Growing Up

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

White-crowned Sparrow juvenile (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

These two young White-crowned Sparrows probably hatched next to one another within a few hours, but one of them has grown up pushy, and keeps chasing its sibling off what it thinks the best pecking spots. These two, and several others like them, are growing up. Their crown feathers are in transition from the plain dark brown and light brown streaking of their early youth to the mature black-and-white pattern that makes these sparrows stand out from everybird else.

Most White-crowned Sparrows that we see in the park are probably migrants coming from the now frozen North to this more temperate climate. They breed across a wide range in Alaska, Canada, and some US mountain states. There are a few that breed on the California coast and in the coastal ranges and are considered a subspecies, Zonotrichia leucophrys nuttalli, which varies by a few millimeters and grams from others. Because of their wide distribution it’s next to impossible to say where these particular individuals came from.

They are here to forage, get strong, and grow up over the winter. If they breed in the coastal regions, they’ll pair up in March, and females will lay eggs in April. All of that happens weeks later in the more northerly breeding range. The females do all the work building the nests, sitting on eggs, brooding the young after hatching, and giving the hatchlings their first food. The males help with feeding after that. Pairs vary in bonding. Many pairs stay together the length of the breeding season, then separate, then often rebond next year, but it’s not uncommon for egg clutches to include some sired by a different male.

Burrowing Owl Update

This morning, Saturday the 18th, the Burrowing Owl in the park showed no signs of leaving. Last year it left on February 19. This morning it had a streaming crowd of more than 35 park visitors, to whom it paid virtually zero attention. I had the video camera running for almost an hour, and the device picked up a long string of human chatter, including outbursts of surprise, joy, and enthusiasm, none of which registered any reaction from the bird. I’ve excerpted a minute of owl “action” in the video, meaning moments when the bird preened, fluffed, yawned, stretched, or changed positions. The rest of the time, the owl stood quietly, turning its head left, right, and up in a routine, alert, but relaxed manner. The camera picked up no alarms and no visits by unwelcome guests, as took place yesterday.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb 18 2023

Part of the stream of park visitors looking at the owl. The camera setup with the external screen (under red scarf) was helpful to allow short people and people in wheelchairs to see a live image of the bird.
Owl fluffing. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb 18 2023
Owl stretching. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Feb 18 2023

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