OK, I agree they are not really eyebrows but you may have seen these sparrows, especially in the spring or fall, in southern Ontario. They are “regular” sparrow size and right above the beak on each side they have a short bright yellow patch that shows up even without binoculars from quite a few metres away.
White Throated Sparrows Do Have White Throats Too
Personally, I would have named these sparrows for the yellow marks, not for the white throat. Admittedly, they are quite bright white under their beak. That’s not what most of us notice first, though. Even the startling white and black facial markings are a bit more noticeable than the throat (although only about half the birds have these; the other half have more buffy facial marks instead of white ones).
Still, “White Throated” is a more useful name than “Red Bellied” for a woodpecker which often doesn’t show its belly spot but which has a flaming red head, and “Ruby Crowned” for a Kinglet that usually is totally drab on top of its head unless it’s really agitated.
What Are Those Yellow Eyebrows Called?
The AllAboutBirds.org website suggests that White Throated Sparrows are good ones to learn some bird feature words from. They say those yellow patches are called the “lores.”
Do Only Males Have Yellow Lores?
No. Both male and female White Throated Sparrows have the yellow marks, so it doesn’t help the birds, or us, tell who’s who at a glance.
Where Does the Yellow Pigment Come From?
I was startled to find this information while just reading some general information on identifying the sparrows. According to the Hilton Head website, the pigment comes from carotene and xanthophyll pigments absorbed from the sparrows’ food and then deposited in the lores. These pigments are in dogwood berries, and apple, maple and oak buds.
This bird is in a Manitoba Maple but it’s not eating the seeds: It’s watching me!
Hilton Head has even banded an “orange” lored White Throated Sparrow. They speculated that it might have been feeding on Tartarian Honeysuckle or Pyracantha while it was growing in new feathers.
Flamingos also get their pink pigment from the food they eat.
Even If You’ve Never Seen a White Throated Sparrow You’ve Probably Heard One
This is one of the “buffy faced” White Throated Sparrows.
The song of the White Throated Sparrow is quite clear and memorable. It was often used on Canadian nature TV shows a few decades back. It’s been described as “Old Sam Pea-bod-y Pea-bod-y Pea-bod-y.” No, I don’t know who Sam was!
I don’t want to steal a sound track, so if you’d like to hear it, please follow this link to the recordings on the AllAboutBirds website:
The second track sounds more like the ones I hear. For sure these birds have dialects and you may or may not agree that the recording sounds right!
- Excellent close up photos from the banding station at Hilton Head including the different colour variations of White Throated Sparrows
- What Brown Sparrow Has a Yellow and Black Beak and Is Wintering Here in Southern Ontario?
Have you heard White Throated Sparrows calling? Do you think Yellow Lored Sparrow might have been a better name? Please share your views with a comment.