About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brown sparrow bird with reddish head and black spot on the chest

Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette
I’ve had a couple emails and a few customers come in to our Wild Birds Unlimited store asking about a new bird at the feeder. The same size, shape and coloring of a House Sparrow, the American Tree Sparrow is most often sighted in mid-Michigan in March and April when they are in migration.

American tree sparrows are small, grayish-brown birds with a rufous cap and stripe behind the eye, tweed colored wings with two white wing bars, a dark spot on a tan breast, black legs, a dark upper beak and a yellow lower beak.

As they migrate through our area you’ll find them in the same areas as Dark-eyed Juncos scratching on the ground for seeds. They offer bubbly, bright songs between bouts of foraging along the ground or in low, budding shrubs.
Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette

This bird got their name because of a superficial resemblance to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow familiar to early settlers. If they knew what we know today about the American Tree Sparrow, perhaps a more appropriate name would have been “Subarctic Shrub Sparrow.” With adequate food supplies this sparrow can survive temperatures of -28 degrees Fahrenheit.

American Tree Sparrows breed across the top of North America and migrate to the United States for the winter. They migrate at night, often in flocks. Females generally winter farther south than males. The return flight to north coincides with spring snow-melt.

2 comments:

Joy K. said...

Do they typically have the dual-colored beak shown in your photos? Would that serve as a field mark?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Field marks of the American Tree Sparrow according to http://www.allaboutbirds.org:
• Bicolored bill black on top, yellow below
• Long-tailed and round-headed sparrow
• Mostly pale gray/white below with buffy flanks
• Round-headed and chubby
• Bright rusty crown and eye stripe
• Dark smudge in the center of the unstreaked breast

The easiest species to confuse with American Tree Sparrow is Chipping Sparrow, but their ranges don't overlap much in winter (the only time most people are likely to see American Tree Sparrows). If you are north of roughly Kansas in the winter, American Tree Sparrows are much more likely than Chipping Sparrows; south of this line Chipping Sparrows are more common. In winter, Chipping Sparrows have a less rufous (reddish-brown) cap than American Tree Sparrows. Look for a black line through the eyes of Chipping Sparrows; in American Tree Sparrows that line is rufous, the same color as its crown. Look for American Tree Sparrow’s distinctly bicolored bill—dark on top, yellowish below. Chipping Sparrow's bill is often dark or pinkish.