Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Backyard birds

We were surprised when this first year Chipping Sparrow showed up a few weeks ago. The species is a common breeder in the region, ranging north through the Hudson Bay lowlands. Large numbers crisply depart Ontario in September to spend the winter in Florida, Texas and adjacent Mexico. If this bird lingers in our yard for another 19 days, it will be the first of its kind to be recorded on a Marathon Christmas bird count.

An immature Chipping Sparrow is the quintessential LBJ - little brown job - a nondescript little songbird characterized by a suite of relatively inconspicuous characters. It is most likely to mistaken for the American Tree Sparrow - a more probable December visitor. The Cornell Feeder Watch site offers a nice, side-by-side comparison of the winter ranges and field marks these two Spizella sparrows.

There's no mistaking the Northern Cardinal. At the turn of the century, the species was known only from the Carolinian forest of southernmost Ontario. Since then, it has exploited human-altered landscapes south of the Canadian Shield and in a few outlying northern settlements, including Marathon where a handful of individuals now haunt our residential neighbourhoods year round. This male shown below has been a regular visitor to our yard since he discovered our feeders a week ago. In October, a female showed up only a few times before moving on.

These two birds highlight an otherwise dull week for backyard birding.

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