[midvalleybirds] Cowbird chick being fed by "Oregon" Vesper Sparrow, Benton County

clearwater at peak.org clearwater at peak.org
Mon Jul 8 18:06:15 PDT 2019

Yesterday at one of our "Oregon" Vesper Sparrow monitoring sites west of Philomath, I saw a banded male Vesper Sparrow carrying grasshoppers to a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird that was begging high up in an oak tree. 

Heart-breaking to see, as this sparrow subspecies (endemic to western Oregon, western Washington, and formerly the NW corner of California and SW British Columbia) is already on the ropes and has been proposed for Endangered Species Act listing. 

I saw this particular male and his mate earlier this year, singing and apparently nesting in somewhat uncharacteristic habitat -- in the edge of an "open canopy" oak woodland rather than the usual savanna type of habitat structure. A big part of the problem for ground-nesting prairie/savanna birds is the loss of open habitats. Where populations still persist, we see them trying to nest in more "treed" situations. But more proximity to trees means more proximity to perches where nest predators (such as jays) or nest parasites (namely cowbirds) can keep an eye open for nests. 

On a more humorous note, I also heard, then saw a Red-breasted Sapsucker that was trying to drum on a steel I-beam spanning between two very high poles on a regional powerline. It brought to mind the "Blunt-billed Woodpecker" described in this book: 
[ https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/650985.A_Field_Guide_to_Little_Known_and_Seldom_Seen_Birds_of_North_America | https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/650985.A_Field_Guide_to_Little_Known_and_Seldom_Seen_Birds_of_North_America ] 
With my binoculars I couldn't tell if it had the characteristic blood-shot eyes, as depicted in that guide. 

Oh, and speaking of Red-breasted Sapsuckers, today two juveniles from the nest in our back yard were out and flying around, pestering each other on an ancient telephone pole in our side yard. The metal tag on that pole indicates that it was put up by "BAXCO" out of Eugene, Ore. (yes, this was back before the US Postal Service bowdlerized state abbreviations) in 1950. About 5 years ago a guy was out here to inventory poles, and when he saw that tag, he said, "That's a miracle!" I guess it's even more of a miracle now. Anyway, I think those young sapsuckers will need to learn that even 69-year-old telephones aren't a good place to drill sap wells. Life is tough and full of lessons, when you're a teenager. 


Joel Geier 
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis 

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