Archive for Sparrows

Song Sparrow 12/14/17

Seapoint is a stubby spit of grass and scrub poking into the Atlantic, flanked by Seapoint and Crescent Beaches and backed by the salt marshes draining Chauncey Creek in Kittery Point. While Seapoint offers a a wealth of bird life, on land and sea and in the air, at any time of year, this little Song Sparrow and its mate are the only-year round avian residents of the 2+ acres that I know of. I regularly see one or both of them every time I visit, usually several times a week.


Swamp Sparrow male 11/30/17

Chunky, gray faced, white-throated, rusty winged, and an unstreaked pale breast are the combination of field marks distinguishing a Swamp Sparrow. Males like this one also have a reddish cap reminiscent of a Chipping Sparrow. They breed in wetlands across the northern US and across boreal Canada, feeding primarily on insects and other invertebrates they can forage at the water’s edge, often wading in shallow water and even sticking its head underwater to find food. In fall and winter their diet depends more on the seeds of grasses and weed species, and is when you’re more likely to spot one away from water. Not one of the commoner sparrows in these parts.


Song Sparrow 3/23/17

Male Song Sparrows are already singing for Madge, Madge, Madge to put on the tea kettle please. I heard this one just a couple of days ago, and if it weren’t for him singing, I’d not have known he was male. A few handfuls of these backyard songbirds endure the New England winters, presumably to get a jump on the best territory for spring breeding, but that’s just a guess. I’ve been learning that quite a few migrant species have individuals that brave the winter hardships, and that field guide range maps are pretty worthless when it comes to winter ranges, especially along the coast. A much more reliable source of what species are pushing their winter boundaries is ebird, which has real up to date data based on first-hand accounts in any given area.



American Tree Sparrow 1/6/17


American Tree Sparrows look much like Chipping Sparrows, except for 3 field marks—the dark spot on their breasts, a rusty (not black) eyestripe, and the two-toned bill of black over yellow. Otherwise they are very similar birds, but they don’t much overlap in space or time. In New England when Chipping Sparrows have gone south for the winter, American Tree Sparrows arrive from the Arctic tundra shortly afterward, giving rise to their other common (and more apt) name of Winter Sparrow. American Tree Sparrows neither feed or nest in trees—they breed in the Arctic tundra where there are no trees! Just a couple of years ago they were classified as 1 of 7 species in the genus Spizella, but DNA studies showed they had significantly diverged from their cousins and were given their own genus Spizelloides. Perhaps some day scientists will get around to fixing the incorrect “Tree” part of their name.


Savannah (Ipswich) Sparrow 12/28/16


Ipswich Sparrows are the palest of the 17 Savannah Sparrow subspecies and until a few decades ago were considered a separate species. They are endangered birds with a population of about 6000, breeding exclusively on Sable Island, a wild and windswept landscape of shifting sands and dune grasses in the North Atlantic. A few are year-round residents but most migrate to winter on the Mainland dunes of Nova Scotia and as far south as the Carolinas. While uncommon, we can find them here on New England beaches anytime between October and April. They are mostly threatened by erosion and limited nest sites on their island home range, and habitat loss in their winter range. Fetched on Seapoint Beach, Kittery Point.


Chipping Sparrow female 5/13/16


Even though sexes are similar, I can tell this bird is a female. She’s one of a pair in my yard and while this ones approaches the garden birdbath for a drink, the male is trilling from the TV antenna atop my house. They are tame little birds with clean, crisp faces, a prominent black eyestripe and striking rufous-red caps. They like open woods with grassy clearings, and mostly forage for grass seeds and insects on the ground. They’re migrants here, arriving early spring and are often confused with the similar looking Amercan Tree Sparrows which leave for the Arctic just about the time that Chipping Sparrows arrive. Chipping Sparrows typically nest in small trees or shrubs—this pair is building their nest in the Arbor vitaes outside my back door. With any luck I may have nestling photos later in the season.


American Tree Sparrow 1/5/16


Few birds are so misnamed since this little sparrow breeds above the treeline in the Arctic and nests on the ground. Oldtimers call them Winter Sparrows, as they arrive in New England in November and head back to the tundra as spring approaches. Their dapper red caps and two-toned bills are distinctive.


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