By Larry Czajkoski
The first field mark most bird watchers notice on the White-throated Sparrow is not the white throat, but rather the black-and-white striped head pattern with a yellow spot between the eyes and bill. Spending most of the summer in the boreal coniferous forests of New England and Canada, the White-throated Sparrow spends fall and winter far to the south. This vivacious member of the sparrow family winters in abundance in North Carolina (arriving to NC in September and usually staying well into May.) Usually it is seen in flocks about the shrubbery of the lawn or garden, as well as in weed patches or thickets near the borders of fields.
In the fall months and again in the warmer winter months and spring, you’ll most likely hear the sweet whistled song of the White-throated Sparrow perhaps before you see it. The song is generally two single notes followed by three triple notes (“Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody”).
In order to spot this bird, look to the ground first as White-throated Sparrows prefer to feed on the ground (especially below your feeders.) In fall their diet shifts from insects to berries; in winter they feed mostly on seeds from grasses. And that is just what the White-throated Sparrow in this photo was doing when I photographed him in the backyard of my Lake Lure home. At bird feeders they are attracted to mixed seed, cracked corn, and sunflower or peanut bits offered on the ground or on a platform feeder. If your feeders are some distance from cover, consider moving them closer to the woods’ edge, or add a brush pile nearby to make woodland birds (such as the striking White-throated Sparrow) feel more at home.