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White-crown sparrows herald coming of fall

POSTED September 18, 2012 8:53 p.m.

When I was a kid I was excited about September because that’s when school started — and it also meant a reprieve from farm labor.  My dad was an almond farmer and back in those days the whole family helped with the harvest.

Now I look forward to September because of the fall bird migration and especially the return to the Valley of the white-crowned sparrows. These birds come here to spend the winter and their arrival coincides with the beginning of autumn — sometimes to the exact day.  I think this is rather amazing.  In some parts of the country, robins signal the arrival of spring.  In the San Joaquin Valley, white-crowns announce the coming of fall.

White- crowns are one of my favorite birds. They are mostly brown and gray, with the adults having black and white stripes on their heads. I love their distinctive song and sometimes I will hear one before I see one. This song has been described as a series of clear, plaintive notes followed by a trill. I would say it is melodious! They are ground feeders, often perching in a tree or bush, then hopping down to the ground to look for seeds.

It is often said that birds fly south for the winter. But as I would tell kids during classroom bird talks, we are south for a great number of bird species. Central California in the winter is a great place for bird watching. So keep your eyes and ears open and enjoy the arrival of autumn and the birds that come with it!

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