Winter in the Sacramento Valley is high season for birds. Seasonal refugees fleeing the cold from as far away as Siberia flock here. The headliners are sandhill cranes, snow geese and the exotic hawks and ducks in our wildlife preserves.
However, there are many interesting “little brown birds” that take up seasonal residence right here in our own backyards. Regular winter visitors include several species of sparrows – such as white-crowned sparrows, golden-crowned sparrows, fox sparrows and dark-eyed juncos – that are missing the rest of the year.
Identifying them is easy, especially if you have binoculars to look at them carefully. White-crowns and golden-crowns give you a clue in their names. Fox sparrows have heavily spotted or streaked chests. Juncos have gray or black hoods with a cheerful splash of white on the tail that gives them away when they fly.
In the fall, you can occasionally hear the primeval calling of sandhill cranes, migrating south. Often they are so high in the sky that you cannot even see them.
Much closer at hand, the sweet whistling song from your shrubs of returning white-crown sparrows is just as sure a marker of seasonal change.
Attending to the changes in your yard bird cast is one simple way to connect with the web of wildlife that girdles our globe.