Friday, June 25, 2010

Song Sparrows in the Nursery

On Wednesday we were pleased to discover that a family of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) has decided to make their nest in our nursery! Inside a tight-growing rose bush, tucked at the bottom of the foliage, we spied five little chicks. As we peered into the nest, the parents called and flew nearby, clearly agitated by our presence. We quickly snapped a photo and retreated.

Song Sparrows get their name because of their beautiful song, which we have been hearing for several months around the ACEC and on Norm's Island. We live right on the border of their year-round and summer-only ranges. I have yet to see one in the winter, so I believe in our location we are witnessing birds that have recently migrated back from more southern climes. As stated on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, "The Song Sparrow sings a loud, clanking song of 2–6 phrases that typically starts with abrupt, well-spaced notes and finishes with a buzz or trill. In between, the singer may add other trills with different tempo and quality. The song usually lasts 2-4 seconds." Adult sparrows are rich brown-grey with streaking down their breast, which converge in a central breast spot. They are medium-sized and fairly bulky. The tail is long and rounded, and the wings are broad.

Apparently, the base of rose bushes is a common site for a song sparrow nest. The female sparrow will build the nest; it is a simple, sturdy cup of loose grasses, weeds, and bark on the outsides, lined with softer, tidier grasses and animal hair. Finished nests are 4 - 8 inches across and 2 - 4 inches deep. The female will lay 1 - 8 eggs, and incubate them for 12 - 15 days. Newborn sparrows are naked with a little black down, and have their eyes closed. They will remain in the nest as "nestlings" for 9 - 12 days. The ones that we observed were probably several days old. Their eyes were wide open, as were their beaks as they awaited food from their parents!

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