Song Sparrow

Hey Guys welcome back! Look! Another sparrow! Today, we have the Song Sparrow. Probably the most widespread New World Sparrow, the Song Sparrow can be found throughout the U.S. much of the year.  Sparrows can be loosely divided into two groups for the purposes of identification; streaked and unstreaked. Last post’s White-throated Sparrow is an example of an unstreaked sparrow, the Song Sparrow is, clearly, a streaked sparrow. Because of how common they are, it’s good to get to know them. Knowing common species can help you recognize a less common bird more easily.

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Song Sparrow, Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, OH

Though a lot of attention is paid to the Song Sparrows streaked body, the markings on the head are also a good thing to be familiar with. Most streaked sparrows have identifying field marks on their heads, i.e. more color on the cheeks, or spots of yellow above the eye, etc. The Song Sparrow has a brown sort of cap, a brown eyeline, and brown stripes that look kind of like a mustache. They are the standard by which all other streaked sparrows are compared to both because of its abundance, and because it’s appearance is kind of the average of the other streaked sparrows. The streaks aren’t too thin, but they aren’t too thick either, they aren’t small by sparrow terms, nor are they large, etc. I’ll go into the difference between the Song Sparrow and other streaked sparrows as we get to those birds, rather than confuse you all right away lol. I will say, however, that depending where in the U.S. you are, they may have different coloration. The markings are largely the same, but they’re darker in the Pacific Northwest, and lighter in the Desert Southwest.

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Song Sparrow, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Sparrows are tough. Some might even feel they’re the bane of birders. I don’t quite feel that way. I actually enjoy the challenge. I started birding in ernest in fall; just when all the sparrows are passing through on their way south. Sparrows are all relatively the same color and size. “LBJ’s” or Little Brown Jobs lol. I remember spending that fall and winter looking at every resource I could get my hands on; studying the differences between al the sparrows, looking at side by side comparisons. I learned what to look for, committed to memory which ones were what size, which ones were found in what habitat. It paid off. I can’t tell you how many birders I’ve met that are great birders, but lousy at sparrow ID. I think it’s about recognizing their beauty. Like, warblers can be tricky too, but they’re all more conventionally beautiful with their bright yellow and orange coloration, but learning the beauty of a largely monochromatic group of birds makes the challenge more fun, and eliminates the “oh it’s just a sparrow” mentality. I actually look forward to the arrival of all the migrant sparrows. They’re just as diverse and beautiful as warblers, at least in their own way. You just got to get over the fact that they’re just all shades of brown. The Song Sparrow was the first native sparrow I remember seeing all year round. I was used to only really seeing New World Sparrows in the winter, and the rest of the year just seeing House Sparrows. I remember seeing a few Song Sparrows hanging out by the Harlem Meer in Central Park into the spring and I kept waiting for them to leave. I’d walk by every day, and there they were! It was really cool to learn they were truly year round by actually witnessing it. Soon I was noticing them nesting in the park in early summer! Just gotta know where to look!

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Song Sparrow, Central Park, NY

As I stated last time, I’m not the biggest fan of using mnemonics for bird songs, but sometimes you hear a bird singing and it just reminds you of something, even if it doesn’t really sound all that much like it. Take the Song Sparrow’s song, for instance. It always reminds me of the sound you used to hear back in the day when your dial up modem was connecting to the internet (for those of you old enough to know what that sentence even means haha.) Does it sound exactly like that? No. But it always reminds me of it for some reason. I guess mnemonics have their place after all. Like I said before, whatever works for you! That’ll wrap things up for today. Speaking of wrapping, the next post is scheduled to go up on Christmas Day, and features one of my all-time favorite birds. See you all then!

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