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Salvia, Re: Siskin, and Re: Song Sparrow
- To: carolinabirds <email@example.com>
- Subject: Salvia, Re: Siskin, and Re: Song Sparrow
- From: Joshua Stuart Rose <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 16:18:44 -0400 (EDT)
- In-Reply-To: <3932B523.A5549969@mail.fpg.unc.edu>
- Sender: email@example.com
I noticed today that Barnes Supply Co. on Ninth Street in Durham was
selling Salvia seedlings. I've been considering planting something like
this in my yard to supplement the sugar water supply and whatever natural
nectar sources happen to be in bloom. However, I have no idea what
conditions Salvia requires for health and blooming; my yard is quite
shady, especially in the summer, and parts of it have very poor drainage.
Will Salvia succeed in such habitat or not? Any suggestions for species
which will find my yard more habitable and attract hummers? I haven't yet
joined the crowd buying up Pineapple Sage (which is another type of
Salvia) to attract winter hummers, but given that my feeder went
untouched from October to April, maybe this coming winter I'll give it a
On Mon, 29 May 2000, Marsha Stephens wrote:
> Is it possible that I have a pine siskin at my feeders? I always think
> of them as winter birds, and from what I have read, they should be up
> north this time of year. Anyone else have them? Is this usual or
> unusual? Thanks.
A Siskin is certainly possible, but definitely *not* usual, in Chapel
Hill in late May. The Triangle Bird Checklist
(http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook/chbc/trichk2000.pdf) lists the species as
"Rare", which translates to "may be present but not detected most years",
for the last three weeks of May and the first week of June. Still, given
how far south many winter irruptive species went this year (kinglets in
Florida, Bohemian Waxwing in north Texas, Snowy Owl in Florida, etc), we
might expect a few to be heading north a little late.
On Sun, 28 May 2000 AHK4586@aol.com wrote:
> Outside my house we have two parent Song Sparrows feeding a child. The
> young bird is about the same size if not larger. It was definately not full
> grown, as its tail was quite short, and its feathers were a dull mottled
> brown. When it jumped/flew, the wings looked a bit broader too. My question
> is if Song Sparrows are commonly parasitized by Brown Headed Cowbirds, and,
> if this sounds as if it could be one. The bill looked sparrow like, but the
> edge of the bill was white, and went partially on to the cheek. there may be
> a technical term for that, but i dont know. Thanks for the help.
I think you're seeing a Song Sparrow fledgling. Bird fledglings are often
at their fattest just as they leave the nest. This gives them a safety
margin while they learn to fly and forage by themselves, without their
parents' help. The adult birds, on the other hand, get thinner while
feeding their young, until the young become independent and the adults
start fattening up for migration. So the apparent large size of the
youngster may be an effect of the parent feeding its chicks and working
itself hard, before it starts refusing the chicks' begging calls and
forcing them to fend for themselves.
I think that Brown-headed Cowbirds have been recorded parasitizing Song
Sparrows, but not often. Open-habitat birds like Song Sparrows have been
interacting with cowbirds for a long time, and are fairly adept at
avoiding parasitism. Shrubland birds like Indigo Buntings get parasitized
more often, and the woodland-interior birds like Wood Thrush and many
warblers and vireos are the species which have little defense against
brood parasitism and thus are threatened more by cowbirds.
The technical term for the white edge of the bill on a young bird is the
"gape". The colored lining of the young birds' mouths acts as a
behavioral trigger encouraging adult birds to feed the chicks. On
occasion, it even works on other species; a few published notes record a
bird of one species feeding a chick of another, unrelated species. Brood
parasites like cowbirds and European cuckoos take advantage of this
pattern, and some African finches show amazing degrees of mimicry between
the chicks of brood parasites and those of hosts in gape coloration.
> And if you
> do think that it could be a cowbird chick, what would be the best actions to
> do, if any.
It probably isn't worth taking action. As Janine points out, you must
have a federal permit to mess with migratory songbirds, even "nusiance"
species like cowbirds, crows, and grackles and other blackbirds. And this
may not even be a cowbird chick.
Furthermore, the Song Sparrows have already raised this chick and its
broodmates (if any) to fledging, so removing the cowbird chick will not
benefit them much, if at all. They only benefit if the cowbird disappears
very early, before it robs the parents' real offspring of food and
attention for weeks.
In any case, saving one single pair of birds from one parasitic episode
does very little to aid bird populations. The only actions which might
really help are (a) a long-term massive cowbird control program taking
place over a large area for many years, such as those presently aiding
the Kirtland's and Golden-cheeked Warblers; and (b) preventing forest
fragmentation through regional bans on logging and road construction, so
that forest interior bird species have large blocks of cowbird-free
habitat in which to breed. Strategy (b) helps many other species besides
songbirds; (a) is really only advisable as a last resort, or in habitats
where cowbirds occur naturally without fragmentation.
Joshua S. Rose
Department of Zoology