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Friday, July 1, 2011

Leaving home early ... by mistake

I was writing at Raspberry’s yesterday when someone came in to tell me that a baby bird had fallen out of its nest and the parents were upset. Would I come and check it out? (Of course I would!) I watched and took photos for over an hour as two adult white-crowned sparrows hung around the potted plants outside Raspberry’s.

Baby bird taking refuge in the plant while mother (?) looks on

Suveying the scene - looking for a spot for a new nest?

Does she look annoyed to you?

I’m sure they knew what they were doing, but I can only guess. Certainly, they did a lot of alarm calling from the lamp posts and roof tops. One gathered what seemed to be nesting material, although it was never clear to me where she went with it - perhaps into the cedar bush on the corner of Raspberry’s sidewalk area. I did see them fly straight into that bush twice.

Note nesting material in her beak

A few times three babies, barely feathered, unable to fly, and looking like they should still be in a nest, emerged from the potted plants looking helpless and adorable. When one ventured onto the sidewalk, both parents herded it back into the foliage.

Baby on sidewalk - not quite camouflage enough ...

I watched as the mother (I assume) periodically dipped into the potted plant as well, hopefully to feed her baby. It was stressful, although possibly moreso for them than for me!    

Mother jumps into plant where baby is hiding
Today I have not seen the adults or babies. I don’t know if the parents could have fashioned a new nest since yesterday, but that’s what I’m hoping: that they’re all safe and sound in a new home, perhaps a little farther away from all the activity of Folk Life Village on Canada Day!

About white-crowned sparrows
Adult white-crowned sparrows have bold black stripes on their white capped heads. Here on the Pacific Coast they usually have yellow bills. Juveniles, on the other hand, have reddish stripes on a greyish head. Although their looks are quite dramatic, it’s the song of the white-crowned sparrow that has attracted the most attention. Their song is, in fact, the most studied bird song in the world. Scientists have learned much of what they know about how birds learn their songs from this species.

Because of this research, we know, for example, that a young white-crowned sparrow learns its particular song from the adult males in the neighbourhood when it is only a few months old. White-crowned sparrows tend to stay in one area all their lives, and the birds from different neighbourhoods sing different dialects. For example, the birds of Gabriola sound slightly different from the birds in the Lower Mainland. All start, however, with a little whistle followed by a jumbled whistle and a trill. And while in most bird species, only the male sings, the female white-crowned sparrow sometimes sings too. You can hear variations in their song at Enter ‘white crowned sparrow’ and then click on ‘Sounds’. And enjoy!

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