White-throated Sparrow Surprise

Every so often a bird will show up unexpectedly. Such was the case this weekend up at Jocie’s mother’s place in Black Creek. We were sitting at the kitchen table having lunch when we noticed a sparrow with strong striping on its head working around the rock garden. Jocie and I realized that there was something different about the bird and immediately grabbed nearby binoculars and camera to take a second look.

While there were several White-crowned Sparrows singing in the neighbourhood this bird didn’t quite fit the look of a juvenile White-crowned (see Oh Me, Deary-Deary-Me for a comparison with an adult White-crowned Sparrow) – the bill was the wrong colour and there was a little too much streaking on on the breast. With binoculars it was possible to see a touch of yellow on the lores (directly in front of the eyes) and a dirty white throat. Our bird was a first winter White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)!

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
A first winter White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) showing the characteristic head striping, yellow lores, and white throat that make this sparrow easy to identify.

White-throated Sparrows are always a great bird to see on Vancouver Island – typically they winter in south-east North America and on a thin strip of the west coast in California and Oregon. During breeding season they can be found throughout most of northern Canada. Perhaps this bird was a migrant that was a little off course.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
A head on look at the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) showing the dramatic head striping and a better view of the white throat and the streaky breast. The latter suggests a first winter bird.

White-throated Sparrows do turn up occasionally in the Comox Valley and I remember seeing one on a Christmas Bird Count a couple of years ago just south of Courtenay in Deep Bay. Hard to say what this one was doing in the yard – we watched it for about 5 minutes before it flew off. That was long enough to get a couple of photographs and enjoy this unusual visitor. If we hadn’t been having lunch and looking out the window we probably would have missed it!