Archive for Sparrows

White-throated Sparrow (tan-striped morph) 2/22/18

Like Eastern Screech Owls come in both red or gray morphs of either sex, White-throated Sparrows come in white-striped morphs and tan-striped morphs referring to the coloring of their head stripes. Tan-stripers like the bird above, are fairly indistinct and drab and are often misidentified. You can see their white throat, but it isn’t crisply edged in black and the head pattern doesn’t have the boldly contrasting black and white stripes, but fairly indistinct brown and tan ones. The yellow lores between the bill and eye are present but likewise much less distinct than in a white-striper. Tan-stripers aren’t at all rare, they are just as common as the white-stripers. In fact a tan-striper of either sex always mates with a white-striper of the opposite sex.


Dark-eyed Junco male 1/8/18

Dark-eyed Juncos are year round birds in New England but their population increases dramatically in winter with the arrival of migrants from the boreal forests of Canada. We used to call this bird the Slate-colored Junco, but that was when the splitters were in charge of bird taxonomy, today the lumpers hold sway and 5 different Junco species were all renamed “Dark-eyed Junco” since the populations readily hybridized where their ranges overlapped. So today they are all considered subspecies. Juncos are a genus of Sparrows, just not the brown streaky kind. Females are browner.


American Tree Sparrow 12/19/17

American Tree Sparrows are tundra breeders, come south to escape the Arctic winter, and replacing our Chipping Sparrows who themselves have fled even farther south. You can tell them by their rusty cap and rusty (not black) eyestripe, and that distinctive gray over yellow bill. They often have a central breast spot. You’ll find them along edges and open fields scratching the ground for weed seeds with juncos, and they even visit backyard feeders.


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.


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