White-throated Sparrow - Zonotrichia albicollis

March 04, 2009

Last week I went into the museum, and brought a few friends with me. Nick and Nadine run Sonnenzimmer Press, and are amazing artists and designers. Nadine is from Switzerland, and had her good friend, Esther, visiting from Berlin. None of them had ever been to the Field before, so they got a little tour of the Bird Division. After fawning over the Bird-of-Paradise specimens, and visiting the dermestid beetle colonies, they went on to view the public collections, and I got to my work.

Dr. Willard had taken out a few small birds from the freezers for me to make into study skins: a couple of House finches, and a White-throated Sparrow. Both species have really lovely vocalizations. The sparrow's is quite distinctive. Its song is often described as a high pitched, pure "Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody". It'll be a familiar sound in my backyard come spring as they make their way up north from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. In fact, when these little guys start showing up in the Chicago area, Dave (Willard) says that he inevitably gets many calls to the lab with people saying "I keep hearing this bird that I can't identify, it sounds like this", and then they proceed to whistle the "Sam Peabody Peabody" into the phone receiver. I think it drives him a little nuts. Anyway, this particular Zonotrichia (I love that word) albicollis was a cat kill that someone had found. One of its wings had a pretty substantial wound. White-throated are fairly common here in spring and fall, but are not to be found in these parts during the winter. Their typical winter range begins in the southern end of Illinois and goes down to Florida. What was unusual about this one, according to Dave, is that it was collected in January in a Chicago suburb. It's very unusual for albicollis to be found this far north in January. Dave said that they are finding more cases of this every year, though, and that it is a possible indication that due to global warming its range is slowly shifting north.


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