Puddle Joy

White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

The rain we had Thursday wasn’t much, but it was enough to leave some puddles on the perimeter trail. A flock of White-crowned Sparrows took advantage to drink and bathe with evident pleasure. They need water frequently; if available, they’ll drink the equivalent of 45 percent of their body mass every day. If they don’t get water for a week, they die. Unlike most shorebirds, which have a special gland that filters out salt, sparrows can’t handle sea water except in small amounts.

White-crowned Sparrows are amazing birds, way underappreciated. One bird was clocked at flying 310 miles in a night. They navigate at night by the stars and the earth’s magnetic field. They have amazing endurance. They can fly nonstop for two weeks, with each brain hemisphere taking turns sleeping while the other remains awake. Experimenters have put them in treadmills and report that they can run at a speed of ten yards a minute indefinitely without tiring,

A few flocks of these birds breed on the California coast and reside year round, and I’ve seen a few individuals in summer, but the flocks we see here in fall and winter are migratory. They may come from Arctic Canada or Alaska and fly 2,000 miles to get here.

Although they’re country birds at home in wilderness, they adapt rapidly to us humans. In the past few weeks, some of the White-crowned Sparrows that roost in the Coyote Bushes on the north side have held their positions just a couple of feet from passing people. Sometimes one of them forages on the ground so close to my feet that I have to be careful not to step on it.

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

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