Three Songsters

Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia)

There are probably a dozen Song Sparrow males now living in the 90 acres of our park, and one morning last week I got lucky and managed to record part of the song repertoire of three of them. The first two held high spots on the north side, and the third perched on the southwest side of the Native Plant Area. Number One occupied the dried remnants of a coyote bush. Number Two, about a hundred yards west, perched on a fennel stalk. The third sat atop a live and verdant coyote bush. Each bird sang a basic Song Sparrow tune, consisting of an opening, a main part, and a closing, usually a trill. But each bird had a different variation, and if you had the ears of a Song Sparrow you could undoubtedly identify them as different individuals, much as we can tell the singing of Elvis Presley from Bob Dylan even if they’re singing the same tune. The first two birds could also hear each other; if you turn up the volume for the first bird you can hear the second one’s voice in the background.

The first bird particularly tickled me. I first saw it on top of a live coyote bush, where I’d seen it before, but before I could get the camera set up properly and out of the way of passing traffic, the bird vanished. But, knowing the bird’s habits, I waited patiently, and soon got my reward with a bonus. The bird reappeared on a branch much closer to me, which made for better video and audio.

Song Sparrows build their nests mostly on the ground, or sometimes in bushes a foot or two off the ground. The two sparrows on the north side of the park perched in spots within just a few feet of the traffic on the paved perimeter trail. Repeatedly I’ve had to ask dog owners to please keep their pets on leash in this area. Even if the animals just go snuffling around in the grass and weeds, apparently doing no harm, they’re invading bird nesting territory. They may be discouraging the Song Sparrows from attempting to nest here at all, or they are liable to disturb and possibly destroy a nest once the female has built it.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

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