October 9, 2013

White-throated sparrow – boreal ambassador

Julieta Leon
The male White-throated sparrow has a surprisingly striped head, with lines of white and brown running from its beak to the back of its neck, tinged with yellow in the front. The bird gets its name from a small flash of white feathers just under its beak. This sparrow is best known as a winter arrival to New England, moving in loose flocks from underneath bird feeders to forest edge. These ground feeding birds can be found in meadow shrubs or turning over leaves on the forest floor. The White-throat is also known for its haunting song, a melancholy series of clearly articulated notes, slow and proud, with a hint of waiver. New England folklore translates this song as, “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” while Canadian bird watchers hear, “Oh sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada.” The Canadians may have bragging rights to this bird as an estimated 83% of the North American population nests in the boreal region of Canada.

 In New England the White throat’s population is on the decline. According to the 2011 publication, State of the Birds data from breeding bird atlas shows less breeding incidents than in 1974 (the last atlas). A smaller west coast population are showing an increase. This east coast / west coast dichotomy in part reflects the fact that the once agrarian east coast is now largely forest, growing older every year. Funny to think that the birds decline may reflect an end to the man made process of land clearing for agriculture.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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