Autumn is the season for sparrows, with abundant “LBJ’s” (Little Brown Jobs) scratching in weedy fields, grassy edges, or beneath backyard feeders. Song Sparrows are year-round residents in the east, and found in good numbers in a variety of habitats. If you spend time learning to identify this one – heavy breast streaking punctuated with a dark spot, and longish tail – then you’ll know when something different appears.
Savannah Sparrows look similar to Song, but feature finer streaking and a tinge of yellow at the lore. They often travel in small groupings, and can be found in urban nooks, rural landscapes, or wind-swept coastlines.
Lincoln’s Sparrow is an autumn specialty; they breed in the west but wander east in September and October, to forage on seeds and insects in quiet spaces. Their gray face and buff-tinged upper breast overlaid with very fine streaks are distinctive. Neither of these species frequent feeders. Sparrow identification can be challenging, but looking at a bird’s breast – streaked or unstreaked – is a good start. Chipping, Field, American Tree (shown in the header photo), and White-crowned Sparrows are clean-breasted. Swamp and White-throated Sparrows may show only faint markings, often immatures.
White-throated Sparrows are distinctive, with bold namesake field mark, and a splash of yellow at the lore (between bill and eye); White-throats are abundant and widespread through fall and winter.
True to their name, Swamp Sparrows are generally found in wetlands or muddy fields. Chipping Sparrows, often found in small groups, can be found foraging on the ground or low in conifer trees, zipping vocally. Different species prefer different habitats, even during the non-breeding fall season, though mixed flocks may congregate in healthy habitats to forage for seeds or insects.
While sparrows lack the rainbow of colors found in some warblers, their earth-tone textures are beautifully intriguing. There are many more interesting facets to sparrow ID, physiology and behavior……for a future blog. Take a moment to really look at that LBJ in your local patch, try to name it, and join the ranks of sparrow enthusiasts this autumn!