Birds – Field Sparrow

(Spizella pusilla) Finch family


Length—5.5 to 5.75 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.

Male—Chestnut crown. Upper back bright chestnut, finely streaked with black and ashy brown. Lower back more grayish. Whitish wing-bars. Cheeks, line over the eye, throat, pale brownish drab. Tail long. Underneath grayish white, tinged with palest buff on breast and sides. Bill reddish.

Female—Paler; the crown edged with grayish.

Range—North America, from British provinces to the Gulf, and westward to the plains. Winters from Illinois and Virginia southward.

Migrations—April. November. Common summer resident.

Simply because both birds have chestnut crowns, the field sparrow is often mistaken for the dapper, sociable chippy; and, no doubt because it loves such heathery, grassy pastures as are dear to the vesper sparrow, and has bay wings and a sweet song, these two cousins also are often confused. The field spar-row has a more reddish-brown upper back than any of its small relatives; the absence of streaks on its breast and of the white tail quills so conspicuous in the vesper sparrow’s flight, sufficiently differentiate the two birds, while the red bill of the field sparrow is a positive mark of identification.

This bird of humble nature, that makes the scrubby pastures and uplands tuneful from early morning until after sunset, flies away with exasperating shyness as you approach. Alighting on a convenient branch, he lures you on with his clear, sweet song. Follow him, and he only hops about from bush to bush, farther and farther away, singing as he goes a variety of strains, which is one of the bird’s peculiarities. The song not only varies in individuals, but in different localities, which may be one reason why no two ornithologists record it alike. Doubtless the chief reason for the amusing differences in the syllables into which the songs of birds are often translated in the books, is that the same notes actually sound differently to different individuals. Thus, to people in Massachusetts the white-throated sparrow seems to say, ” Pea-body, Pea-body, Pea-body ! ” while good British subjects beyond the New England border hear him sing quite distinctly, ” Sweet Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-dal! But however the opinions as to the syllables of the field sparrow’s song may differ, all are agreed as to its exquisite quality, that resembles the vesper sparrow’s tender, sweet melody. The song begins with three soft, wild whistles, and ends with a series of trills and quavers that gradually melt away into silence: a serene and restful strain as soothing as a hymn. Like the vesper sparrows, these birds sometimes build a plain, grassy nest, unprotected by over-hanging bush, flat upon the ground. Possibly from a prudent fear of field-mice and snakes, the little mother most frequently lays her bluish-white, rufous-marked eggs in a nest placed in a bush of a bushy field. Hence John Burroughs has called the bird the ” bush sparrow.”