The heavy snow cover across central Missouri has dramatically increased visitors to our backyard feeder. After all, when natural food sources (i.e. plant seeds) are less available, birds are more inclined to take advantage of our handouts.
The usual mix of songbirds have made their appearance, dominated by house finches, chickadees, titmice, white-throated and house sparrows, cardinals, mourning doves, juncos, Carolina wrens and white-breasted nuthatches. Blue jays, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, purple finches and American goldfinches have also stopped by for the sunflower seed. Joining these common winter residents, a large, handsome fox sparrow has been especially conspicuous.
Fox sparrows breed in the coniferous woodlands of northern Canada, Alaska and the mountain corridors of the American West, wintering across the southern half of the U.S. and along the Pacific Coast. While they feed primarily on insects and other small invertebrates during the warmer months, scratching beneath shrubs and thickets for their prey, fox sparrows switch to a diet of seeds and berries in winter and may turn up at backyard feeders, where they search for fallen morsels on the ground. On their wintering grounds, these large sparrows, which have a wide range of plumage colors and patterns, are generally solitary and, in my experience, most often visit feeders in late February or March. Of course, this hardy and handsome visitor is welcome anytime.