Towhees (Emberizidae Family)
(Pipilo maculatus) and California Towhees (P. crissalis)
reside year-round in the riparian, oak woodland, and chaparral understories
of Quail Ridge. While the Spotted is widespread throughout the western
U.S. and all but the southern interior of California, the California
Towhee is restricted to western California and Baja. At Quail Ridge,
similar numbers of each have been found on the ridge, but the Spotted
is more abundant in Decker Canyon.
Towhees are distinguished by their foraging behavior:
using both feet in unison, a bird will scratch loose ground debris
behind itself to reveal underlying food items. Both species are
omnivorous, changing their diet from insects and arthropods in the
breeding season to seeds and fruits in the non-breeding season.
However, the Spotted is more insectivorous, and the California more
granivorous. Both towhees also can be found foraging in mixed-species
flocks with smaller sparrows during the winter.
occurs mid-April to late May for these monogamous, highly territorial
birds. The female Spotted Towhee builds a cup nest into the ground
litter or upon elevated vegetation, typically at the edges of thickets.
The California Towhee constructs a bulky stick nest in a shrub or
low tree, typically never on the ground. Both females will lay 3-5
eggs. Spotted Towhees are commonly brood parasitized by Brown-headed
Cowbirds and California Quail, while California Towhees are uncommon
cowbird hosts. Western Scrub Jays, common king snakes, and California
ground squirrels may also eat eggs.
Winter Sparrows (Emberizidae Family)
Quail Ridge serves as wintering grounds for three
species of sparrow: Golden-crowned (Zonotrichia atricapilla),
White-crowned (Z. leucophrys), and Fox (Passerella
iliaca). Common throughout California, each inhabits riparian,
chaparral, and deciduous undergrowth, ground foraging for insects,
seeds, and berries. They breed in the northwestern U.S. or Canada,
and each forms a cup nest on the ground or on low woody plants.
Throughout the winter, crowned sparrows congregate
in stable mixed flocks of 10 to 50 birds that may or may not include
other passerines. These sparrows show strong fidelity to their wintering
grounds, often returning to the same site every year. Impetus for
flocking likely includes predator defense and increased foraging
The White-crowned Sparrow has the widest North
American distribution, while the Golden-crowned is restricted to
the western-most U.S. and Canada. The White-crowned uniquely favors
brushy, less forested areas and uses the most diverse array of hunting
strategies: hawking, gleaning insects from surfaces, and ground
foraging further from cover. It is less common at Quail Ridge than
the Golden-crowned Sparrow.
Also widespread throughout the U.S. and Canada,
the Fox Sparrow hosts multiple physically and behaviorally distinct
populations. Two of these potentially overwinter at Quail Ridge
the Sooty (common) and, Slate-colored (rare) races. These variants
respectively breed in northern California north to Alaska along
the coast and in the Interior Rocky Mountains. As with towhees,
this large sparrow uses both feet to kick leaves aside to forage.
Species and Guild Accounts
Listen and identify birds at: http://identify.whatbird.com/mwg/_/0/attrs.aspx
Photo Credits: Title, California Quail,
California Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and White-crowned Sparrow
(Joyce Gross), Spotted Towhee (Jim Dunn), . For more pictures see: