American Tree Sparrow
The American Tree Sparrow is a bunting. Emberizids in Europe are called buntings, but in North America most species of this family are called sparrows even though these nifty birds are not closely related to Old World sparrows (passeridae). Whether categorized by us as sparrows or buntings doesn't change my affection for these exquisite little birds. Over the past few weeks Clay-colored, Chipping, and Field Sparrows have departed from Pheasant Branch for the season; I won't see them until they return in the spring. Though there can be occasional exceptions, the American Tree Sparrow is the only member of the genus spizella to remain in Wisconsin for the duration of our frigid winter.
Some fall colors remain.
Whether it's sunny, rainy, snowy, mild or freezing, these exceptional winter birds have adapted very well to the challenges Nature has imposed on them. Sometimes I'll visit Pheasant Branch during a blizzard and observe how these durable sparrows fare in harsh weather. Fortunately, there is sufficient cover in the form of thickets, brush piles, and tall grass. With an abundant supply of goldenrod and ragweed seeds, there's plenty for them to eat. Northern Shrikes, Cooper's Hawks, and other birds of prey are on the prowl looking to make a meal out of the sparrows, and at least one shrike has been present at the prairie for about a week. Right now the shrike has a variety of songbirds to choose from and chase down, but come December and January, sparrows will be its primary food targets.
Northern Shrike (digital sketch from photo)
Yesterday during the Madison Audubon field trip at Pheasant Branch, an American Goldfinch was perched mere feet from a Northern Shrike. This was interesting. It seemed like the goldfinch was waiting for the shrike to make the first move so it could react in an evasive manner rather than giving the shrike an opportunity to match its escape path. Without a sound, the shrike darted after the goldfinch and made quick gains, but its speed was no match for the goldfinch's flying agility and escaped. A few of the field trip participants cheered on the goldfinch, but I confess I was hoping to see the shrike catch a meal.
Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 29, 2011 7:15 AM - 9:45 AM
American Tree Sparrow
All images © 2011 Mike McDowell