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A Song Sparrow Named AlphaBits

Thursday, March 29, 2018

 Longtime readers of this blog will remember Luke, the leucistic song sparrow first photographed in this Appalachian Ohio yard on October 7, 2012. He was spectacular, and beloved, as all my special woodland friends are.

He'd show up for the Big Sit in mid-October, thrill our friends, hang around for a little while, then disappear until around Easter, when he'd set up territory in the side and back yard. Oh how I loved that little sparrow.

I'd photograph him through the bedroom window, singing in the crape myrtle by the fishpond. This is Easter, 2013. 

With his snow-white cap, throat, primaries and tail feathers, and his pale pink bill and legs, he was a showstopper. Leucistic birds are sometimes called "partial albinos." They have a patchy expression of albinism. Sometimes they're dilute and pale overall, but more often they have scattered white patches like Luke did.

 I felt so blessed to call him my friend and neighbor. How lucky can you get, to have a bird like this singing in your yard for three years?

This is my last photo of him, taken January 7, 2015. Luke didn't reappear in the spring of 2016. I was, of course, bereft. Again. I find myself bereft all too often. This is the lot of women who fall for wild things. However, if I have faith and wait, some other marvelous creature comes along to fill my critter-loving heart back up. Or, more properly, I fixate on another victim. ;)

What a cutie Luke was. I think he knew how special he was. Toward the end of his stay on Indigo Hill, I could call, Luuuuke!! and he'd pop up in the prairie meadow, as if he knew I needed to see him.

Last summer I noticed that one of my resident song sparrow's songs was very distinctive. Now, a song sparrow has a whole collection of songs that he mixes and matches throughout his day. They are all similar in pattern but not in pitch or notes. This song type was a doozy!

I loved hearing this bird all throughout the spring and summer of 2017. He left in the fall and I heard him no more. I was trying very hard to sleep in earlier this month when my subconscious took note that Alpha Bits had returned and was singing his distinctive little song outside my bedroom window--at 5:45 AM! I awoke and sat straight up with a big smile on my face. AlphaBits!! You're back!

Here's how he sounds. This video was taken at dawn, March 24, 2018. You can't see him, but you can sure hear him!


This bird sings the first six notes of The Alphabet Song. A B C D E F ... It's so melodic, it's uncanny. No wonder we call them song sparrows!

I have a bunch of audio recordings of AlphaBits from 2017 and already from this spring. It took a little while longer to get a halfway decent photo of Alpha Bits. I never managed to in 2017--he's very shy and he doesn't tend to sit high up and exposed while singing. But I got lucky later that same morning that I made the beautiful dawn video. These shots were taken through my bedroom window screen on March 24, 2018. So they're lousy. I've since taken the screen out and washed the windows. I've been trying to catch him ever since. He's singing, but not where I can photograph him. Soon enough, my pretty. I'll get you, and your little song, too!

He's not Luke, but he's beautiful all the same.

I love more than anything connecting with the special birds and animals who share my habitat. I love knowing that I have the same song sparrow as was here the year before. I am constantly looking and listening for the distinguishing features of each creature I meet.

Sometimes, the distinguishing feature is only in the song.

But that is enough. All of this is more than enough.

ZICK ALERT: TODAY, Thursday, March 29: I'll be telling the story of the WV snowy owl who dominated my blog just before last Christmas. I've distilled more than 1500 words and 160 photos into a gripping narrative. There's a lot of who'd'a thunk it stuff about snowy owls, too, courtesy Project SNOWstorm and a special guest photographer. 7 pm, Campus Martius Museum, 2nd and Washington Streets, Marietta, Ohio, March 28, 2018. I rarely get to speak locally so I'm very excited to see who shows up! Thank you!!


What a great post. I never even knew we could tell birds by their songs, although I do have to relearn bird songs when I change locations since they often have different dialects. And I'm losing my hearing so can''t hear parts or all of some bird songs but still love the ones I can still hear.

Wish I could come, but from West Central Michigan, it would be quite a commute!-Anita.

Hi Julie, I recently read your book Baby Birds and I was so impressed! Your artwork is absolutely beautiful and your writing shows how strongly you care about the birds. I worked at a wildlife rehab center last year, and your drawings had so much life in them that at times I felt like I was back with the babies I took care of.

This is all to say that I just found your blog and already sense the same tone of love and caring in your words here. Keep up your amazing work!


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