Thursday, April 16, 2009
Bird book authors often come up with cute little phrases or “mnemonics” to describe the sounds made by birds. One bird whose song is described in this way more than any other is the White-throated Sparrow. This sparrow’s song has often been written as “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” Birdwatchers in Canada hear a slightly different sound, and describe it with nationalistic fervor as “Oh, Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” An author who must have had a certain woman on his mind, wrote the song as “Oh, sweet Kimberly, Kimberly, Kimberly.” It has always seemed to me that the White-throated Sparrow’s song is far too somber and mournful to contain the word “sweet.” For that reason, “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” is quite appropriate as a way to remember this bird’s song. The White-throated Sparrow is one of the most attractive of the native North American sparrows. Its head is marked with black and white stripes, it has a bright yellow spot in front of each eye, and on the throat is a clear white patch. They nest in Canada and the northern United States, and spend the winter in the southern portion of North America.
The rather scruffy-looking bird pictured above was feeding below the Farm Island bird feeders in Pierre yesterday afternoon. It was the first White-throated Sparrow I have seen all year. The photograph below is one of my favorites because I took it one autumn while standing next to Jim Rising, the author of a comprehensive book on North American sparrows, The Sparrows of the United States and Canada. That bird posed nicely for our group for the longest time--as if it knew who was among those watching it!