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Volume 11, Issue 10
October 2013


The Nature of Cedar Mill
Dark and Rainy Days of fall
By Lauretta Young

golden-crowned sparrow
Male Golden-Crowned Sparrow in Cedar Mill. © 2013 by Lauretta Young.

It is the start of October and my tomato plants and I can discern the shortening of the days. Many of my squash plants have mildew and are turning yellow; my geraniums have quit blooming with the colder nights, and our backyard bird population has definitely become typical of fall.

Two days ago I heard the first of the plaintive minor notes of the Golden Crowned Sparrows. Many people who see these “brown birds” in their yard just take a quick glance without really “seeing” what is there. Take a minute to study what is in your yard—you may be delighted to notice what is there.

In winter, sparrows often are in mixed flocks, where a combination of several species fly around and forage together. Complicating the identification of individuals is that generally the groups can include adults and younger birds. The younger birds generally have less distinct coloration and may be slightly smaller.

The gold on the Golden Crowned Sparrow may be difficult to see in dim light. Often these birds are rummaging about under bushes. You may get a glimpse before they duck back under cover. Patience is generally rewarded as they pop in and out of underbrush. Golden Crowns tend to be quite vocal in the winter, compared to the other sparrow species which may co-occur. Golden Crowns have a mournful long call—listen to it on Cornell Ornithology web site recordings.

To help you get started with sorting out the brown yard birds, look at the chest area. If there are no streaks, you most likely have Golden Crowned Sparrows or White Crowned Sparrows. If the chest is streaked, you are probably seeing our most common brown yard bird in this area—the Song Sparrow, which is a resident bird and typically doesn’t migrate. This means you see this bird all year long. You see the other two sparrows only in the spring as they migrate to their breeding grounds in the northern parts of Alaska and Canada or as they return to winter here.

The migration of birds is still a scientific mystery in many ways. From a mystical point of view, it is amazing to me that some initial bird ever got the knowledge that small bugs are found in huge numbers if they fly north thousands of miles. How did that ever get started??? The return of our winter friends always brings this mystery back to my mind. These tiny creatures fly hundreds or thousands of miles in inclement weather every year. What a journey.

Take a look in your own backyard and be intrigued, amazed and delighted in all your senses. Listen, look and learn.

Lauretta Young MD is the current Medical Director of the OHSU Resiliency program. She also has a private bird tour business where she teaches deep observation skills as well as bird behavior to tourists and locals—visit her web site at and see more of her husband’s photos at

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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
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Portland, Oregon 97291
© 2013