Did you Know that your Yard may be an Important Rest Stop for Migrating Birds?
Every spring in Ottawa, there are two birds that I anticipate seeing, albeit for a brief time. They are not regulars to our urban backyard but due to the dropped seeds (from feeders) and a wild lawn in which they can forage, I get to enjoy their seasonal visits.
These two types of migrating birds are on their journey from the United States to woodlands and forested areas in Canada for the breeding season. For my husband and I, seeing them is a marker that spring is definitely here!
Having only started to learn bird identification in my forties, my first sighting of a Dark-eyed Junco was in our backyard. I saw it hopping around the ground with a few of its friends and wondered what species it was. It definitely had different markings than the friendly Chickadee I was so familiar with.
I was finally able to identify it and enjoyed learning these interesting facts:
• Despite never having noticed them myself, I learned Dark-eyed Juncos are “one of the most numerous small birds in North America.”
• Juncos have the nickname ‘snowbirds’ in the United States, as they are one of the most well known birds to winter in the U.S.
• Junco’s winter together in flocks of up to thirty birds that have a hierarchy that is based “in part by testosterone levels.”
The other bird that comes to our backyard at about the same time as the Junco is the White-throated Sparrow. I was introduced to this bird in my early forties on a cottage retreat when the retreat leader shared with us that her favourite bird call was the “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada” mnemonic song the White-throated Sparrow makes. Hearing it reminded her of being at the cottage, no matter where she was.
So imagine my surprise when I identified this sparrow in my backyard with its distinct yellow forehead-eye spot (or “yellow lores,” the technical term). Again it seemed to be passing through as we don’t spot it in our backyard during the rest of the breeding season.
Some interesting facts about this sparrow:
• The colour from the yellow lores is due to the sparrow’s diet – eating specific plants that have carotenoids that create this yellow colouring.
– It seems that the female White-throated Sparrows migrate further south than the males in winter.
• And considering my observations that the Sparrow and the Junco seem to arrive at the same time, I loved this fact: the White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco occasionally mate and produce hybrids! Love is definitely in the air in springtime!
• And speaking about sparrows in general – did you know that the House Sparrow (which overwinters in Canada) and can be easily spotted in urban settings is actually not related to our North American Sparrows. It’s considered an “Old World” Sparrow (as it originates from Europe) and is of the taxonomy family: Passeridae while our North American “New World” Sparrows are from the family: Passerellidae.
Both Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows nest and forage on the ground, making them particularly vulnerable to cats.
Keep the following in mind if you appreciate birds and want to see more in your backyard:
Urban resting spots are important for migrating birds, so any native plants that you add to your yard will be welcome – especially fruiting shrubs. Also, if you leave fallen leaves on the ground for the winter they provide habitat for overwintering insects. Then in the spring those insects provide nourishment for long-distance migrating birds. Tidy up your yard after migrating birds have passed through. Offering seeds is another option for springtime backyard bird sightings. To learn more about keeping birds safe at feeders, click here. Enjoy your bird watching!
— A guest blog by Katherine Forster
As an urban biophilic entrepreneur, Katherine Forster divides her time between promoting sustainable and ecological gardens to urban and suburban faith communities and sharing her joy of urban nature through her Wild. Here. online initiative. Read more about everyday nature connection at the Wild. Here. blog.