Sparrows of Spring and One Imposter

As we all wait with bated breath for the first wave of warblers, we settle for inspecting the sparrows of spring and even one imposter.

What Sparrow Sports a Flame Red Tail?

Photo of Fox Sparrow Tulgy on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Ok that’s an exaggeration. Still Fox Sparrows do have a noticeably rusty tail. They also have a funny grey cap and collar kind-of look. (Western Fox Sparrows have quite different colouring: I’m describing the Eastern ones.) They like to rummage through the leaves for food and don’t mind making noise while they kick leaf litter away. The one I’m including here was taking it easy though and eating seeds that had fallen from a feeder at the Beamer Conservation Area.

Photo of Fox Sparrow Leap on NaturalCrooksDotCom

      Look at the great feet for flicking leaves!

Fox Sparrows generally don’t nest in southern Ontario so we get to see them as they migrate through.

Haven’t We Seen These White Striped, Plain Grey Chested, Yellow Eye-browed Sparrows Before?

Yes, these are our friends the White Throated Sparrows that we saw flitting through the forests in the autumn as they worked there way south. Now they’re back on the move heading north. I guess like some Canadians these birds just love to travel.

Photo of White Throated Sparrow Dogwood on NaturalCrooksDotCom

They’re also the ones with the call that you hear and think of old nature shows on TV where they paddle a canoe up a stream in spring time watching beavers repairing their dam. If you’d like to hear what I mean, you can click on the link at the Cornell University website: the Phee-Wee-Wee-Wee song I’m used to is the second Song recording on the site.

The Sparrow Most Likely to be Mistaken for Something More Interesting

The next common spring sparrow of southern Ontario is my personal pitfall. It is well adapted to so many environments that I’m constantly surprising one in a new spot.

Photo of Song Sparrow Trunk on NaturalCrooksDotCom

And this is a closeup! It’s exasperating to finally get a good glimpse and realize it’s yet another Song Sparrow!

So far this spring, I’ve seen them poking and prying into cracks and crevices way up on big tree branches like a thrush or nuthatch.

I’ve seen them skulking deep in the swamp among the reeds and grasses allowing only a momentary glimpse of their plumage.

Photo of Song Sparrow Reeds on NaturalCrooksDotCom

They’ve been flitting among stumps and dense litter with their tails cocked as if they were oversized wrens.

They cheerfully peck and poke on the lawn grasses.

Photo of Song Sparrow Branch on NaturalCrooksDotCom

They glean insects from the shrubberies like the gnatcatchers.

And everywhere when I look more closely, I see the pattern of grey and rusty red marks on their faces and see a series of thick streaks on their fronts that often coalesces into a black dot.

Their song, as memorable as the White Throated Sparrows but in a more common summer-long way, is the cause of their name: Song Sparrow. They perch in a noticeable spot and belt it out frequently. I don’t find the recording at the Cornell site to sound that much like our local birds (it was recorded in Oregon) so I don’t have a ready link to provide you with.

When a Sparrow is Way Too Big It’s An Imposter

It’s easy to believe you’re looking at yet another sparrow when you see a brownish bird streaked with stripes foraging through the bulrushes and cattails at the swamp. If you see it next to a brown cattail, though, you’ll realize it’s much too large to be a sparrow. This imposter is a Red Winged Blackbird. A female RWBB to be exact.

Photo of Red Winged Blackbird Female Dogwood on NaturalCrooksDotCom

One interesting thing I had not known till recently was that female blackbirds of “an advanced age” can also start to sport the red shoulder epaulette that makes the males so noticeable in the spring. For good photos of this, you can scroll down at the McGill Bird Observatory website to the photos of an after-second-year female.

Photo of Red Winged Blackbird Male Diagonal on NaturalCrooksDotCom

     Yes, this is a male not an old female!

Waiting on One of Our Favourite Sparrows of Spring

My children and I are still waiting on the arrival of one of our favourite spring sparrows.

They are due back any day and they nest in our neighbourhood brightening up our morning walks with their curiosity and sparkling eyes.

These Chipping Sparrows are quite tiny noticeably smaller than the House Sparrows (which are actually an alien species) that live around here year round. Chipping  Sparrows have a cute rusty cap and often nest in the trees the city has planted along the boulevard.
They should be back any day now. We’re looking for them!


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