Monday, October 25, 2010

A World of Sparrows

Where I grew up in Germany there was only one kind of sparrow, the common domestic House Sparrow  which was ubiquitous and very social - just as they are here - nesting under roof shingles, in ivy growing over fences or houses, in trees and hedges. Sitting in an outdoor cafe you'd always have the company of sparrows picking up crumbs under the table or off your plate if you weren't looking.

However, when I went back to visit my mom and sister in Hamburg last year, I couldn't find any. They seemed to have vanished. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, which in the USA is confined to a small area in the Midwest.  Trying to figure it out I did a search on Google and found that the House Sparrow, along with the Starling and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow,  had actually been placed on the Red List of endangered birds in the UK.  The list cited both long-term and short-term breeding decline, most likely due to loss of agricultural habitat.
House Sparrow courting
Although they have disappeared  from the center of many cities, they are still present in most towns and villages. And that's were I eventually found them. I was visiting my cousin's farm to look for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  The ivy covering the old brick house was swarming with nesting House Sparrows, and the sought after Tree Sparrows were roosting in a tree behind the barn, where they had ready access to grain.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow with characteristic chestnut cap and black cheek patch
Eurasian Tree Sparrow chick and parent

Fall is the time for sparrows after most of the other songbirds have left for their winter quarters.  Most of them feed on the ground, in the grass and frequent brushy weedy habitats.  It is often difficult to get a good look at them, since the scatter as soon as you approach, fly low over the ground and plunge back into the vegetation

The White-crowned Sparrow is present in VT during their spring and fall migration. They breed in Arctic or alpine tundra. I think they are the most handsome of all our sparrows.

Immature White-crowned Sparrow

Immature White-crowned Sparrow
Adult White-crowned Sparrow

The White-throated Sparrow stays with us all year

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow showing the characteristic "half and half" beak and the dot on the chest

Immature Swamp Sparrow. At first I thought this was a Lincoln's Sparrow, but was corrected by a  more knowledgeable birder.

Adult Swamp Sparrow in post-molt fresh feathers

The Song Sparrow often looks colorless and boring; so I was happy about the vivid colors in this photo 

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow with characteristic yellow lores are abundant in our area.

The chipper Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrows on their  home turf in a barn window

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  1. My Hilke, you got them all! I mean all the ones around you! I'd love to get so many... Don't you have some to send to Iceland ;-) Beautiful post with superb pictures!

  2. Hi Hilke. What a lovely selection of Sparrows. Only have House Sparrows around us here and I can't remember the last time I saw a Tree Sparrow. FAB.

  3. Nice photos. I just did a little piece on sparrows on my blog. Take a look: its called Me,Boomer and the Vermilom River.I can't believe there are so many types of sparrows.

  4. Great post and photos on the sparrows. It is great seeing all the sparrows and being able to compare. I have a tough time with sparrows.

  5. What a terrific parade of sparrows (and weaver finch). I'll be back!

  6. Excellent informative post with superb photos.

  7. What a great series that is. Well done!!

  8. Chris, Frank, Gary, Eileen, Michael, Andy and Harold, thank you all for your encouraging comments.
    Frank, I am surprised there are no Tree Sparrows where you are. Not in the countryside, or farm in the neighborhood? I found them to be quite shy, had to wait for more than 10 min before they came into the open.

  9. Michael, I had to look it up to find out that English Sparrows and Eurasian Tree Sparrows are weaver finches. The latter species is very common in Asia, is a nuisance in rice fields and is sold in great quantities for food.

  10. Hilke,
    I always enjoy your photos. This sparrow panoply is wonderful, with its tips about differences. Very clear and cheerful.


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