Birds – Tree Sparrow

(Spizella monticola) Finch family


Length—6 to 6.35 inches. About the same size as the English sparrow.

Male—Crown of head bright chestnut. Line over the eye, cheeks, throat, and breast gray, the breast with an indistinct black spot on centre. Brown back, the feathers edged with black and buff. Lower back pale grayish brown. Two whitish bars across dusky wings; tail feathers bordered with grayish white. Underneath whitish.

Female—Smaller and less distinctly marked.

Range—North America, from Hudson Bay to the Carolinas, and westward to the plains.

Migrations—October. April. Winter resident.

A revised and enlarged edition of the friendly little chipping sparrow, that hops to our very doors for crumbs throughout the mild weather, comes out of British America at the beginning of winter to dissipate much of the winter’s dreariness by his cheerful twitterings. Why he should have been called a tree spar-row is a mystery, unless because he does not frequent trees—a reason with sufficient plausibility to commend the name to several of the early ornithologists, who not infrequently called a bird precisely what it was not. The tree sparrow actually does not show half the preference for trees that its familiar little counter-part does, but rather keeps to low bushes when not on the ground, where we usually find it. It does not crouch upon the ground like the chippy, but with a lordly carriage holds itself erect as it nimbly runs over the frozen crust. Sheltered from the high, wintry winds in the furrows and dry ditches of ploughed fields, a loose flock of these active birds keep up a merry hunt for fallen seeds and berries, with a belated beetle to give the grain a relish. As you approach the feeding ground, one bird gives a shrill alarm-cry, and instantly five times as many birds as you suspected were in the field take wing and settle down in the scrubby undergrowth at the edge of the woods or by the way-side. No still cold seems too keen for them to go a-foraging; but when cutting winds blow through the leafless thickets the scattered remnants of a flock seek the shelter of stone walls, hedges, barns, and cozy nooks about the house and garden. It is in midwinter that these birds grow most neighborly, although even then they are distinctly less sociable than their small chippy cousins.

By the first of March, when the fox sparrow and the blue-bird attract the lion’s share of attention by their superior voices, we not infrequently are deaf to the modest, sweet little strain that answers for the tree sparrow’s love-song. Soon after the bird is in full voice, away it goes with its flock to their nesting ground in Labrador or the Hudson Bay region. It builds, either on the ground or not far from it, a nest of grasses, rootlets, and hair, without which no true chippy counts its home complete.