Weary Willie’s distinctive call is waking up our neighborhood for the first time in five months. Last week, following an unusual big early storm sweeping in from up north, the first Golden Crowned Sparrows arrived here in Davenport from their migration to British Columbia or perhaps Alaska.
Nicknamed ‘weary Willie’ for their call – “I’m so weary,” – this sparrow is our wintertime friend here, with ~20 bird flocks returning to exactly the same small shrub patches they inhabited last year here at Molino Creek Farm. Well, at least SOME of the birds return, and some of those with their young which were born perhaps as far north as the ‘Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.’ Way up north, the a male feeds his mate as she incubates eggs. Between flying back and forth, making a nest, feeding each other, fledging and raising young, they’ve been very busy since they left. I’m fascinated with them because of their social structure and their tendency, like me, to be ‘home bodies.’
Bruce Lyon, a professor at UC Santa Cruz has been studying flocks at the UCSC Arboretum. He finds up to 50% (or more!) of the birds returning in fall migration. He has confirmed what many have noted – ‘high site fidelity’ – with the Arboretum birds. Bird banding makes all that possible; I wish I could recognize individual birds well enough to do that from memory.
Individual birds are recognizable, and their plumage can tell you how high on the pecking order they reside. Lyon has also noted that the size and color of their golden crowns, the patches of yellow on their heads, varies with their status in their flock. The bigger and more striking the yellow, the more dominant the birds…including yellow patches on females that are dominant over duller males. Taking the time to distinguish and even name individual birds in our flock is fun and helps me to understand a little of what is going on in the yard.
In past years, I have noticed that the birds ride the first winter cold fronts around Fall Equinox, perhaps taking advantage of the winds to help carry them. I also wonder if they migrate more during the darker moon phases that intersect with those cold fronts, though last year they arrived during Full Moon. I understand that many birds migrate mostly at night to avoid predation. A small group of us sometimes place bets on first rain date as well as first golden crowned sparrow arrival dates. This year, they came right on time…
Welcome back Golden Crowned Sparrows!
I’ll keep track of arrival and departure dates (with a few notes) from various years here, starting this fall:
Arrival: 9/21/15- first posted this post on that date.
Arrival: 9/21/21, full moon, day before Equinox, directly after N Cal atmospheric river event
Arrival: 9/20/22, right after a big unusual winter storm swept down from up North and brought the first significant rainfall to our area. Moon phase: waning crescent.