October Feeder Survey starts & Fox Sparrows Migration


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPICS The October Feeder Survey Starts Today
Fox Sparrows Migrate South Through Central New York This Month


The October feeder survey

The October feeder survey starts today and ends Saturday. Will you help with the 45th year of this scientific project? Here is what you do. Spend a few minutes at the window making a list of all the species you see and the number of each. Try to do this once each day. The more often the better.

At the end of the week, send a list of the species and the largest number of each that you saw at any one time. For example, if you see 12 jays this week, but never more than three at a time, then three is what you report.

List the species in the order shown in your field guide. Put each species on a separate line with the number first, followed by the birds name. At the end of the week, put the list on a post card or in a letter or use e-mail.

Via Mail: Send to Ben Burtt, Stars Magazine, P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse, NY 13221

Via E-mail: Send to features@syracuse.com. Be sure to put "For Ben Burtt" in the subject line.

To read the detailed instructions for the Survey,click this line

Fox sparrow due

Watch for the fox sparrow this week. It breeds in Canada and migrates south all through October. A few will show up now, but many more will be in your yard by the middle of the month. It will not show up here again until April.

As shown in Bob McNamara's painting below, it resembles a large song sparrow. The breast is heavily streaked. The streaks come together to form a central spot on the breast. These markings on the fox sparrow are much broader and darker than those of the song sparrow.

The fox sparrow's most distinguishing feature is the rusty-brown rump and tail. It is this fox-like color that gives it its name.

You will need to put seed on the ground to attract it. Since it finds most of its food on the ground, it will never visit a tubular feeder with perches.

At my home I put cracked corn and millet on a huge flat rock whose top surface is just above the grass. While the seed can be gobbled up there by chipmunks and squirrels, I keep it on that rock from now through the first week of November to attract the fox sparrow, the junco and the many other ground feeding sparrows that migrate through.

CAPTION: The fox sparrow makes two brief visits to Central New York each year. Now it is on its way south. It returns next spring, en route to Canada. This was painted by Bob McNamara of Constantia. He is a wildlife artist and you can see more of his work by visiting his web site at http://www.artofwilderness.com/


A. Some more life history of the Fox Sparrow..

B. The migration of the fox sparrow, where it nests and where it spends the winter.

The fox sparrow is one of the most attractive members of the sparrow family. It breeds in the far north and is now on its way to its winter home in the southern part of the United States. The winter range extends from southern Pennsylvania, southern Ohio to northern Florida. Some winter on Long Island. Since it is only here in Central New York for the month of October, you must keep your eyes open.

You won't get another opportunity until April when it passes through on its way north to nest. So we get two opportunities each year to see it as it passes through.

The fox sparrow is the largest of the sparrows that we see here. Like the towhee, it feeds by scratching away dead leaves in its busy search for fallen seeds or insect food. Both its feet are used together and it makes quite a commotion in the brush. In fact, one usually hears the scratching and rustling in the leaves before actually seeing the bird.

From now until early November, it can be found in the woods or secluded thickets or amongst the bushes at the edge of a field. Since it feeds on the ground, it seldom is seen perched high in trees. When disturbed, the bird usually will fly into the lowest branches of some nearby trees and be quite conspicuous and easy to identify. In a moment or two it will return to the ground to scratch around some more.

The summer home of the fox sparrow is in the extended forests of Canada that go on and on for miles. There, it breeds from the limit of the trees, south to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Newfoundland, it is one of the most common nesting birds.

South of the St. Lawrence River there are a few nesting spots. In Nova Scotia it occurs on one big island and along the eastern coast. Its summer neighbors there are such northern species as the rough legged hawk, the pine grosbeak, the gray cheeked thrush, the white-crowned sparrow and northern shrike. The only place it nests in the eastern United States is in the northernmost tip of Maine.

It nests in the northern parts of the western provinces of Canada.

As for the western United States, under ordinary circumstances, California, Colorado and other western states in this country are too far south to be breeding grounds for the fox sparrow. However, the higher elevations of the mountains in those states have a climate and plant and animal life similar to that of Northern Canada. Fox sparrows can be found in summer even in Southern California if one searches the high mountains just below the timberline.

Since it migrates through Central New York into November, the fox sparrow is just about the last of the small land birds to migrate. Now and then one or two will stay on for the winter, but this is a rare occurrenc