If you have been listening to bird songs this fall/winter, you may have heard a new song. A beautiful, slightly haunting melody joined my backyard chorus in October and I was determined to track down the bird.

I took a recording of the song (wait until about 10 seconds in and you can hear a distant song):

 

With a little detective work between myself and my bird-loving friend Cindy, we finally realized the bird was a golden-crowned sparrow.

Soon after, I began seeing the new sparrow foraging for seeds from our bird feeder and off the ground. With binoculars I could make out the golden head.

Golden-crowned sparrows spend winters along the western U.S. coast and they summer in western Canada and Alaska (a detailed map is here).

By Walter Siegmund - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1600981
By Walter Siegmund – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1600981

 

They are large for a sparrow and eat both seeds and insects. In summer, their heads are a striking black and yellow.  Here in Sonoma County though, the birds display their duller winter plumage – less black and more brown with a not-as-bright yellow (hence why you may need binoculars to notice the yellow).

Look for them in small, loose flocks often alongside white-crowned sparrows. They forage on the ground or low in bushes but don’t be surprised if you hear their beautiful song from above  – they perch higher up to sing.

While they visit backyards in winter, they are much more mysterious in the summer when they disappear into tundra and areas along boreal forests.  There, in the far north, no one really knows much about their breeding behavior.

Read more from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here and keep an eye out for these mysterious travelers from the north that sing us their lovely song all winter.

 

 

 

 

 

Golden winter visitors