Birds – Vesper Sparrow

(Pooccetes gramineus) Finch family


Length—5.75 to 6.25 inches. A little smaller than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Brown above, streaked and varied with gray. Lesser wing coverts bright rufous. Throat and breast whitish, striped with dark brown. Underneath plain soiled white. Outer tail-quills, which are its special mark of identification, are partly white, but apparently wholly white as the bird flies.

Range—North America, especially common in eastern parts from Hudson Bay to Gulf of Mexico. Winters south of Virginia.

Migrations—April. October. Common summer resident.

Among the least conspicuous birds, sparrows are the easiest to classify for that very reason, and certain prominent features of the half dozen commonest of the tribe make their identification simple even to the merest novice. The distinguishing marks of this sparrow that haunts open, breezy pasture lands and country waysides are its bright, reddish-brown wing coverts, prominent among its dingy, pale brownish-gray feathers, and its white tail-quills, shown as the bird flies along the road ahead of you to light upon the fence-rail. It rarely flies higher, even to sing its serene, pastoral strain, restful as the twilight, of which, indeed, it seems to be the vocal expression. How different from the ecstatic outburst of the song sparrow ! Pensive, but not sad, its long-drawn silvery notes continue in quavers that float off unended like a trail of mist. The song is suggestive of the thoughts that must come at evening to some New England saint of humble station after a well-spent, soul-uplifting day.

But while the vesper sparrow sings oftenest and most sweetly in the late afternoon and continues singing until only he and the rose-breasted grosbeak break the silence of the early night, his is one of the first voices to join the morning chorus. No early worm,” however, tempts him from his grassy nest, for the seeds in the pasture lands and certain tiny insects that live among the grass furnish meals at all hours. He simply delights in the cool, still morning and evening hours and in giving voice to his enjoyment of them.

The vesper sparrow is preeminently a grass-bird. It first opens its eyes on the world in a nest neatly woven of grasses, laid on the ground among the grass that shelters it and furnishes it with food and its protective coloring. Only the grazing cattle know how many nests and birds are hidden in their pastures. Like the meadowlarks, their presence is not even suspected until a flock is flushed from its feeding ground, only to return to the spot when you have passed on your way. Like the meadowlark again, the vesper sparrow occasionally sings as it soars upward from its grassy home.