Bird Spat

Golden-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

These two Golden-crowned Sparrows had a disagreement. One of them reared up on its hallux and towered over the other with its beak wide open. The other sometimes replied with its own beak flexed for action, but mostly struck a submissive pose with its head down. No feathers flew, and after that exchange of hostile posturing they both set off foraging side by side.

This all took place on the northwestern hilltop crowned by the Peace Symbol. Parks management has thankfully restrained its monster mowing machines here, leaving intact a good part of the wildflowers that form important habitat for birds in this season. This vegetation hosts protein, including caterpillars and crawling and flying bugs of various kinds, that the female birds desperately need for their own nutrition in the breeding season and to feed their hatchlings when they arrive. That’s particularly important for the Red-winged Blackbirds that breed in this quadrant.

The Golden-crowned Sparrows come here for the winter. They’re mainly vegetarian, but need to bulk up with protein for their spring migration. They breed up north, in British Columbia and in much of Alaska. Unlike their cousins, the White-crowned Sparrows, which have been studied almost to death, the Golden-crowned have stayed largely outside the scientific microscope. They used to be considered pests due to their formerly large numbers and their appetite for young sprouting farm crops, but that’s no longer a concern. Here in the park they’re highly useful as gleaners of weed seeds. They scratch the duff with both feet to expose the ground. The greater the number of ground-feeding birds, the smaller the abundance of weeds. Birds make parks better.

They’ll probably start their migration back up north to their breeding spots during this month, with stragglers remaining through May. They migrate at night, often at high altitudes. One collided with a plane above 10,000 feet, and some have been found above 13,000 feet on Mt. Shasta and Mt. Rainier.

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) on the memorial bench for Asa Scholz, behind the Peace Symbol

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