Saturday, April 26, 2014

Birds of Unpaving Paradise P-Patch: White-crowned Sparrow

The song of the  White-crowned Sparrows is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior; the first time I heard one singing at Unpaving Paradise was on a spring day in 2013 (our p-patch's third season), from a tree that overlooks our garden.

This white-crowned proclaimed its ownership of the area, its health, and its virility  -- incessantly -- in song. Our garden (and the small park it is situated in) is surrounded by apartment buildings, roads, and parking lots. This species of sparrow does quite well in our busy city; still, as the days went by, I couldn't help thinking that he sounded a bit forlorn.  
But suddenly one day, there was a break in the singing --- and now two White-crowned Sparrows where flying and flitting among the shrubs and trees of the park. Soon, the two birds were carrying mouths full of straw, and disappearing with them into a patch of park ground cover (Point Reyes ceanothus).  
A few days later, the steady stream of building materials were being ferried to a new location: the raspberry patch in the plot my partner Tracy and I garden!  A sparrow would dive into the thick mass of raspberry plants with a beak full of straw or twigs, the raspberry canes and leaves would shake for a bit, and them out would fly the bird, with an empty beak. 
Time passed.  There was still occasion for strident singing, as well as chasing Junco's out of the p-patch.  We resisted searching for the nest among the growing mass of raspberry plants, not wanting to worry parents or disturb babies.
Then, on June 1st, we were admiring our quickly growing vegetables, when Tracy saw a crow staring intently at a spot on the ground next to our raspberries, from the fence that borders the p-patch.  It was watching a featherless baby sparrow, on its back, flailing about, and appearing too young and weak to stand.  We also spotted a second baby on the other side of the raspberry patch, but this one was on its feet, looking older and stronger, and moving toward cover.
We decided that the second baby was ready to be out of the nest, but that the first would likely be lunch for the crow if we didn't intervene.  Parting the tangled raspberry canes, I found an empty nest, gently picked up the fledgling in my gloved hands, and placed it back in. 
We checked the nest the following day. It was empty again.
There is no way to know, but we hope the young bird we put back in the nest that day was one of the three juvenile White-crowns we eventually saw scurrying about the garden that summer.
As the raspberries leaf out and form flower buds this spring, and vegetable seeds and starts are planted; we will listen for the beautiful, and strident song, of the White-crowned Sparrow.

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