The heralds of winter

If you have noticed a large influx of brown, sparrow-like birds in the past few weeks, you will know that winter is not too far off.
There are four of these heralds of winter which you can see in the fields or at your bird feeder right now.
The largest, and easiest to spot, is the Fox Sparrow—the biggest sparrow we have.
It also is distinguished by its colour—very reddish-brown, hence the name fox. As well, it has a very heavily-streaked breast.
Look for this bird mainly on the ground. It scratches by jumping up in the air and pushing back with booth feet.
It will almost bury itself among the dead leaves on the forest floor.
The White-crowned Sparrow looks quite a bit like our native White-throated. However, it is much slimmer and trimmer looking, and it has much more prominent white on its head.
This, along with a pearly grey breast, easily will enable you to identify this bird.
Harris’ Sparrow is very easy to identify, as well. It has a completely black head, throat, and chin—totally different from any other sparrow in the world.
Look for it also scratching among the fallen leaves.
The fourth one of this group is the Tree Sparrow. This bird has really been misnamed as it rarely has anything to do with trees at all.
It nests on the ground up in the Arctic, or maybe in some very low bushes. As it moves south through Ontario, you will find it in gardens, fields, and pastures feeding on weed seeds.
The Tree Sparrow has a reddish cap, but the real distinguishing mark is a black spot or blotch right in the middle of its grey breast.
All four of these sparrows breed far to the north of us. We see them in the early spring and again in the fall when they pass through on their way south.
The great flocks may have nearly all gone by now, but there are still some around.
Another one of the heralds of winter in the Slate-coloured Junco. These little grey birds, with the white tummy and white tail feathers, are probably familiar to everyone.
And one more ominous sign of the approach of winter is the Snow Bunting. You will see these far northern birds in small flocks along the side of the road.
As they fly, their appearance seems to change from brown to white and back again.
These will likely stay here in Northern Ontario until spring, when they will start to move back to the high Arctic.
These are our “passing through” sparrows. We’ll see them again in the spring.
Right now, however, a lot of them are here. And so is Jack Frost.
It won’t be long now!

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