Sparrows Under Glass

It’s too cold. Too cold to let the dogs outside for more than a few minutes. Too cold to drive to town without preparing for a serious emergency. Too cold for birds. Oh, the birds. It’s so cold for those tiny little creatures that, while wearing “down underwear” are still struggling to survive in these outrageous conditions.

I shall name this bird….”Dang I’m Cold.”

Mourning Dove snuggled up atop our patio pond.

It’s also too cold to take food out to the platform feeder in the Pond Meadow because, well, the golf cart told us it was too cold to function in these temperatures and we can’t risk taking a vehicle out in the deep drifts of snow if it might get stuck. To discourage the House Sparrow Population and alleviate the bird poop situation, we refrain from routinely filling the feeders up on my office patio. But, desperate times call for desperate measures.

The birds are struggling. It is time to change strategies and put out all the food the birds might need while we all endure this unusual weather. Black sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, shelled peanuts, peanuts in the shell, thistle seed for the goldfinches, and even a bit of cracked corn for the doves were tossed on the patio and poured into feeders. And, the birds came.

It doesn’t hurt that we heat the patio pond (a 400+ gallon poly tub that sustains a school of goldfishes and aquatic plants.) We also leave the filter running throughout winter to provide a constant movement of the water. The birds have seemed quite thrilled at having fresh water alongside their bounty of food. The next two photos are of a female Northern Cardinal (1) and a male Purple Finch (2) tipping their heads back while drinking from a hole Robert made in the top of the pond. The third and forth images are of a Carolina Wren and a Mockingbird drinking from the filter overflow.

I have french doors from my cozy warm office to the outdoor patio, and my desk faces those doors (a design that was the starting point of this home we built in 2016.) I love looking out those glass doors and watching the birds, but this cold weather has made me miss something. My desire to photograph the birds seemed unattainable. I simply didn’t think it was possible to operate a camera through the glass without being disappointed for the effort when nothing was in focus. On Monday it snowed from sun up to sun down and it was coming down heavy. It wasn’t exactly conducive to taking pictures, anyway. But, yesterday the sun came out, the sky was brilliant blue and I couldn’t hold back. It was worth giving it a try.

After tolerating the frigid air on my hands while I attempted to wipe off the dog slime from the outside glass, I got out the camera and started shooting. There were dozens of birds flying in and out of the patio area and I struggled to stay focused on the object of my focus. But, in the end I was actually surprised at the quality of some of the images, and for those that were clearly “not clear” there was still something valuable – almost artistic – in the ethereal ambiance the pane of glass had added to the pictures.

After reviewing the files, I realized that there are several interesting subjects that are worth sharing. Because of the “never seen” element, this first page is about the sparrows that showed up on my office patio.

FOX SPARROW

I’ve only ever heard a Fox Sparrow on our property, once. Luckily I also recorded the song or I might not even believe myself. I have never seen one – hence, I have never filmed one. Even though they aren’t typical visitors to feeders, the frigid conditions yielded a few individuals! This species spends the non-breeding part of its life in my zone, but they aren’t easy to see as they typically don’t perch on the edge of an elevated feeder – preferring to feed on the ground in the cover of thickets. The filming-through-glass condition didn’t permit me to get a great shot – which is too bad – but, the photos that I took were, even for me, recognizable as an authentic Fox Sparrow. Finally! I’ve read that this species is likely to scratch for food. The second photo below shows the snow spraying up as a result of that behavior, which I witnessed over and over as I watched them feed.

WHITE-THROATED SPARROW

I’ve only filmed a White-throated Sparrow once. It was during the fall migration and it was a terrible quality photo. I assumed that sole bird was just passing through. Apparently, some stuck around in my area albeit haven’t seen them until now. I’m happy we could give them a bit of sustenance.

DARK-EYED JUNCO

Dark-eyed Juncos are listed in the Sparrow section of guides. They arrived for the winter, but I only have only seen a couple at a time when I film the birds at the platform feeder. Clearly, there were many more hiding in the brush, because they showed up on numbers to take advantage of the food we offered.

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW

I have filmed a few of these cute, little birds but they are not a common sight when I travel around the property or at the platform feeder in the Pond Meadow. Their markings can confuse me, as they have the copper colored head of the Chipping Sparrow. They have the gray cheek coloring similar to the Field Sparrows, and the side-eye stripe like a Song Sparrow and the Chipping Sparrow. But, I’m pretty sure I got the ID correct on these birds that showed up yesterday and today for the food we offered. These birds have a black spot in the center of their chest, so if I get a view of the front of the bird, I have more confidence in my ID.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS

The usual White-crowned sparrows were all about. These are cutie-patooties. Identifying them can be a bit challenging because the juveniles do not sport the crisp black-white headdress, but rather have brown in place of the black. I have caught myself misidentifying a Juv. White-crowned Sparrow as an American Tree Sparrow more than once. Then, when the bird turns directly towards me, I realize my mistake.

SONG SPARROWS

Song Sparrows abound here, summer and winter. When Spring arrives, they will begin to live up to their name and sing through the day. Until I finally saw a “real” Fox Sparrow for the first time, yesterday, I frequently thought that a bird I filmed might be a Fox Sparrow, but turned out to be a Song Sparrow. What I find confusing is that the juvenile Song Sparrows (and supposedly per the guides even the adults) sport some gray on their heads. But, not every Song Sparrow I have filmed has gray on the head. They also do not all have the same amount of streaking on their chests.

I rarely see a Song Sparrow atop a feeder, but on occasion, a single bird will show up under the feeder and scratch around for a snack. Yesterday and today I filmed many birds that I figured were Song Sparrows but then, I wondered – is this some version of a juvenile or variant Fox Sparrow? This birding is very confusing at times. Any Sparrow Experts that would like to set me straight, if I have misrepresented a bird are encouraged to share their knowledge in the Comments below, or via email.

HOUSE SPARROW

Of course, there are House Sparrows that make a living here. Here’s a photos of a pretty specimen of this invasive species.

TOGETHER IN ONE SHOT

Here are a few photos that show more than one sparrow in the same frame.

UNKNOWNS (or too uncertain to guess)

There was a time when I lumped all small, brown birds into a single category of “don’t bother” but all that changed when I began to actually look at the different birds and learn about their unique qualities. During this winter torment of cold and snowy weather, I’m happy to be able to offer all of them the chance to make it through until at least next week. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the forties! WhooHoo!

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