Bathing White-throated Sparrows

Early afternoon on a softly sunny, unusually warm day for this time of year, I opened windows in a room that faces the front yard, taking advantage of the weather to let some fresh air into the house. There’s a birdbath that stands among the shrubs just below these windows, and I was a little surprised to see not just one or two but several small birds in and around it. We’d filled the birdbath with fresh water in the morning, the birds were obviously delighted, and the scene made me think of a renaissance painting of bathing nymphs in a sylvan setting.

Most of the birds were White-throated Sparrows, plump brown-streaked sparrows with black and white-striped crowns, neat white throats and pale gray breasts, birds that most often stay well hidden in shrubby vegetation and come out cautiously to forage for food on the ground. These were all enjoying a warm-day outing with what looked like unusual abandon. One sat in the middle of the pool of water, dunking, splashing and doing its best to keep others away. Other White-throated Sparrows were all around in shrubs and on the ground, either waiting or trying to get in themselves. One and sometimes two at a time sat on the rim and took sips of water, and now and then one would hop in and splash briefly before being chased out. Three White-throated Sparrows waited in the dense green yews right beside the birdbath and others foraged nearby in brown mulch and green moss. All of them were coming and going in leisurely ways, looking unusually peaceful and at ease, for the moment feeling safe and hidden in this little spot.

The dominant White-throated Sparrow sat and soaked, splashing its wings and fluffing out its chest feathers, looking so sensual I could almost feel the fresh, cool water. The gold accent on its face gleamed, and the white throat feathers shined. After several minutes another bold sparrow flew up and got into the water with the first one, and they both splashed around while others came one or two at a time for drinks. 

The interlude lasted for several minutes and finally ended when a bright red male Northern Cardinal flew to the rim of the birdbath, sending all of the White-throated Sparrows scattering like dry leaves into nearby shrubs and out of sight. 

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