Sparrows arrived in our area in large numbers over the past couple of weeks as strong weather systems ushered them into our weedy fields, woodland thickets and open grounds.
Sparrows intimidate some birders. Most of the small, brown birds look superficially the same, and many species prefer to stay hidden in thick vegetation.
If you take time to study the plumages of this diverse group, you can see how beautifully the birds are marked. The intricate streaking and spotting and various shades of brown and buff are amazing.
You can see some sparrows at your feeder, but to really appreciate this group you will need to get into the field. White-throated sparrows are common right now in dense tangles in the woods. They also visit areas of dense cover in landscaped yards, which might bring them to your feeders. Listen for their whistled song “Old Sam Pea-bod-y” or their slightly maniacal whistled laughing call.
Weedy fields and low, damp areas will have good numbers of song sparrows, brown birds with heavy streaking on the underside. They will be associating with other types: swamp sparrow, a shyer cousin with a sharp, high-pitched call; field sparrow, a smaller buff and tan species, and maybe fox sparrow, a large, reddish bird.
Open grassy areas such as unpaved parking lots or athletic fields may have savannah sparrows, a species very similar to the song sparrow. Chipping sparrows, a flocking species, may also be found in similar spots, often in large numbers.
There are some uncommon or rare sparrows in our area that are soughtby birders. Combing through fields with large numbers of sparrows may reward the patient birder with a vesper, Lincoln’s, white-crowned, grasshopper, clay-colored, or LeConte’s sparrow. I have already found a few vesper and white-crowned.
A cool morning and a weedy patch make a great combination for sparrow watching. Grab your binoculars and field guide and check out some likely places near your home.