Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society
White-crowned Sparrow Color Banding Study
Dark Lored vs Light Lored? LCBAS Home
Do White-crowned Sparrows (WCSP) return to known feeding locations each year?
In September 2007, a local study began to explore this question.
For those following study results, here is the latest news. (updated Sept. 22, 2009)
Left, dark lored, presumably Mountain White-crown (oriantha). Dark on underside of bill is food, not bill color.
Right, (expected) light-lored Gambel's White-crown (gambelii)
Photograph taken at Finley, WA banding station, by J Lucas 4/29/2009.
September 2009 - Season Three
Season Three of the White-crowned Sparrow Project is now underway. The three original banding stations will still operate with the possibility of adding a new location. Location and Age colors remain the same and will be used with a white band to indicate season three. Last season yellow bands were used. The first band sightings are also starting.
In Richland, there have been three banded birds so far. Two are birds were banded as immatures last season. One is not color banded. Two birds escaped last spring before color bands were applied and a few birds were not color banded early in Season One. If things follow as they did last year, sightings will increase through this fall.
On September 21, there were 4 more banded birds at the Richland location – all from Season One!! The 2 banded as immatures are now in their third year. The 2 banded as adults are now at least in their fourth year.
May 2009 Update
On April 29, at the Finley banding location we had 2 White-crowned Sparrows in the ground trap. Bonnie noted that one was a dark lored bird. The lore is the area between the bill and eye. This was likely a Mountain White-crown (Z. l. oriantha) instead of the typical subspecies that we band which is Gambel’s White-crown (Z. l. gambelii, light lored). The lore was not as thick as pictured in the sparrow identification guides but they were definitely black. Bill shape was different and bill measurements were in the oriantha range.
On, May 2, Bill and Nancy LaFramboise observed a fully black-lored White-crowned Sparrow in their yard.
From the Birds of Washington: “Mountain White-crown: Uncommon local breeder in ne Pend Oreille Co. and Blue Mts., first recorded in WA during 1970 at Salmo Pass (Smith et al. 1997) Migratory movements in Washington unknown.”
At least some have passed through the Tri-Cities.
Yes, there were returns. White-crowned Sparrows that were banded during 2007-2008 left the Tri-Cities last spring to go to their breeding grounds in northern Canada or Alaska and returned this fall and winter to the locations where they had been banded.
At the Richland station, recapture has been hampered by inability to place nets where birds travel. Returns were tallied by counting the highest number seen at any one time. This method could undercount the returns as it cannot be determined if the birds noted are the same or different ones. By this method, Richland has tallied 10 returning birds out of 120 immatures and 67 adults banded. Six were birds banded as immature birds (born in 2007), 3 were banded as adults (born before 2007) and one was not color banded thus the age-when-banded is unknown.
At the Finley station there were some recaptures. Only one bird of each age-when-banded was observed at any one time, but seven different individuals were recaptured. 4 were immature when banded, 3 were adult when banded. The number of birds banded at the Finley station was 51 immature and 14 adult. One banded-as-an-adult bird was particularly interesting as in some literature the presence of brown in the hind-crown was thought to indicate a second-year bird. This bird was at least 3 years old and had brown in its hind-crown showing this trait to be unreliable for aging.
There were no returning birds noted at the Benton City location due to observer absence. Thirty birds were banded there in 2007-2008.
Sixteen White-crowned Sparrows were banded in North Richland but without color bands. These birds had the federal metal band attached on the left leg instead of on the right leg as done at the rest of the stations in this study. Even though only 16 White-crowns were banded at this location, at least one returned. Either this bird or another bird made multiple visits to a feeder in the neighborhood approximately 600 feet from the banding location.
Birds are being banded in the second season. All White-crowned Sparrows are being banded with a yellow band to indicate the 2008-9 season as well as the original colors used to indicate location and age when banded (see table).
In addition to the White-crowned Sparrows that were re-sighted, other banded birds have been observed including the one Red-winged Blackbird that was banded last season and at least five Dark-eyed Juncos (one actually recaptured).
The following explains what to look for at your feeders.
LOOK FOR BANDS
We need your eyes! If you see a color banded bird, please note the date, time, and band color(s) and send a report to Nancy LaFramboise at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509/627-3695.
Our second study period will begin this fall. We are adding a second color band – yellow – to identify the new birds we band during this migration cycle. If you spot a yellow band with another color, it is from this second year of study. If you only see one color band, you will know that bird was banded before May, 2008.
The colors other than yellow describe age and location. The Richland location (LaFramboise) is using red for young birds and black for mature birds. The Benton City location (Browers) is using light green and light blue. The Finley location (Dunham) is using pink and mauve.
Color Banding Study Description
Do the same White-crowned Sparrows you befriend and feed each winter return to your backyard year after year? Do the young ones experiencing their first migration find your hospitality to their liking and so "memorize" your address for future reference? In short, do White-crowned Sparrows (WCSP) return to known feeding locations each year?
Our study is designed to run for 5 years and the same three banding locations will be used each year, Richland, Finley, and Benton City. We try to band as many as possible because the recovery rate for small sparrows is extremely low. In addition to banding birds with US Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum bands, we color band them to increase our chances of observing returning birds without having to actually recapture them.
2008 - 2009 Banding Results (as of Sept. 30, 2008)
Good news, White-crowned Sparrows are back in town. The first report was a single juvenile on Bateman on August 28. Now they have been noted at several locations including at the Yakima Delta.
At the Richland site there have been at least 7 returning sparrows – 4 red seen together, 2 black seen together, and one with aluminum but no color band. Since there is no way to tell if a banded bird seen at one time is different than one seen later, we can only sum the totals of each color seen at one time. There could have been more.
At the Finley location at least 2 birds have returned. One pink (born 2007 – banded as an immature) and one mauve (born before 2007 – banded as an adult).
2007 - 2008 Banding Cycle Results
In this first year of our study, we banded intermittently from September, 2007 to April, 2008. During that time 461 birds were banded including:
The first of these locations was along the Yakima River 2 linear miles from the Richland site. An immature bird was noted on December 14, December 22, January 14, March 10, April 14, April 16, and April 24. The bird was in immature plumage when banded so we know that it was born in 2007.
The second location was only 750 feet from the Richland banding site yet only this 1 immature bird was observed on April 10 and 11. That gives us a hint that perhaps the birds of the year wander around to find a feeder they like while the adults know where they are going to spend the winter.
But note that out of a total of 295 banded WCSPs, just 2 birds were observed at feeder locations other than where they were captured and banded!
Key to color bands - 1st Cycle 2007-2008
Nancy and Bill LaFramboise, Bonnie Dunham, Howard Browers, and Ed Rykiel