While the interest has been milder about an unusual sparrow visiting Oakville this winter than for an unusual Bunting visitor or escapee, this sparrow still has attracted many admirers. I had never heard of a Harris’s Sparrow before the name showed up on BirdAlert and on the weekly Hamilton Naturalists’ Club Birding Report. When I had to visit the area for other reasons, though, I made a point to stop and look for it. Normally Harris’s Sparrows live in the middle of North America and only move north and south: this one had veered east for some reason and provided a good chance to see an unusual bird.
Who Was the Harris’s Sparrow Hanging Out With?
Only one Harris’s Sparrow had been reported, which is not unusual for a bird that is way out of its normal range and flight path. But like most sparrows, Harris’s are social birds. So who was it hanging out with?
The Harris’s Sparrow’s bright bill made it easy to spot among the dark-billed House Sparrows.
The bird has teamed up with a large flock of House Sparrows. While I doubt the sparrows have any trouble knowing who is who, I’m not so sure that people find it so simple. If one only took a quick glance at the flock, one would probably conclude they were all House Sparrows. Fortunately, one birder took the time to look at each bird—and discovered the Harris’s. It makes me wonder, though, if there have been more of these unusual visitors but that no one has ever noticed them. For sure I will keep a closer eye on any flocks of House Sparrows in my neighbourhood in the future!
The House Sparrows were also mingling with Juncos and White Throated Sparrows while they fed on seeds spread under spruce trees. Admirers have been bringing the seeds for the birds to encourage them to feed in a predator-protected area which also allows easy access for watchers and photographers.
This White Throated Sparrow is enjoying the seeds, too.
Harris’s Sparrow Is a Truly Canadian Bird
According to the Cornell University website, Harris’s Sparrows are the only birds that nest only in Canada.
Perhaps they should be nominated to be our National Bird? If you agree you can vote for it on the Canadian Geographic website.
Keep Your Eyes Open for the Unusual
Spring migration has apparently started according to the reports starting to come in on BirdAlert. Killdeer, for example, have been sighted in several locations along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. While they may regret their early arrival if weather conditions don’t improve quickly, they do bring happiness to the hearts of those who enjoy seeing new faces after a long winter.
So I’ll be keeping on alert for the unusual over the next few weeks. If you see something out of the ordinary, consider sharing your sighting through a chat list or eBird, if it will not endanger the bird or irritate nearby residents.
Have you ever seen a Harris’s Sparrow or another rare visitor? Please share your experience with a comment.