Originally published on www.critters360.com
The white-throated sparrow is a bird of the north woods. About 7 inches long, it has a distinctive white throat, yellow “eyebrows” or supra loral patches, and a black band on the head between a white-eye stripe and white or tan crown. The bill is dark and the breast is grayish. There are two white wing bars on a generally brown and black streaked back and wings.
Legend has it that a Farmer Peverly was debating about whether to plant or not on a spring day. Hearing a bird’s plaintive call, he interpreted it as, “Sow Wheat, Peverly, Peverly, Peverly.” Thus, the white-throated sparrow became known as the Peverly bird in New England.
Other phrases put to this song include “O, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada” or “Poor Sam, Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” The first two syllables are a slow clear whistle, while the second part of the call is a more rapid set of three triplets.
Range and Various Names
Whether put to words or not, this plaintive call of the white throated sparrow is a hallmark sound of the north woods, from Labrador west to Alberta, south to the Adirondacks and northern New England. In winter, this sparrow migrates into the Ohio Valley and Central New England, south to Florida and Mexico.
In the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, it was known as the cherrybird; in Manitoba, it is sometimes called a nightingale. Other names commonly used include Canada bird, white-throat, Canada sparrow, and white-throated crowned sparrow. By whatever name it is known, the song of the white-throated sparrow is a common sound of the Adirondack forests.
Sometimes, it is seen at the winter feeder in central New York. Whether winter resident or not in any give year, it is heard in the Mohawk Valley on its migration north in early April.
Nest and Young
The white-throated sparrow is monogamous, and solitary in its nesting habits. The female sparrow builds its cup nest of moss, bark, twigs and grasses on the ground or in low bushes in moist evergreen forests.
The 3 to 6 eggs are pale green or blue, or creamy white, all with reddish brown speckles. After an incubation period of about two weeks, the altricial, or helpless, young spend 7-12 days more in the nest. The young are fed by both sexes.
Feeding and behavior
White-throated sparrows eat many seeds, but also consume fresh fruit (berries), and insects. They feed most often on the ground, scratching in leaf litter, making enough rustling noises that one at first suspects it is a much larger animal. The white throat and yellow facial patches are the best field marks, combined with a gray non-streaked breast, for those brief occasions one catches a glimpse of this bird which is more often heard than seen.
Distinctive Bird Song
The mournful song with introductory clear whistles followed by triplets on a different pitch is unmistakable. The tone, quality and pitch are similar to the two note clear whistle of the chickadee. Once heard, its distinctive rhythm is not easily forgotten and the many variations to the song are usually recognizable. Its one-syllable “pink” or “tsip” are a bit more difficult to learn.
This is perhaps, other than the loon, the most iconic bird song of the Adirondacks. It can be heard singing throughout the day, but especially in the late afternoon to early evening twilight of late spring to mid-summer. This mournful call brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the woods of mountain lakes at the end of another day in the wilderness.
Alsop, Fred J. III. Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America, New York: DK Publishing, 2001.
Mahnken, Jan. The Backyard Bird-Lovers Guide , Storey Communications, 1998 ISBN 0-87596-804-X
Pearson, T. Gilbert, Editor. Birds of America, 1936, Doubleday & Company.
Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to the Birds, 1980. (Eastern North America)
Sparrow calls from Stonybrook Math Department
Great Backyard Bird Count 2010 Results: Map of White Throated Sparrow, February 2010