I was propped on pillows in bed writing yesterday’s blog post. My husband was in the backyard, bundled up and headed out to the back field and woods with the good old dog. Bang! Something hit the window.
“Bird strike!” I could hear him say.
I opened the window, leaned out, looked down and said, “Bring me the bird.”
He bought me the bird. I stepped out on the back deck to see.
I’m not good with sparrow ID, but later we figured out was a White-throated Sparrow… probably one of the less boldly marked ones, known as “tan-striped,”
… with a buff-on-brown face pattern instead of white-on-black.
“Will it be okay?” he asked.
I brought it inside to warm up, and because I didn’t have a coat on and it was very cold outside. It was panting a little.
Winter is a bad time for bird strikes at our house, probably because the leaves are off the trees and there is more light and more reflection from the low angle of the sun. We have decals on the big south-side windows where strikes happen, but I think the hawk that has been hanging around may be scaring some birds into the windows.
More on window collisions, how to prevent them, and how to help the stunned birds, from my own experience: Blackbird, fly. And from Cornell Lab of Ornithology…
How to Help a Window Collision Victim
If you find a bird dazed from a window hit, place it in a dark container with a lid such as a shoebox, and leave it somewhere warm and quiet, out of reach of pets and other predators. If the weather is extremely cold, you may need to take it inside. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it as much as possible. The darkness will calm the bird while it revives, which should occur within a few minutes, unless it is seriously injured. Release it outside as soon as it appears awake and alert. If the bird doesn’t recover in a couple of hours, you should take it to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator.
The bird seemed capable of reviving and I didn’t want it to revive in my hand and fly around the house so I put it in a sheltered sunny spot outside where I could keep an eye on it – the window feeder. I had to keep the cat out of the room.
Pretty little bird.
It puffed up its feathers to stay warm. Its eyes were open and it was moving a bit. Finally I went outside and picked it up. It flew out of my hand and into the woods.
My husband was back inside by then, in the kitchen. I went and reported: “The bird is okay! It flew off into the woods!”
“Awesome,” he said.
We looked at the pictures I had taken and identified the species together. We were bonding over birds.
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center: A Closer Look at an Ordinary Species
Although white-throated sparrows are indeed common, they should by no means be considered ordinary. These sparrows exhibit a characteristic that is rare in birds, they show genetically-based plumage polymorphism. In other words, these sparrows come in two different color forms, or morphs.
… an individual almost always pairs with another of the opposite color morph for breeding. And despite the fact that images of the white-striped morph are more frequently presented to illustrate the species, the two color morphs actually occur in relatively equal numbers in the population.
Most interesting is that behavior differs between color morphs, especially during the breeding season. Both male and female white-stripe birds are more aggressive than tan-stripe birds. In fact, white-striped females will even sing and contribute to territorial defense, whereas tan-striped females do not. In contrast, tan-striped birds of both sexes provide more care to their young than white-striped birds do.
…there is some evidence to suggest that females of both color morphs prefer the less aggressive, more faithful and parental tan-striped males, while males of both morphs prefer white-striped females. As is the case in many bird species, however, female choice dictates pair bonds. The more aggressive white-striped females appear to outcompete tan-striped females for access to the preferred tan-striped males, leaving tan-striped females to pair with white-striped males.
Regardless of how opposite morph pairs are formed, this mating style seems to equalize the aggressive and parental qualities of the different pair types. That is, the low aggression and high parental care of tan-striped females offsets the high aggression and low parental care of white-striped males. In pairs formed of tan-striped males and white-striped females, each seems to contribute equally to territory defense and parental care.
This morph-specific variation in behavior has drawn a great deal of attention from scientists investigating bird behavior. White-throated sparrows have been the focus of myriad ornithological studies of aggression, parental care, habitat selection, migration, mate choice, extra-pair mating, and polymorphism in birds. In addition, white-throateds have become a model species for studying the physiological mechanisms that control bird behavior. For example, recent studies suggest that behavioral differences between the color morphs are associated with morph-specific differences in hormone levels and brain anatomy.
Discoveries such as these provide new and fascinating insights into the factors that influence bird behavior, and spur further research. This common species has an uncommon amount to teach us.