Every Canadian knows the song of the white-throated sparrow, a three-second-long clear whistle: “Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” Males start singing to establish territory as soon as they arrive in cottage country in the spring.
Did you know that white-throats come in two different colour patterns? White-crowned and tan-crowned. “White-crowned” birds have black and white head stripes, and “tan-crowned” birds have brownish-black and tan head stripes. Stats show that opposite-coloured birds tend to pair up to mate, so—thanks, genetics!—the two colour “morphs” endure.
Strange fact alert: these sparrows might be most famous for their patriotic tune, but they’re also known for producing hybrid offspring. White-throated sparrows will mate with dark-eyed juncos—grey or brown sparrows with short pink bills and long tail feathers—and produce mash-up babies that look and sing a little like both parents. Avian hybrids are rare, but possible in many species. They’re most common with ducks, gulls, and hummingbirds.