All three species were still in my yard Saturday morning when I woke up, and I saw them later again around dinner time. (This was, incidentally, my last junco sighting of the spring; it was gone the following day, and I didn’t see any others on the trails.) The Chipping Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrow were busy feeding, so I opened my back door a crack and took some photos.
Although Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrows are all sparrows, each belongs to a different branch of the sparrow family tree. Juncos belong to the genus Junco, while White-crowned Sparrows belong to the genus Zonotrichia. Chipping Sparrows belong to the genus Spizella, which contains some of the smaller sparrow species. Adult Chipping Sparrows are rather plain in appearance, except for the bright rufous cap, white eyebrow (supercilium) and black eye-line. They appear in my neighbourhood at the end of April, when it seems there is one singing in every spruce tree on every corner. Chipping Sparrows like to perch in high, conspicuous places such as the tops of spruce trees or peaked rooftops when they sing, and their song is a fast, dry, trill that sounds like a tiny sewing machine. They give a single sweet, musical chip note to maintain contact with other members of its flock or family group.
Sparrows belonging to the genus Zonotrichia are generally larger and chunkier. The White-crowned Sparrow is also plain in appearance, although adults have dapper black and white striped heads. The slender white arc beneath the eye gives them a gentle appearance.
This bird hung out in my Arrowwood Viburnum bush for a few minutes before hopping onto the ground to feed on the fallen seed. Note that the streaking of its back does not extend to its rump, which is plain brown.
Unlike its close relative, the White-throated Sparrow, the White-crowned Sparrow prefers open brushy or weedy habitats rather than forest interiors. They are usually only found in Ottawa during migration, passing through during the first half of May in the spring, and from late September through mid-October in the fall. I usually see them in edge habitat where brushy shrubs meet open fields.
The White-crowned Sparrow did not show up in my yard again on Sunday, but I found others in my subdivision yesterday and today. I brought my camera to work with me today, and observed a White-crowned Sparrow perching in the tangles of a vine-covered fence in the bright morning sunshine:
By the time these sparrows show up – either in the spring or the fall – migration is well under way, and their presence seems to coincide with the transition from the water birds and cold-tolerant songbirds to the less hardy insectivores. I am always happy to see the White-crowned Sparrows during migration, as it is the only sparrow species (other than the Fox Sparrow) that is not a summer or winter resident in Ottawa, and thus is only present for a short time.