Friday, January 3, 2014

American Tree Sparrows blew in with the snow...

...finally our American Tree Sparrows have arrived for the winter! They always seem to ride in on the night winds of the first big snow in January, so when I looked out the kitchen window yesterday morning, I had my fingers crossed. Sure enough...the little sparrows were under the feeders searching out seeds. I cracked the window so I could hear their pretty, twittery calls. It only took colder temps and five inches of snow to lure them in...

A sweet American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) pulls seed from brush in our backyard. 
American Tree Sparrows are birds from the far north, so they are well adapted to our cold winters. This spring our little flock will pick up and head back home, flying over 2,000 miles to reach their breeding grounds in Manitoba, so we have to enjoy them while we can. I'm thankful we have a little flock that stays with us each winter. Their cheery calls and warm, beautiful colors always brighten up the gray that can descend during winter. I just checked the thermometer and it's 4 degrees Fahrenheit. These little fellas should feel right at home!

The chocolate brown of the sweet American Tree Sparrow is pretty against the white of the snow. Here he's pecking at spent goldenrod seeds.
American Tree Sparrows eat the seeds at my feeders, but they also scour the yard looking for weed seeds and spent flower heads. I know they love the purple coneflowers that I have all over, especially those mixed into the weed patch I've created in part of my yard. They go for Goldenrod too...and almost any plant packed with seeds.

...a weed seed eating demon!  
In the January 2009 issue of Birds and Blooms magazine, George Harrison mentioned that over a hundred years ago, a Professor F.E.L Beal reported that in Iowa, American Tree Sparrows consumed 875 tons of weed seeds annually, and farmers considered these little birds economic allies. (These angelic looking birds are weed-seed-eating demons!)


...to ID these birds, look for a rusty cap, a two-toned yellow and black bill, and the dark spot (stickpin) in the chest. These sparrows resemble Chipping Sparrows, but they leave our area in the winter.
The two-toned yellow and black bill, and the stickpin in the center of his chest are two identifying field marks of the American Tree Sparrow...not to mention his jaunty rusty cap!

Head-on view of an American Tree Sparrow on golden rod in the snow.
...a pretty bird in beautiful snow! I can never resist head-on shots of the winter birds.

...the beautiful warm colors of these arctic birds also help them blend into dried and dead winter foliage.
The warm chocolate browns, caramels, and rusty oranges are beautiful against the white snow. 

Don't clean your yard up in the fall...birds like it messy!
I always leave flower heads, weedy areas, and brushy areas for the birds in winter. The little sparrows can't resist these wild pockets in a suburban yard. I've let a section of my yard "go wild" with goldenrod, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, and grasses and I can always find something interesting hiding out in the brush...

American Tree Sparrow in the weeds.
An American Tree Sparrow hangs out in the wild weed patch. I never cut down flower heads and weedy areas in the fall. I leave them as is for the birds, who eat seeds and wintering insects in them all winter long. In our yard, the American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, American Goldfinch, and Carolina Chickadees really love the uncut grasses in the weed patch. 

16 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

they're adorable. i've been noticing lots of sparrows here the past week or so. not this type but about 4 others that must have come down for warmer temps.

Midmarsh John said...

Brilliant close shots as always Kelly. Happy new Year to you and yours.

Laure Ferlita said...

Such a sweet looking, little guy! I can see how he'd be easy to overlook in the winter landscape. Gorgeous shots!

Montanagirl said...

These are really sweet little birds - and your photos of them are fantastic, Kelly! I haven't seen any of these guys yet. I saw a Blue Jay dash in and out with a peanut though.

Bob Bushell said...

Beautiful images of the Tree Sparrow, in the snow.

Julie G. said...

They must be quite hardy birds. Wonderful post about these pretty sparrows! I love their rusty caps. I've been seeing a lot of them in our area of late. Excellent photographs, Kelly!

Steve Borichevsky said...

I'm tickled pink to have a few in our yard. They have been taking thistle out of the thistle feeder. Again, thanks for the cool data, not to mention the wonderful px.

I saw you comment on Tails of Birding. I had a Snowy Owl in the "front yard" today. I'm excited to get this life bird.

Tammie Lee said...

how wonderful that you knew that they would show up!

i also don't clean up my weeds that have gone to seed, I do it for the ice crystals that might form on them, now i have another reason! I love learning more about birds.

lovely new year to you!

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

They know where their Cincinnati deli is located!

Kelly said...

Thanks, everyone...and Happy New Year! What a great start to the New Year....fresh snow and new birds!

Lois Evensen said...

What precious little birds! And, your photography is superb, as always.

Warm Sunday hugs from Port Canaveral,
Lois

Elaine said...

Nice!

Elaine said...

Nice!

Marie said...

It seems to be a bit of an irruptive year for them. We've had more than I've ever seen, counted 12 at one time on our balcony during our last storm. I love our winter visitors!

Robert Bruce said...

So you're tell me the new little birs at my feeders is just passing through, I'm in SC. No wonder I've never seen them before. I was online trying to find out what they were. The ones on the ground look a little like chipmunks looking down on them, if you're not paying attention.

Kelly said...

...haha! I like that description, Robert...little chipmunks in the snow! With their striped faces they do remind me of chipmunks!