Sparrows in the rain

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A posse of Tree Sparrows spent some time cracking millet seeds yesterday in the rain.

It rained much of the day. Then a line of thunderstorms passed through in the middle of the night, with rolling thunder that boomed so loud it shook the house. Torrential rain washed away most of the snow, the streams are overflowing, and it’s 55 degrees… making us think it is mud-season spring already.

Wintry mix

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Ice pellets on window glass and birds chirping were this morning’s first noises.

Many birds are taking turns at the feeders, after our first measurable snowfall with a crusty top of sleet and freezing rain.

Juncos, goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, mourning doves, and even a bluebird are stuffing themselves with seed and suet.

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But I decided to take a closeup look with my camera at just one bird, a Tree Sparrow.

Tree Sparrows are winter visitors. They have come south to us.

In summer, American Tree Sparrows breed near the northern treeline, where straggling thickets of alder, willow, birch, and spruce give way to open tundra. Though some American Tree Sparrows nest in open tundra, most territories include at least a few small trees that the males can sing from, along with a source of water.

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Three Tree Sparrows in a rain shower, Ohara Koson.

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Nice colors, those sparrowy browns and grays, with some feathers edged in white. Winter landscape bird.

Song and other sparrows

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Song Sparrow a couple of days ago, during yet another snow event.

There are many song sparrows now, occasionally at the feeders but mostly scuffling around on the ground. As I post this at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I can hear them singing… quite loudly.

We are hitting that time of year when it’s impossible to sleep through the dawn chorus. Not that I would want to!

All About Birds: Song Sparrow Songs and Calls

song and tree sparrows

Song Sparrow and Tree Sparrow.

The tree sparrows, daily winter visitors, will be leaving soon to fly north. Adios, amigos.

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One by one I am learning my sparrows.

GBBC: What’s that sparrow?

This is cool…

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Discovered via Prairie Birder: BirdFaces!

More BirdFaces on Facebook.

Tempted to buy one of these BirdFace coffee mugs for my bird-friendly coffee. Birds are a good way to start the day.

Bird watching a(nother) snowstorm

White-throated Sparrow close up

One White-throated Sparrow.

More big snow yesterday. What else was there to do but watch birds?

Anyway, it was one of my two counting days per week for Project Feederwatch.

FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

White-breasted Nuthatch

One White-breasted Nuthatch.

I bet there are two that visit our feeders, I just didn’t see them at the same time on Sunday or Monday.

Mourning Dove

Subtly beautiful colors, a Mourning Dove.

I like their calmness, as the other birds flit and flap. The most I saw at once: 7.

Downy Woodpecker male

A male Downy Woodpecker, black and white with a little red cap.

In two days I counted 96 individual birds of 19 species. Three downies, one male and two females.

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Five Tufted Titmice in total, but with the definite impression I am missing some as they move so quickly. Although not quickly enough for the snow. This is the first time I noticed snow building up on some birds! What a February we are having. And today is only the 10th.

Purple Finch Valentine

A little birdie Valentine: Purple Finch.

The state bird of New Hampshire looks lovely in snow. I counted two males yesterday.

Starling

The pestiferous though kinda pretty European Starling.

At one point there were 9 in the birch trees watching the feeders, as I stood on the other side of the sliding glass door and watched them. They are spooked by people, still, but I bet they will learn fast to ignore us.

They seem to eat anything but especially like my homemade suet dough. So do the bluebirds – who are not afraid of me. I scared the starlings away a few times so the bluebirds could eat too. I may need to consider a special starling-excluding feeder if I get too many of them.

This week’s Project Feederwatch totals…

Mourning Dove 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 5
Black-capped Chickadee 10
Tufted Titmouse 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Eastern Bluebird 6
European Starling 9
American Tree Sparrow 12
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 13
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Purple Finch 2
Pine Siskin 1
American Goldfinch 5

Flickr album: February 9 snowstorm birds

Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow, with its rusty-red buzzcut hairdo.

Steve Grinley: Bird Feeders Help Birds Survive, and Breed Successfully

It has been a harsh winter here in New England and feeding birds can certainly help them survive. Birds that have stayed the winter or migrated from further north to feast on natural seeds and fruit in our area will be finding that the winter supply of natural food is being depleted. Our resident birds appreciate the added handout that feeders provide. In addition to the nourishment that bird seed and suet provide, the birds expend less energy and burn less fat, helping them to survive the cold. A number of birds that don’t normally stay the winter or that may be here accidentally and are not used to New England weather are particularly helped by seed and suet at feeders.

Sparrow: white millet

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One of our winter sparrows, the American Tree Sparrow, with a few pearly seeds of white proso millet on its beak.

I avoid seed mixes with too much millet in them. It is inexpensive and therefore often used as filler. But undoubtedly there are birds that like and even prefer millet, like tree sparrows. I have read that birds, especially in the East, prefer white millet to red.

It might be fun to try to grow some white proso millet next summer.

Proso is a warm-season grass and is well-adapted to the warm summer temperatures. It is, however, sensitive to frost and therefore usually is planted in June. Proso has a shallow root system, but because of its short growing season, the water requirements for Proso are less than for most other crops. Nice fodder crop or to add organic matter to enrich your soil. Plant to attract birds such as indigo buntings!

It is a pretty plant:

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And when ripe…

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Proso is well adapted to many soil and climatic conditions; it has a short growing season, and needs little water. The water requirement of proso is probably the lowest of any major cereal. It is an excellent crop for dryland and no-till farming. Proso millet is an annual grass whose plants reach an average height of 100 cm (4 feet).

All About Birds on white proso millet…

White millet is a favorite with ground-feeding birds including quails, native American sparrows, doves, towhees, juncos, and cardinals. Unfortunately it’s also a favorite with cowbirds and other blackbirds and House Sparrows, which are already subsidized by human activities and supported at unnaturally high population levels by current agricultural practices and habitat changes. When these species are present, it’s wisest to not use millet; virtually all the birds that like it are equally attracted to black oil sunflower.

Well, we don’t have house sparrows and I don’t mind the seasonal visits of blackbirds and a couple of cowbirds. Anyway, in winter my gardens are imaginary.

Tree sparrows don’t actually spend much time in trees

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Forget the name, American Tree Sparrows prefer the ground. Porch railings will do just fine too.

They forage on the ground, nest on the ground, and breed primarily in scrubby areas at or above the treeline.

They reminded European settlers of Eurasian Tree Sparrows, hence the name. They are winter visitors here and return to northern Canada in summer. We have been seeing one or two at once on most days and occasionally more.

American Tree Sparrows need to take in about 30 percent of their body weight in food and a similar percentage in water each day. A full day’s fasting is usually a death sentence. Their body temperature drops and they lose nearly a fifth of their weight in that short time.

Don’t worry, little birdies, we won’t let you down!

And what do tree sparrows like to eat? According to Project Feederwatch

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Feed the birds.