Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sparrows 101

When I first started birding I used to think all sparrows looked alike but I know now that was a total misconception on my part.

At our feeders presently we have both Chipping Sparrows and Tree Sparrows. At a brief glance these two do look similar but there are a couple of quick ways to tell them apart. The Tree Sparrow has a dark spot in the center of its breast whereas the Chipping Sparrow's breast is unmarked. Also the Tree Sparrow's beak is bicoloured with the bottom part being yellow.

I wait every spring for the Fox Sparrows to show up. They don't stay long but while here feed constantly before continuing on thier migration route. "Red as a fox!" is a good way to describe a Fox Sparrow. Look at the difference in colour between the Fox Sparrow shown here and the brown of the Song Sparrow shown below it. While both sparrows, the Fox and the Song, have a central spot cluster on their breasts, the markings on the Song Sparrow appear more distinct whereas those of the Fox Sparrows have a mottled appearance.
Its pretty hard to not pick out the white bib on this White-throated Sparrow, but if you miss that just look for its yellow lores, the feathers between the eye and the bill. Another sparrow that can be identified by its yellow lores is a Savannah Sparrow.
I have left this White-crowned Sparrow to the last for its the only sparrow shown here that I have not seen yet this spring. It will probably be around soon though, during the early part of May. Like the Fox Sparrow, the White-crowned Sparrow will be only passing through, but we see it in our feeder area in both the spring and then in the fall when its migration is in progress again. Its not to hard to figure out why it is called 'White-crowned'.


Stacey Huston said...

What a beautiful array of colors. Thanks for sharing. You could write your own field guide with all these photos. ;-)

Mary said...

That is a really great and informative post. I wish that I had read it when I first started identifying birds :-) I had a terrible time learning the sparrows. You have all the same ones that I get, but I don't ever see the Savannah or the Fox. This year was the first time I had a tree sparrow and I did think it was a chipping sparrow at first. I think all the sparrow are fascinating when you really study them like you have. Your pictures of each one really show the important points.

Mike - Fenphotography said...

Stunning shots, shame our sparrow isn't as colourful, the 2nd shot is my favourite, but they all look great. Mike.

Becky said...

Gorgeous photos of the sparrows. We have the White Throated and the White Crowned in the winter. The rest of them late winter till early Spring. The Chipping Sparrow can be here anytime. Great pictures !

Island Rambles Blog said...

I think this is one of the best darn birding posts I ever did see..you have perfect pictures of each sparrow...I have seen most of these sparrows and this will help me not to mix them up!!! Cheers and Happy Earth Day!!

NW Nature Nut said...

We have a couple of the same sparrows as you, but you have a few different ones. It's interesting to see the regional differences in the Song Sparrows and even the White Crowns. Thanks for sharing....I find the White Crowns hard to photograph (so elusive).

Birdnerd said...

Your Fox Sparrow is entirely different from ours in the Pacific Northwest....we have the "sooty" race and "red as a fox" could never be applied to ours. I'd love to see the eastern version sometime.
A Chipping Sparrow showed up in my yard during migration one year and I just about fell off my chair....not too common in these parts.

me and my camera said...

I have always wanted to do this post but just hadn't gotten around to it. Thanks for the review :-)

Perhaps I'll add a Swamp Sparrow also. I seldom see them but once one was at our feeders for a few days a couple of years ago. Glad you enjoyed this.

I like the little Tree Sparrows also and I am surprised they are still here for they nest in the north and should be gone by now I'd think. One was still here yesterday though.

Its so interesting to note where these little sparrows are at different times of the year. Isn't it so wonderful to be able to share such information via the internet.

Its so good that this may prove helpful to some. Thank you for your appreciative comments.

nw naturenut:
The White-crowned Sparrows are very attractive and its makes my feeder area especially interesting when they are here for their short migration stop over.

I looked up the Sooty version of the Fox Sparrow and I see what you mean. The differences between east and west are so interesting to note. Another bird species difference between east and west is the Red-shafted flicker in the west and the Yellow -shafted one in the east.

Thank you all for your comments. They are very much apprecited.