Sunday, January 25, 2009

An American Tree Sparrow Lands Just Outside my Kitchen Window

Three American Tree Sparrows are always hopping around my backyard, scratching at the seeds on the ground, and looking cute in their rusty caps. They are such sweet, polite birds and are one of my favorites. This afternoon, as I was looking out my kitchen window, one dropped in to eat thistle at one of my finch feeders. This was a first and I was excited! He came back again and again. I grabbed my camera, but didn’t have much hope of capturing an image because I had to shoot through glass and screen, but it worked. The photos are a bit hazy, but they clearly show his rusty cap and his yellow and black beak.

Earlier I had been reading an article on American Tree Sparrows by Jim McCormac in the latest issue of Birdwatcher’s Digest (Vol. 31 No. 3, Jan/Feb 2009), so this little guy couldn’t have chosen a better time to pose for me. He’s so cute in these pics. It was snowing heavily at the time, and you can even see the little snowflakes on his head. Since American Tree Sparrows are winter visitors from up north, I’m sure he didn’t mind!

In McCormac’s article, he explains that the American Tree Sparrow’s breeding grounds are way north in Churchill, Manitoba, which means this little fellow will have to travel almost 2000 miles to get back home in the spring (totally amazing--makes me love them more). He also talks about the tree sparrows’ taste for weed seeds and recommends planting Goldenrod, coneflowers (I already have), and Little Bluestem grass. So now I have another batch of native plants to add to my gardening for the birds list.

To carry the weed-seed thing a little further, in this month’s Birds and Blooms (January 2009), George Harrison writes on the American Tree Sparrow,
A century ago, Professor F. E. L. Beal wrote that in the state of Iowa alone, American Tree Sparrows consumed 875 tons of weed seeds annually. Since then, farmers have considered the American Tree Sparrow and other members of its tribe to be valuable economic allies.
One researcher found that in an 18-inch square of weeds, tree sparrows were so thorough consuming the weed seeds, they missed only 6 seeds, leaving 1,130 half seed shells in their wake. These little guys are like weed seed vacuums. So not only are they cute, they are necessary and valuable, especially when growing foods organically.


troutbirder said...

Nice post. I'm still looking for my first tree sparrow and enjoyed seeing yours and the details about them. Thanks

RuthieJ said...

Nice pictures of the cute little sparrows, Kelly. I have a few in my backyard too, but they never come very close to the house.

Snowbabies said...

Lovely pictures, looks similar to our Tree Sparrows but with different marking on it's head.


Kelly said...

Troutbirder: Thanks! The little guy was back again today at the same feeder. I think he will become a regular.

Ruthie J: Thanks! We're even, because I noticed on your site that you have Common Redpolls at your feeder! I have been looking for them around here all winter.

Snowbabies: Thanks again! Our Tree Sparrows should really be called Bush Sparrows because they prefer bushes to trees. I read they were named Tree Sparrows because the original settlers thought the bird resembled the Tree Sparrows they saw at home.

Roy said...

Great captures on the Sparrows. I managed to get a good one of a White-throated here in Newport, RI last week. I posted a shot of it in a photo essay with a lot of other, non-bird, shots.

Kelly said...

...thanks, Roy. I was lucky to get that shot, considering I shot through glass and screen. I'll check out your White-throated Sparrows...another favorite of mine. I love their beautiful call in the spring before they head north for the summer!