A Golden Crown...
...and a tick! On a chilly morning last week, I encountered a half dozen Golden-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) dressed in their winter plumage. This group, or "reign" as it is called, was foraging in the grass near Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park. Around here, we only see them in the winter. Their breeding range is further north, Alaska, the Yukon Territory and British Columbia. Last winter, I caught some visiting my yard in BirdCam photos.
It was only after I got home that I realized that there was additional wildlife in some of the photos. One little fellow was host to a tick. After some internet searching, I learned that the parasite is possibly Haemaphysalis chordeilis, the Bird Tick which is known to occur in British Columbia. Other possibilities include Ixodes spp. also found in Canada. Ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever in humans, but not much is known about how they affect migrating birds. One source indicated that when it is finished feeding, it would probably drop off and leave its host unharmed. This was reassuring. Apparently, it is not uncommon to find ticks around the eye, bill and head of birds where preening is difficult. A second source confirmed this encouraging news. The bird in the photo did not exhibit any signs of distress. The little guy scratched and foraged as vigorously as his companions.
Other birds in the group appeared to be tick free. This would hopefully indicate that infestation is not a widespread problem among birds in migrating flocks.