Gold is gold. It doesn't matter what form it comes in, gold is gold. Whether it comes shooting out of a dynamite-blown-up mining claim, is found on a necklace or ring that is a pricey chunk of cash coming out of a billfold, a king or queen's headgear, or if it's a small patch of feathers found on a bird's head, gold is gold. In this case, even though it sounds strange, it comes from a bird's small patch of feathers on it's head. It's name even sounds cool. Let me introduce you to a Golden-crowned Sparrow.
The Golden-crowned Sparrow is one of the largest species of sparrows in North America. This sparrow is rather plain overall, but it does have a black head with a sharply contrasting patch of bright yellow "gold" on it's head. Given the golden feature, this bird is actually very striking as the conclusion in it's breeding plumage. Non-breeding birds, such as the one photographed above, are very plain. The Golden-crowned Sparrow breeds from the western half of Alaska south to northwestern Washington, and then it winters in the westernmost United States that are along the Pacific Coast. Breeding habitat consists of high and beautiful alpine meadows and clearings in the middle of coniferous forests. This sparrow will feed on the ground in pursuit of it's favorite insects and seeds. What is really golden about the Golden-crowned Sparrow is the song it sings. Hearing this bird sing it's song of serenity is comparable to finding a pot of gold itself. Think about it. Back in the day when gold seekers searched for gold by blowing up mountains in Alaska, a good percentage of the driven men had to come home empty handed by striking out. This situation had to have been depressing. The Golden-crowned Sparrows made sure to give them some sort of a consolation. Despite the depressed gold diggers, their moods were changed on their way home by hearing the song of the Golden-crowned Sparrow, and probably most of them were unaware of what a Golden-crowned Sparrow was. When the Golden-crowned Sparrow heads south from it's breeding grounds, it typically winters in chaparral and brushy habitats along the states of the Pacific west. This bird also wanders out of it's normal range annually but is rare west in winter of these Pacific states. In Arizona, Golden-crowned Sparrows are found annually but are rare. They are best found by scanning large flocks of the abundant and closely related White-crowned Sparrow. To find the gold, one has to scan these large flocks with patience in order to get lucky. In this case of the bird photographed below, Dominic Sherony found the gold.
Dominic stays in Arizona for a few months every year in Sun City Grand. Dominic is a very good birder, and he often finds rare birds. He has a few good locations he birds at within Sun City Grand, and at one of them he found this winter-plumaged Golden-crowned Sparrow. Ironically, when he first found this bird, there were only two other White-crowned Sparrows around! When Dominic showed me the Golden-crowned Sparrow when we went back to look at it a few days later (February 23rd, 2013), there were a lot more White-crowned Sparrows around. This sparrow was found at the Lakeside Pavilion at Sun City Grand, at the western most end of Remington Drive. There are also ponds at the Pavilion that attract numbers of wintering waterfowl and other good birds. Ironically again, Dominic found a different Golden-crowned Sparrow at the same location last winter. Many birders go out panning for gold on their field trips for certain rarities. As with real gold, you have to get lucky to find it. Birding is no different, you have to pan at the right place at the right time. Dominic obviously pans for birding gold in the right places!
More pictures of the Golden-crowned Sparrow: