Wednesday, April 14, 2010

White-throated Sparrows

I  enjoy blogging because I am learning new things about birds as I write.  I always knew that White-throated Sparrows come in bright and dusky morphs (the photo above is of a bright bird, the one below is a dusky one).  You might be tempted to say that the bright birds are males and the dusky ones are females, but the only way to tell the sexes apart is by wing length or, in the breeding season, by cloacal condition.

Researchers have found that each morph usually breeds with its opposite type (dull males mate with bright females and visa versa).  The two morphs have different chromosome arrangements.  Compared with dull males, bright males are more aggressive, more territorial, and more "apt to seek matings outside the pair bond." Dusky females, on the other hand, provide more parental care than bright females. No other bird, even those with distinct morphs, share such complicated genetic, plumage, and behavioral differences.
These photos were taken last year at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  My source for the information is: Falls, J. B. and J. G. Kopachena. 1994. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
These photos are from this year's banding, with a bright bird on the left, and a dusky one on the right.  Finally, on a light note, White-throated Sparrows in the United States sing "Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" but, upon entering Canada, sing "Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!" W.S. writes, "I thought the Minnesota White-throated Sparrows, in contrast to the New England birds, sing, 'Poor Sven, Peterson, Peterson, Peterson.'"


  1. Interesting facts combined with an occasional light approach and some native wildflowers. I like it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. My husband just called me to say, blissfully, that he was sitting on the deck listening to the song of a white-throated sparrow, the first either of us has heard this year.