White-crowned Sparrow. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Well studied across the continent and first formally described in 1772, this bird is easy to tell apart from other sparrows. In Wyoming it nests in alpine meadows. The male does almost all the singing and sings year round, having learned its only song before 3 months of age. Listen for its sweet notes as it joins the juncos under your sunflower feeder any week now.
Published Jan. 27, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Pine Siskin. Photo by Pete Arnold.
This unpredictable winter visitor goes where the food is. One individual banded at one location one winter was recaptured half a continent away the next. Related to goldfinches, and sometimes hanging out with them, it looks for seeds from plants of the sunflower and grass families and gleans insects and spiders. It nests in open stands of conifers (spruce, fir and pine). A study showed that in southeastern Wyoming, small clear cuts were beneficial to them.
Published Jan. 20, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Evening Grosbeaks. Photo by Elizabeth Boehm.
This species is seen rarely in Cheyenne, even in winter when flocks look for their favorite winter food source of fruits that have been de-fleshed by other bird species. They crack the seeds left behind. They are also fond of spruce bud worms, road salt, tree sap and flowers, and bird feeders. They hardly ever sing, singing being a territorial advertisement, because they are not territorial even during the breeding season. Sometimes they nest in a colony.
Published Jan. 13, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Elizabeth Boehm.
Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Pete Arnold.
The plain grey bird you’ll see at the top of the juniper tree came down from the mountains for the winter and is defending a territory sized to provide a winter’s worth of juniper berries. Chances are it was the solitaire visiting last year and will be back to the same territory next year. While it has an elaborate song, in winter you’ll hear its fluted, one-note call.
Published Jan. 6, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Horned Lark. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Though we see flocks year round in open country, especially grazed land, we probably see different subspecies in winter than summer. The 21 subspecies have differing amounts of white and yellow on the throat and eyebrow stripe. Those from drier climates have lighter brown backs, to match dry, local soil. As they fly they call “su-weet” to each other to keep the flock together.
Published Jan. 28, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Rough-legged Hawk. Photo by Pete Arnold.
The large hawks we see in winter are sometimes this species, visiting from arctic nesting grounds. Our plains remind them of their summer home on the edge of the treeless tundra. While hovering, or perched on top of a utility pole, they are watching for small rodents to pounce on. Their “rough” legs are covered in feathers, right down to their feet, which is unusual for hawks.
Published Jan. 22, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Common Goldeneye. Photo by Pete Arnold.
This sea duck breeds in northern boreal forests around the world, fighting over cavities in trees and rocks for nesting. However, it winters on coasts and inland water, including Sloan’s Lake at Lions Park. Watch for them diving in synchrony for small fish, fish eggs, crustaceans and mollusks. Spectacular courtship displays may start in the next few months.
Published Jan. 14, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.