For many of us, these fall and winter months are our season for lives inside. Once the winds of November arrive, our hikes become less frequent and our hours in the garden become shorter as the harsher weather and diminished light remind us of our list of books to read and everything we’ve been meaning to watch on Netflix.
As I write this, it is dusk on a howling November night. I have the window open slightly – just enough to hear the whistle of the stronger gusts or perhaps a nearby owl. To my surprise at this dark hour, the bird I hear is a song sparrow giving a few chips of its call note.
The song sparrow is the bird no one notices. It is a true little brown job skulking on the ground scratching away. They are striped, but not wildly. A medium size for a sparrow, neither large nor small. Their distinguishing feature could be the fact they have no particularly distinguishing features. They are rarely remarked on by birders beyond ‘just a song sparrow’. As I sit at my desk writing, I listen to see if it will call again.
This morning at dawn, the first bird I saw was an Anna’s hummingbird up and moving before the sky was light. I am reminded that this is not the season of tanagers and warblers. Their migrant ways seem unreliable somehow as though they can’t commit to habitat or range.
Now our gardens are filled with our stalwart overwintering birds. This song sparrow I hear was likely born in my garden or perhaps a neighbour’s. It works my garden for food each day of its life, washes in my bird bath each day, comes close during snow on my covered patio searching out seed I leave in a storm. It chases away competitors for habitat – now, the golden-crowned sparrows, and, come spring, the white-crowned sparrows. They cannot compete! My song sparrow knows each shrub, each patch of my garden – of his garden.
Along with the Anna’s hummingbird, the ravens and the crows, we are all at home on this beautiful Coast during winter. What a reliable sparrow to call out to me on a blustery November night.
— Alexis Harrington