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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There are a lot of different sparrows in Michigan

I’m always excited to see the White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows in the spring. These two bird species only migrate through mid-Michigan in the spring and fall. You can look for them under the feeders from late April to late May and again sometime in September to November. They show up in mid-Michigan right after the last frost in the spring and right before the first snow in the fall. They breed all along the upper parts of Canada and winter along the southern United States.

Both are medium sized sparrows similar to a House Sparrow except for the black-and-white racing stripes on their heads. The white-throated also has a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill.

White-throated Sparrows like to scratch on the ground with a series of quick kicks when they feed and remind me of chickens. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows. The oldest male birds are the ones that sing the most.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. If the weather is good they’ll stay just long enough to rest and refuel. While migrating north, their average travel distance is about 70 miles per day.
Image via Wikipedia
Song Sparrows look like fluttering leaves, but they make up for their less than dazzling plumage with their beautiful song. A medium-sized sparrow, their most distinctive features are the dark feathers under the bill that look like mutton chops and the dark brown spot of feathers over their heart. They also have heavily streaked gray-brown backs, a dull white belly and a chest that is streaked with brown feathers. Their head has a brown crown with paler median stripe, a pale gray eyebrow and a white chin.

These birds forage on the ground for insects and seeds. Just look for the bouncing brown leaves under the feeders or listen for their song. Click HERE to listen to a sample of their songs.

Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)Image via Wikipedia
The Dark-eyed Juncos are also still around in large numbers. But they are another bird that will be leaving in May to nest in the forests further north. Juncos have dark gray plumage on their heads, breast and back. This contrasts with their white belly. I’ll miss them and their flashing white outer tail feathers.

Birds are coming and going all the time in the spring. Now one sparrow I’m looking forward to is one of the cutest native sparrows, the Chipping Sparrow.

They are a very tiny, clean, crisp, energetic, sparrow about five inches long and weigh only a half ounce. It has a chestnut cap and a white stripe above the eye, and a black stripe through the eye. The female is the same but slightly duller.

The smallest and friendliest of the sparrows, they are always busy, busy running around on the yard looking for weed seeds or under the feeders.

Arriving in April and May to the Michigan area from their winter home in Mexico, Central America or the southern United States, they aren’t shy. When they arrive, they will perch high in a tree and sing a song to mark their territory. The loud, trilling songs of a chipping sparrow are one of the most common sounds of spring and easily identifiable. The song is often described as the sound of an electric sewing machine. To hear the chipping sparrow’s song, visit HERE.

Though some native sparrows look similar, these sparrows have distinct differences. So listen and look for new birds in the area. Or for a list of some New World sparrows go to AllAboutBirds.com.
 
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