There has been a golden-crowned sparrow appearing at the feeder behind Red Rocks Park Trading Post most all winter. The golden-crowned sparrow is a Pacific bird found only in the western part of North America from the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains westward to the Pacific and some of the islands offshore.
It breeds in Alaska above timberline and migrates to southern California and Baja for the winter. They are relatively common in California west of the coastal mountains. They are also known to occur irregularly in winter east of the Rocky Mountains as erratic wanderers. However, the fact that a golden-crowned sparrow has returned to Red Rocks Park to the exact same place and feeder many times over the past years makes many of us wonder if it might be the same bird or perhaps an offspring with the same genes.
In order to prove this, the bird would have to be banded, preferably with colored bands so it could be identified just by viewing it through binoculars without any need to recapture it. There is hope that one of the banders in the Denver area might be able to do this for it could lead to some interesting research.
Through the use of satellites and our advanced technology, they already have discovered that many birds do not just migrate back and forth, north and south between breeding and wintering range. Some of the blackpoll warblers, which nest in western Alaska, migrate east across northern Canada and then fly south over the western Atlantic Ocean to northern South America.
This route takes them over thousands of miles of ocean when they could have reached the same destination, flying safely over land. It is not known for sure why birds migrate along the routes they take, but it is believed that it is probable that their ancestors took this route and survived while others taking other routes did not.
Therefore, they couldn’t change their route if they wanted to. This is obvious in the fact that many birds’ young migrate on their own with no parental guidance yet end up in the same wintering range.
The snowy owl that I mentioned last week is still about and many more have joined her. This seems to be the biggest incursion of snowy owls ever seen in the United States. The lemming population in the Arctic must have plummeted to an all-time low.
Snowy owls are being seen in great numbers as far south as North Carolina in the east, with many records in New England and across the boundary states. There were several listed for Colorado including some just south of Jumbo Reservoir, in fields around Barr Lake and other areas on the plains. If you want to see this beautiful arctic owl, look at the current sightings on your computer or if you are going out on the plains, stop and scope every snowy field, especially any field with wheat stubble. The spilled grain might attract ground squirrels and other rodents, which in turn attract the owls.
If you want to look for the golden-crowned sparrow, go into the trading post at Red Rocks and ask if you can look out the window at the feeder or go down the west side of the building past the men’s room to a little gazebo at the end of the cactus gardens. From there, you can look down on the feeder and perhaps see the bird.
They look much like the immature white-crowned sparrow, but the central crown stripe is golden yellow instead of white. Often in winter, this stripe is short just on the forehead and streaked with fine black lines. It’s not very bright and pretty as it will become in spring.
They will remind you of a white-crowned sparrow in looks, size and actions for they are closely related. The golden-crowned sparrow will probably be leaving sometime in February to return to California, so if you want to put it on your list of seen birds, you should look for it soon. Hopefully, it will make its winter journey again and visit us another year as it has in the past.