A Snowy Day in January

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Today is the last day of my vacation – and it snowed all day. I really wanted to find more birds to add to my year list, but I wasn’t sure how bad the roads would be and didn’t want to take a chance driving. Instead I stayed home, worked on my blog, and watched the birds through the window. As the snow was quite heavy at times, I didn’t think I would see a lot of birds; however, the weather seemed to have the opposite effect, for not only did I see a record-high number of species in one day (at least for the winter), I also got a new yard bird!

Activity started early in the morning, with three Dark-eyed Juncos and a single chickadee visiting the feeder out back. The large flock of starlings returned, with four out back and the rest perching in the tall tree across the street. A Blue Jay landed briefly in the same tree, a distance apart from the starlings, then flew off toward my backyard a few minutes later. Although two others were perching in a tree several yards away, none came to my feeder. Usually I don’t see any Blue Jays around in the winter, as the ones that come regularly for peanuts in the fall usually suddenly disappear toward the end of each November – I suspect they may migrate south.

The activity picked up around 11:30. A Blue Jay began calling in the tree in my front yard, but when I went to check to see if the hawk was back, all I saw were the starlings….and a robin in the tree across the street. While I was watching, the starlings started coming over to the tree right outside my front window, eating the snow piling up on the branches. To my surprise, four robins flew in with them, including this one which landed on top of an old snow-covered nest. When they flew off five minutes later, a fifth flew off with them. Robins are also very uncommon in the neighbourhood in the winter, even though there are several ornamental berry-producing trees around.

American Robin

American Robin

In the backyard, four Dark-eyed Juncos and a House Sparrow were feeding on the seeds beneath the feeder. Another sparrow sitting in my Viburnum shrub didn’t look quite right for House Sparrow; when I got my binoculars I nearly dropped them when I identified it as an American Tree Sparrow – a bird I’ve never seen in my yard before! Unfortunately one of juncos flew into the shrub and squabbled with it, causing it to fly into the yard behind mine. That’s when I realized there were three American Tree Sparrows sitting in the neighbour’s shrub. I watched them for a few minutes to see if they would return to my yard, and they did – one even landed on the feeder! I rushed downstairs with my camera to take some pictures; they didn’t turn out too great as I was shooting through the glass.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Eventually they flew off and landed in the neighbour’s tree again; I was hoping they would come back but I haven’t seen them since. Two crows and a pigeon flying over the yard were the eighth and ninth species of the day (as an added bonus, the pigeon was a year bird). I think this must be a record, as usually my yard sees very little activity in the winter – the only birds that I see in my yard are the few juncos that overwinter here, and the occasional chickadees, cardinals, House Sparrows, crows and goldfinches. Our subdivision is fairly open, with some mature trees but no real canopy to attract other typical feeder birds such as woodpeckers or nuthatches. I’m more likely to hear Snow Buntings flying over to the farmland just south of the subdivision than I am to see any woodland birds!

The American Tree Sparrow is the sixth member of the sparrow family to visit my yard. Chipping Sparrows are regular visitors in the summer, and Dark-eyed Juncos are regular visitors during migration and (for the past three years) during the winter. Song Sparrows show up frequently in the yard during the breeding season, but are most often heard singing somewhere beyond my yard. White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows very rarely show up in my yard, though I watch for them each spring once I know they are back. The only other sparrow that is known to show up at backyard feeders not on my yard list is the Fox Sparrow, and a visit seems unlikely given its preference for yards with dense thickets and tall trees for cover.

The American Tree Sparrow is also the 57th species I’ve seen or heard from my yard. Unfortunately, many birds on my list have only been observed once and are not likely to show up again any time soon given the habitat. This includes the Northern Shrike I found in the tree across the street one day (especially now that the cornfield south of my street has been converted to more houses), the Northern Flicker in the neighbour’s tree, and the Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler all seen in my front tree during migration. Unlike those one-time visits, I think I have a decent chance of seeing an American Tree Sparrow in my yard again in the future – they don’t overwinter very far from here, and pass through in good numbers during migration. I really hope to see them again soon, as their visit really brightened up this snowy January day.

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