breeding season range is limited to western Canada and Alaska.  Migration takes it as far south as Baja California, spending much of its time on the western coast in weedy or brushy areas.  A few birds will remain year-round in the Homer area – at lower elevations. 

The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a rare visitor to the Interior West U.S. and casual in the Eastern United States. 

Source: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Golden-crowned_Sparrow/maps-range

Bird Biology:

Characteristics: Breeding adults have a distinctive, yellow fore-crown, with black stripes on each  side of the crown.  Besides the distinctive yellow crown, other field marks include a bi-colored bill,  a gray-brown breast, with no spotting, and a pale brown rump. 

Immature Golden-crowned Sparrows are similar to immature White-crowned Sparrows.  One of the key distinguishing marks between the two immature sparrow species is the color of the bill.  The White-crowned Sparrow has a pinkish, orange bill while the Golden-crowned Sparrow has the bi-colored bill. 

Preferred Habitat: Low shrubs, dense vegetation. 

Breeding Season:  Pairs are monogamous during the breeding season. 

Nest: Golden-crowned Sparrow build a thick cup nest generally on the ground at the base of a small, dense shrub or in a bank with overhanging plants.  The nests are composed of small twigs, bark, ferns, dry grasses, and dead leaves.  They will line the nest with fine grasses, hair, and feathers.

Eggs and Incubation: Three-five eggs are typically laid.  The female incubates the eggs 11-13 days.  When hatched, the chicks are atricial (unable to eat on their own) and naked. 

Fledging: Both parents feed the young.  Chicks quickly grow their downy feathers and leave the nest within 9 days, and are able to fly short distances 4 days later, thereby becoming independent. 

Food Preferences:  The Golden-crowned Sparrow are omnivores – they eat both plants and animals.  More is known about their winter diet, than their summer diet.  In the winter they eat a variety of food types, including seeds (geranium, pigweed, starwort, dock, grasses, sumac, nightshade, knotweed), fruits (apples, grapes, elderberry, olive), grains (oats, wheat, barley, corn), buds, flowers, and plant sprouts.  They will also eat insects (ants, wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, terminates, and flies).  In the summer it is believed they eat insects, fruit, seeds, and spiders. 

Feeding Methodology:  The Golden-crowned Sparrows is a ground forager, preferring to feed close to cover, gleaning for seeds or scratching leaf litter to uncover morsels.  They often feed alone or in pairs. 

While they are less aggressive when feeding, they do defend breeding territories (approximately 2.5 acres in size).

Migration:  This bird’s entire population takes the same migration route each year – along the West Coast from its wintering grounds (anywhere northern Baja California to southern British Columbia, Canada) to its breeding grounds (in Alaska and Northwestern Canada) and back.  Spring migration is April and May, while fall migration begins in late August.

Wintering Golden-crowned Sparrows can usually be found in flocks with White-crowned Sparrows.  Both species winter in small numbers in the Homer area. 

Photo by Michelle Michaud

Vocalizations:

Song:  A series of high clear whistles with a mnemonic of “I see you” or  “Come see me” or even “Oh Pretty Bird”.  At least that is what I hear when they sing.  Try out a version that works for you.

Call:  A clear “Tew”.

Flight Call:  A high “seep”.

Threats:  Feral and outdoor domestic cats.  Other birds, such as corvids (Raven, crows, magpies, jays) will predate the eggs and chicks of a Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Fun Facts:

  • This species is also known as the “weary Willie” because it song sounds, to some, like “I’m so tired”.
  • Miners in the Yukon at the turn of the twentieth century referred to the Golden-crowned Sparrow as the “no gold here” bird, because its song resembled that phrase.

Conservation Status:  The global population is estimated at 4.0 million species.  The species is not on the U.S. State of the Birds Watch List nor Audubon Alaska’s Watch List.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Golden-crowned Sparrow as a species of Least Concern; its population trend increasing.  However, this species has had little study and it is not known how it responds to human influences.  The effects of climate change on this species is also not known.  With a restricted range, the bird may be vulnerable to habitat change.

Other Sparrow Species in Alaska: Common sparrow species found around the Homer area include: White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Lincoln’s Sparrow.  The White-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, and American Tree Sparrow are also occasionally found in our area.  The American Tree Sparrow is a common species elsewhere in Alaska, unfortunately outside of the Homer area. 

Sources of Information:

Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J.O. 1997.  Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd Edition. Princeton Field Guides.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  All About Birds – Golden-crowned Sparrow.  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Golden-crowned_Sparrow/overview  Downloaded on 6 April 2018. 

Dunne, Pete.  2006.  Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion:  Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds.  Houghton Mifflin Company. 

International Union for Conservation of Nature.  The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 06 April 2018.

Lucas DeCicco/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab

National Audubon Society.  Edited by Elphick, C., Dunning, Jr. J.B., and Sibley, D.A.  2001.  The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior.  2001.  Alfred A. Knopf Inc.   

Sibley, David Allen.  2003.  The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.  Andrew Stewart Publishing Inc. 

Todd, Frank S.  1994. 10,001 Titillating Tidbits of Avian Trivia. Ibis Publishing Company.

Warnock, N. 2017. The Alaska WatchList 2017. Audubon Alaska, Anchorage, AK 99501.

It’s A Great Day to Bird

 

 

Wilson’s Snipe – May Bird of the Month – 2018

Wilson’s Snipe

(Gallinago delicate)

Wilson’s Snipe at Anchor Point wetland (Photo by Michelle Michaud)
Photo by Robin Edwards

General Information:  The Wilson’s Snipe, a member of the Cholopacidae family, genus Gallinago, a common and widespread shorebird species, is not typically found along shorelines, but rather wetlands.  The Wilson’s Snipe has a global breeding population estimated at 2 million birds.

These birds are generally not seen, since they camouflage so well, until flushed when they explode into zigzag flight, uttering their flight call.

Wilson’s Snipe is named for the  ornithologist and author Alexander Wilson, who was born in Scotland in 1766, and later emigrated to America.   There are four other birds named for him: Wilson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Plover, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. 

Range: The Wilson’s Snipe can be found throughout North America, breeding in several northern Lower 48 states, and in Canada and Alaska.  The bird is a year-round resident of several western states, and parts of Alaska, including Kodiak Island. 

Source: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Snipe/maps-range

Bird Biology:

Characteristics: This secretive, stocky shorebird is dark brownish overall, with bold cream-colored stripes on its neck and head.  The stockiness is due to extra-large pectoral muscles. Snipe weigh in at 3.7 ounces (yes, about 1/3 of a pound), and are 10-11 inches in length. 

Snipes may form loose groups of up to 10, but are generally a solitary bird. 

Preferred Habitat:  Although a “shorebird”, these birds prefers moist habitat, such as wetlands (marshes, bogs, and willow/alder swamps) during the breeding season.  During migration and on the wintering grounds they prefer damp areas with vegetative cover, such as wet fields, marshes, and ditches. 

Wilson’s Snipe in a wetland (Photo by Michelle Michaud)

Breeding Season:  Breeding begins in mid-May, which is a great time to hear and, with luck, see a male Wilson’s Snipe performing his aerial display where they zigzag across the sky at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.   Listen for the distinctive winnowing display sound as you try to locate the bird high above.

Nesting: Wilson’s Snipe are ground nesters.  The female builds the nest – a shallow scrape in moist soil.  She weaves a lining of coarse grasses, building a nest up to 3 inches deep, and 7 inches across.  Once that is accomplished, she then adds finer grasses inside; and takes a few more grasses or sedges (sedges have edges) from the edge of the nest for placement in the nest.

Eggs and Incubation:  The female has full incubation responsibility, laying four eggs, which she incubated for 18-20 days.  Hatching is asynchronistic, meaning eggs hatch at different times.  Only one brood per season is common, and then re-nesting may occur.

Snipe chick (Photo by Nina Faust)

Fledging:  The young snipes are able to fly within 19-20 days of hatching.  Once the chicks fledge, the parents separate with the male taking and caring for the two oldest chicks, and the female the two youngest chicks.

Food Preferences:  The Wilson’s Snipe by probing for aquatic invertebrates – primarily insect larvae, but also crustaceans, earthworms, and mollusks.

Feeding Methodology:  Wilson’s Snipe stick their long beaks deep into the soil or shallow water as they probe for their food – sewing machine style.  They may occasionally use foot stomping or bouncing to locate – ‘scare up’ – prey.  Snipe are active feeders day and night, so your chances are good to see one if you look closely (they camouflage well).  The bill has a flexible tip allowing the bird to open it to grasp food while the base of the bill remains closed.  This allows them to ‘slurp up’ prey without removing their bills from the soil. 

Roosting:  They are often spotted standing on fence posts and in trees or dense vegetation. 

Photo by Michelle Michaud

Migration:  Wilson’s Snipe generally arrive in the Homer area in late April or early May.  They are readily identified by their spiraling flight display and the winnowing sounds that result from air moving through their tail feathers.

For those birds that migrate, spring migration is from late February through late May.  Fall migration is from mid-July to December. The snipe migrate mostly at night. 

In some parts of the U.S., Wilson’s Snipe are year-round residents – aren’t those birders lucky.  The bird winters in the United States, Central America, and as far south as Venezuela. 

Vocalizations:  Flight call is a harsh “scrape”.  The perch display song is a loud, repeating “TIKa” or “TUKa” sound.  And of course, the “hu-hu-hu-hu-hu” winnowing sound is made during flight display, when the air moves through the bird’s tail feathers. 

The Cornell Lab of Ornthology has gracious provided us with the call and flight display sounds of the Wilson’s Snipe.

Call

Flight Display

Threats:  Most states do allow hunting of snipe.  Hunters consider them a challenge with their explosive, surprising, flushing from their concealment.  Between 2006 and 2010, approximately 105,000 snipe were taken annually by U.S. and Canadian hunters.  This number is believed to be considerably lower than the number of snipe hunted for “sport” during the mid-twentieth century.

Other threats include loss of wetland habitat due to conversion and draining; and collisions with radio, TV, and cell towers, powerlines, buildings (glass), and vehicles. 

 Fun Facts: 

  • Have you noticed how far back on the head the snipe’s eyes are set? This allows the bird to see a potential predator sneaking up on a feeding snipe.  This bird almost literally has “eyes on the back of its head”. 
  • Snipe can reach flight speeds up to an estimated 60 miles per hour due to massive flight muscles, which gives the snipe its “stocky” look.
  • “Going Snipe hunting” is often considered a childhood prank.
  • Did you know the word “sniper” originated among British soldiers in India during the 1770s as they hunted for snipe?  While snipes are still hunted worldwide, their fast, erratic flight style makes them difficult targets.
  • Research on the winnowing sound generated by the snipe’s outermost tail feathers (retrices) reveals that it occurs at air speeds of approximately 25 miles per hour.

Conservation Status:   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have identified the Wilson’s Snipe as a species of Least Concern on their Red List of Threatened Species.  However, they also note that the population trend for the species is decreasing. Wilson’s Snipe do not appear on the Alaska Audubon’s Watchlist. 

Snipe Species in Alaska:  Occasionally the Common Snipe or Jack Snipe have been found in Alaska.  Such sightings are rare. 

Sources of Information:  

American Bird Conservancy.  Bird of the Week.  https://abcbirds.salsalabs.org/birdoftheweekwilsonssnipe/index.html?wvpId=2c437645-6800-11e7-a58d-1254aa67e287.  Downloaded on 15 April 2018.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birds.  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Snipe/id.  Downloaded on 15 March 2018. 

International Union for Conservation Nature.  The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 March 2018.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North America’s Birds 2016.  Species Assessment Summary and Watch List.  http://www.stateofthebirds.org/2016/resources/species-assessments/

O’Brien, M., Crossley, R., and Karlson, K.  2006.  The Shorebird Guide.  Houghton Mifflin Company. 

Sibley, David Allen.  2003.  The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.  Andrew Stewart Publishing Inc. 

Warnock, N. 2017. The Alaska WatchList 2017. Audubon Alaska, Anchorage, AK 99501.

Wil Hershberger//Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab

William W. H. Gunn//Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

 

Meet the Corvids – Part 2: Jays and Magpie

The second installment of our “Meet the Corvids” was published in the Homer News on Thursday, April 14, 2018.  For a complete copy of the online version of the article go to: http://homernews.com/local-news/2018-04-12/year-bird-meet-corvids-part-ii

Black-billed Magpie – Photo by Robin Edwards
Gray Jay – Photo by Michelle Michaud
Juvenile Black-billed Magpie – Photo by Ronda McGhee
Steller’s Jay – Photo by Michelle Michaud

It’s A Great Day to Bird

 

Meet the Corvids – Part 1: Common Raven and Northwestern Crow

This article is Part One of a two part serves on the different corvids found in the Homer Area. Part Two: Jays and Magpie will be featured in the Homer News in April.

For a link to the article in the Homer News go to: http://www.homernews.com/outdoor-features/2018-03-29/year-bird-meet-corvids-part-1-common-raven-and-northwestern-crow

Common Raven (background) and Northwestern Crow (foreground). Photo by Randy Weisser

2017 Christmas Bird Count

The Homer Christmas Bird Count, held on December 16, had 27 volunteers in the field in 11 teams to cover the traditions 15-mile diameter count circle centered in Mud Bay at the base of the Homer Spit. The weather cooperated quite nicely with temperature mostly above freezing and little wind. A total of 65 species were documented with 8,648 individual birds. Total numbers of several species were slightly lower in compassion to the last few years. The most abundant birds were Mallard (2,2251), followed by the Rock Sandpiper (1,250). Nine species only had one individual seen throughout the day.

Two species were new to the count: Costa’s Hummingbird and Black-backed Woodpecker. The hummingbird was seen approximately 5 miles out East End Road at a hummingbird feeder. The black-backed woodpecker was seen with an American three-toed woodpecker at the northern end of the Calvin and Coyle Nature Trail below Mariner Drive, approximately Mile 1 East Road. This woodpecker is normally found in interior Alaska and is generally rare along the coast. The Costa’s hummingbird, typically seen in southern California and Arizona, is well outside it’s normal range.

Species number and total numbers were generally within the normal range over the past several years. Numbers of wintering American Robins and Bohemian Waxwings continue to be relatively high with 121 and 254 individuals respectively. Counts for finches, including the Common Redpoll (328), Pine Siskin (1,011), Pine Grosbeak (316), were also relatively high in comparison to past years. However, the White-winged and Red Crossbills were totally absent from this year’s count.

Bald Eagle and Northwestern Crow numbers were slightly down this year in comparison to the last five years. The lack of available supplemental food at the Homer Transfer facility in recent years may have been a factor in this decline.”

A big thank you to all the many volunteers and to the staff at Islands and Ocean for letting us use their wonderful facility and helping us out also with logistics during the day. And to Dave Erikson for coordinating our Count here now for the last 41 years!

 

Diamond Creek State Recreation Site

Diamond Creek is a great place to checkout songbirds, both along the road and on the trails.  There is a trail that starts at the end of the road and winds its way down the bluff to the beach.  Another trail, developed for mountain bikes, follows much of the road.  On the beach check Cook Inlet for pelagic birds and shorebirds.

Road to trailhead
Parking area and Trailhead (trail to beach)
Upper portion of trail to the beach
View from side trail

Directions:

Take the gravel road, located just west of the turnoff to Diamond Ridge Road.  There is a parking area approximately 0.2 miles down the road, located on the left.  Park here if you wish to walk the road, although there are other parking areas farther along the road.  At the end of the road (approximately 0.8 miles) is parking and the trailhead for the Diamond Creek trail winding down the bluff to the beach.  Please use caution when walking this trail. 

Birds Observed or Heard along the road and trails at Diamond Creek SRS:

  • Mallard
  • Green-winged teal
  • Harlequin Duck
  • American Wigeon
  • Eurasian Wigeon
  • Greater Scaup
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Surf Scoter
  • Black Scoter
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Common Merganser
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Pacific Loon
  • Common Loon
  • Yellow-billed Loon
  • Pelagic Cormorant
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Merlin
  • Semi-palmated Plover
  • Surfbird
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Semi-palmated Sandpiper
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Mew Gull
  • Glaucous-winged Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Black-legged Kittiwake
  • Arctic Tern
  • Pigeon Gullimot
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Horned Puffin
  • Common Murre
  • Boreal Owl
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • American Dipper
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Common Raven
  • Northwestern Crow
  • Gray Jay
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Borean Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Varied Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Townsend’s Warbler
  • Goldenc-crowned Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Common Redpoll
  • Pine Siskin
  • White-winged Crossbill
  • Red Crossbill

 

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Eagle Lake and Jaeger Bog Birding Hotspots

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake is great birding for songbirds. Mew Gulls and a Pacific Loon pair nests at the lake. Several shorebird species also nest here: Yellowleg and Wilson’s Snipe.  The Jaeger Bog hosts a nesting pair of dark morph Parasitic Jaegers.  Both locations are great for songbirds. Merlins and Northern Harrier can occasionally be spotted here.

Directions:

Eagle Lake: Drive approximately 18-19 miles out East End Road. Turn left on Basargin Road (aka Circle Lake Road), drive approximately 2.7 miles to the Y in the road. Go right. Drive another (approximate) 1.1miles. There will be a pull off on the side of the road. Park here. Walk down (northeast) the road about 100 feet or so. There will be a small trail on the left hand side of the road. This trail leads to the lake. The lake is less than ¼ mile off the road. Boots are necessary as this trail as it can be very wet and muddy.

Trail to Eagle Lake from Basargin Road

Jaeger Bog: Drive approximately 18-19 miles out East End Road. Turn left on Basargin Road (aka Circle Lake Road), drive approximately 2.7 miles to the Y in the road. Go left. Drive 0.5 miles. There may be a closed gate. If so, park off the road and walk approximately 0.5 miles. There will be a large bog on the left hand side of the road. If the gate is open drive up the hill and down to a small pull-out at the bottom of the hill and on the right hand side of the road. Scope the bog on the left for Dark Morph Parasitic Jaegers that nest here annually. A variety of songbirds can be found here as well.

Be aware. This is bear and moose country.

Bird Species Observed or Heard at Eagle Lake

  • Pacific Loon
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Mallard
  • Eurasian Widgeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Pintail
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Red-necked Phalarope
  • Mew Gull
  • Glaucous-winged Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Black-legged Kittiwake
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Arctic Tern
  • Parasitic Jaeger
  • Bald Eagle
  • Merlin
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Common Raven
  • Black-blled Magpie
  • Gray Jay
  • Northwestern Crow
  • American-three-toed Woodpecker
  • Tree Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Varied Thrush
  • Gray-checked Thrush
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • White-winged Crossbill

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Jaeger Bog and surrounding area:

  • Parasitic Jaeger
  • Arctic Tern
  • Mew Gull
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Willow Ptarmigan
  • Northern Harrier
  • Bald Eagle
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush
  • Common Raven
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Common Redpoll

Check out ebird for the latest complete list of birds seen at this location:  http://ebird.org/ebird/ak/explore

It’s A Great Day to Bird

 

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