Feb 14, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, February 2017

American Tree Sparrows Under the Feeders

Notice the American tree sparrow's rufous crown and clear, gray breast with one central spot.
Share:

I have to be honest and up front: I have never been good at identifying sparrows—even the ones that visit my yard—so I have not spent a lot of time studying them. I like the vibrant colors of the warblers, especially in the spring. When they stop by in my trees, they make their presence known with their songs. I am able to correctly identify many of them, mostly because of their distinctive plumage.

Sparrows can be tricky to identify, and it does not help that they are usually brown and like to hide in bushes or grasses. But when winter arrives in Ohio—and throughout much of the U.S.—so does the American tree sparrow. This little bird has a personality and look that cannot be mistaken for any other little brown bird once you become acquainted.

One snowy and cold winter day, before the year of the pine siskin invasion, I saw that I had a bunch of sparrows eating below a thistle feeder. At first glance, I thought they were house sparrows. Upon closer scrutiny, these guys were different. They resembled grown up chipping sparrows, but chippies had long since departed. Of course, after I looked them up, I discovered a new (to me) backyard species: the American tree sparrow.

The "winter chippy" is a common and widespread spring breeder across Arctic and Subarctic regions, nesting at the edge of the tundra. Like several other northern-breeding songbirds, these little sparrows head south in the fall and show up at feeders or in weedy areas with grasses, goldenrod, ironweed, and various other tall plants. Generally, they stay in small flocks and will remain in one area until it is time to head back north, or until they need to find more food than the area can provide.

Just a few months ago, these little visitors showed up again! Not only are they eating thistle that drops to the ground, but I have seen them on the suet feeders and mixed seed platforms. And, of course, they are all over the ground doing their frantic feeding dance, shuffling back and forth.

These sparrows have a pleasant trill, and they become even more vocal when it is time to head north in March or April. So, pay close attention to the little brown birds this winter, especially the ones on the ground below your feeders. You may find that you have a new species to add to your yard list, and I guarantee you will enjoy watching them.



About Cathy Priebe

Cathy Priebe is an avid backyard bird watcher and an active member of the Black River Audubon Society in Lorain County, Ohio. She also loves her cats, gardening and nature.

What do you think? Tell us!

comments powered by Disqus

New On This Site

The Latest Comments

  • Has anyone heard of a Carolina wren opening doors? Our cat brought us a wren late last night, thought it was a goner but put it in our parakeet's old cage that has the sliding vertical doors. The wren gained strength, started to bop around the cage. We wanted to release it in the morning to make sure we could see it escape to safety. I put the cage in a quiet bathroom and went to bed. I woke up to the sound of fluttering wings. Sure enough the wren somehow got out, crept under the bathroom door and was trying to get out. I caught it with a light blanket and released it outside. It promptly flew away, very strong. I went back to the cage and am just dumbfounded and impressed, no way out unless it somehow pried the doors open. I was just relieved that it was ok. I can't believe it survived being carried around and batted about like a toy by the cat!Thoughts?
    by Beth Andries, Wed, 27 Sep 2017
  • cool
    by Luke Tansey, Sat, 16 Sep 2017
  • how can i get Caterpillar and other insects at home or buy them etc etc etc for my quails any suggestions earliest res thanks in advance
    by asif, Mon, 11 Sep 2017
  • I use Brita (filtered) water, cane sugar (hoping it's nonGMO). Heat water in pan, prep sugar in a glass, heat-proof measuring cup. 1 cup sugar, add hot water to make 2 cups total or so. Stir. Cool. Store in jar (glass or plastic) in fridge. Add to mix to feeder as needed, add more water to make ~3 parts water, ~1 part sugar. maybe more sugar as birds arrive I spring, more water in summer when it's hot. I make it concentrated 1 to 1 so it's easier store.
    by Debby Stark, Fri, 16 Jun 2017
  • Keep forgetting to do this. I like the roof idea!
    by AppalachiaTori, Wed, 24 May 2017