Birds – Song Sparrow

(Melospiza fasciata) Finch family

Length—6 to 6.5 inches. About the same size as the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Brown head, with three longitudinal gray bands. Brown stripe on sides of throat. Brownish-gray back, streaked with rufous. Underneath gray, shading to white, heavily streaked with darkest brown. A black spot on breast. Wings without bars. Tail plain grayish brown.

Range—North America, from Fur Countries to the Gulf States. Winters from southern Illinois and Massachusetts to the Gulf.

Migrations—March. November. A few birds remain at the north all the year.

Here is a veritable bird neighbor, if ever there was one ; at home in our gardens and hedges, not often farther away than the roadside, abundant everywhere during nearly every month in the year, and yet was there ever one too many ? There is scarcely an hour in the day, too, when its delicious, ecstatic song may not be heard ; in the darkness of midnight, just before dawn, when its voice is almost the first to respond to the chipping sparrow’s wiry trill and the robin’s warble ; in the cool of the morning, the heat of noon, the hush of evening—ever the simple, homely, sweet melody that every good American has learned to love in childhood. What the bird lacks in beauty it abundantly makes up in good cheer. Not at all retiring, though never bold, it chooses some conspicuous perch on a bush or tree to deliver its outburst of song, and sings away with serene unconsciousness. Its artlessness is charming. Thoreau writes in his ” Summer ” that the country girls in Massachusetts hear the bird say : ” Maids, maids, maids, hang on your teakettle, teakettle-ettle-ettle.” The call-note, a metallic chip, is equally characteristic of the bird’s irrepressible vivacity. It has still another musical expression, however, a song more prolonged and varied than its usual performance, that it seems to sing only on the wing.

Of course, the song sparrow must sometimes fly upward, but whoever sees it fly anywhere but downward into the thicket that it depends upon to conceal it from too close inspection ? By pumping its tail as it flies, it seems to acquire more than the ordinary sparrow’s velocity.

Its nest, which is likely to be laid flat on the ground, except where field-mice are plentiful (in which case it is elevated into the crotch of a bush), is made of grass, strips of bark, and leaves, and lined with finer grasses and hair. Sometimes three broods may be reared in a season, but even the cares of providing insects and seeds enough for so many hungry babies cannot altogether suppress the cheerful singer. The eggs are grayish white, speckled and clouded with lavender and various shades of brown.

In sparsely settled regions the song sparrows seem to show a fondness for moist woodland thickets, possibly because their tastes are insectivorous. But it is difficult to imagine the friendly little musician anything but a neighbor.