AMERICAN TREE SPARROW
The American Tree Sparrow is a bird with a name that doesn’t fit its behavior. European settlers in North America named the bird because of its similar looks to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow found in Europe. But the American Tree Sparrow isn’t a “tree” bird. It forages for food on the ground and nests on the ground.
American Tree Sparrows have a rusty cap and rusty eye line (not to be confused with Chipping Sparrows that have a rusty cap and black eye line). They have a streaked brown back and an unstreaked gray to buff breast with a dark smudge in the center of the breast.
The Chipping Sparrow is among the smaller sparrows, up to two inches smaller than the Song Sparrow.
Chipping Sparrows are easy to identify during the summer months, with a crisp, distinct look: pale face with a black line through the eye and a rusty crown and white chest. That changes during the winter when the bird’s feathers become more a subdued brown with streaked upperparts. The black eye line is still visible but the cap becomes a duller reddish brown.
Chipping Sparrows feed on the ground but sing from the tops of small trees.
Unlike the inappropriately named American Tree Sparrow, which isn’t a “tree” bird, the Field Sparrow is appropriately named. Its habitat is open fields with low perches and its nests are usually built on the ground in a clump of grass or, if the field has tall grass and leafy bushes, the nest may be a few feet off the ground hidden by grass or leaves.
Field Sparrows can be identified by their warm color, distinct white eye ring, pink bill, grayish chest with orange-ish highlights, a rufous crown and matching wide lines behind the eyes.
I often see Field Sparrows gathering food for their young during the spring. If I watch a bird’s irregular path returning to the nest I can usually identify the location of the nest. This helps me get in position for photos of the birds carrying food.
Field Sparrows are common but their population has declined almost 2.5 percent a year since 1966 as their open-field habitat has declined because of development.
Fox Sparrows are named for the rich red feathers, but the look of the bird can vary widely. There are four main varieties, ranging from fox red like the ones I’ve photographed to gray or dark brown.
In the eastern half of North America, Fox Sparrows spend summers in northern Canada and winters in the southeast United States. They migrate through Ohio. The two photos I have of a Fox Sparrow were taken in a local park in late November while the bird was migrating south. They are the only photos I have of Fox Sparrows. They also represent the only time I’ve seen a Fox Sparrow.
I’ve probably heard Grasshopper Sparrows frequently during my photo hikes but I seldom see them. The birds stay hidden in fields and rarely pop into the open.
The name comes from the bird’s diet – it eats a lot of grasshoppers – and from the insect-like song it emits while hidden in fields. Anyone passing the field would assume they are hearing a cricket or some other type of insect.
House Sparrows are very common in North America, just as they are throughout Europe, but they aren’t related to other North American sparrows. They are classified as Old World sparrows.
House Sparrows were introduced into Brooklyn, N.Y., from Europe in 1851 and quickly spread across North America. Many consider the birds a nuisance because they prefer to nest in manmade structures – walls or eaves of buildings, street lights – instead of natural nest sites. And they tend to travel in large flocks.
They have little fear of people and are often common in densely populated areas.
The males are brightly colored with gray heads bordered by white cheeks, a rufous neck and black bib. Females are buffy brown with gray-brown underneath.
Savannah Sparrows have one feature that makes them easy to identify: the yellow patch in front of the eye. Without that patch they would look like a lighter version of a Song Sparrow.
The birds spend their summers in Canada and the northern U.S., including Ohio where I live, before moving south for the winter. The favor habitats with open areas of low vegetation.
My bird books say that the Savannah Sparrow is one of the most numerous songbirds in North America, but I only have one photo in my files that I have labeled as a Savannah Sparrow. I’m sure there are a number of others that I have misidentified as Song Sparrows. One of these days I’ll get time to go through my files and check.
The Song Sparrow is one of the most common and most familiar North American sparrows. If you see a brown streaky bird fly by there’s a good chance it’s a Song Sparrow.
In general, a Song Sparrow’s feathers are a rich brown and gray with a streaky brown and white chest, but this can vary among the more than 50 forms of Song Sparrows described by scientists. I’ve photographed a number of Song Sparrows with heads that are more brown and white than brown and gray.
Song Sparrows are year-round residents in this region of the country.
Some of my favorite bird photos are my shots of Song Sparrows singing atop tall plants or shrubs in fields.
Swamp Sparrows do live in swamps and other wetland habitats. The birds have longer legs than other sparrows, allowing it to wade in shallow water to search for food.
But I think it’s a bit odd that my photos of Swamp Sparrows have all been captured in dry, open fields. I guess they must have been traveling between swamps when I found them.
They are winter residents in this region of the country. The birds have a reddish cap during breeding season and a streaked cap with a gray central stripe in non-breeding plumage. They have reddish wings, whitish throat and chest and gray on the face and neck.
I know that winter is near when I start seeing White-crowned Sparrows in the fields of local parks. The birds summer in Alaska and northern Canada and spend winters across much of the United States.
The White-crowned Sparrow is one of the easiest sparrows to identify, with the bold black-and-white head, pale beak and gray breast. It is also one of the larger members of the sparrow family.
Like the White-crowned Sparrow, I start seeing White-throated Sparrows in my area during fall and early winter. The birds spend summers in Canada and winters mostly in the eastern half of the U.S. plus Texas.
Like the White-crowned Sparrow, the White-throated Sparrow has a black-and white striped head. But it also has a yellow patch between the eye and its gray bill. And the bright white throat is the most obvious identifying mark. There’s also a variety that is less boldly marked – known as “tan-striped” – that has a tan on brown face pattern instead of the white on black pattern.