March Loners

While many birds gather in flocks during March, preparing for or engaging in migration, and others begin to congregate at favored nesting sites, a few species usually turn up alone as they move through the American Heartland.  In my experience, horned grebes and fox sparrows are among these March loners.

Visit lakes and wetlands in March and you are likely to see sizable flocks of geese and ducks; one might also encounter large congregations of American white pelicans, various shorebirds, coot and double-crested cormorants.  Pied-billed grebes often appear in pairs or small groups and even uncommon migrants, such as scoters, tend to migrate in flocks.  Horned grebes, on the other hand, are usually found alone, diving from the calm surface of a lake for hours at a time; on their way between southern lakes and coastal bays to breeding grounds across Alaska and the western half of Canada, their stopovers in the American Heartland tend to be brief.

In suburban areas, sparrows and juncos are common during March, preferring to feed on the ground with cardinals and mourning doves; mixed flocks of house sparrows, white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos are reliably present, sometimes joined by white-crowned sparrows that move in from rural areas as they prepare to head north.  Fox sparrows, should they appear at all, are often found alone amidst their smaller and more numerous cousins; these large, handsome sparrows winter across the Southeastern quadrant of North America but breed in forests of Canada, Alaska and the Mountain West.