Updated: Aug 19, 2018
All Creatures Great and Small
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
We know who the great creatures are at Glenbow, bucks accompanied by does and even fawns, the occasional coyote, and the big birds, hawks, owls and osprey. But what about the far more secretive yet abundant small ones, such as songbirds that make their home at the park in the summer. Lets look at a few insectivorous ones.
In Alberta, Clay-coloured Sparrows’ most common occurrence is in the prairies and parklands, not treed areas. A walk along a park trail can have them flitting out of the grasses every hundred feet. Listen for the insect-like buzzy calls of the male Clay-colored Sparrows from May through July. They can be distinguished from some other sparrows commonly found at Glenbow (eg., Vesper and Savannah) by their relatively unstriped buff breast. For food, Clay-coloured Sparrows search out insects in the shrubbery and seeds in the grass.
Nesting habitat is typically a shrubby area with wild grass, with the nest on the ground or in a low shrub within 1.5 metres of the ground. They build open cup nests out of grass, weeds and twigs, lining it with rootlets, fine grass, and hair. Be sure to keep dogs on leash where these or any birds may shelter.
Mountain Bluebirds may someday nest in boxes placed at strategic locations in the park, but, for now, they can be sighted passing through during spring (they can arrive in Alberta as early as March) and fall migration (an extended affair from mid-August to late October). They can’t resist the open country with a few trees for shelter offered at the park.
As members of the Thrush Family (think American Robins) they feed mainly on insects, spiders or other invertebrates, which they glean from short ground vegetation. Nest boxes are paired, with Tree Swallows often taking one box, and the bluebird occupying the other, since the former seeks out insects flying high and the bluebird will not compete with its ground watch. Unlike other bluebirds, they often hunt by hovering, obviously inspecting the ground below for any potential food item. The striking turquoise blue is unmatched against the prairie setting.
The next time you see an insect at the park think of the food source it is offering our beloved, small creatures.
For more on birds and birding, see also: