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It’s in your nature: Keep your eyes peeled to see sparrows in this area

You may be surprised, but if you worked hard you could get to see over 30 species of sparrows in North America. If you add in the towhees and dark-eyed juncos, the total rises to 35. That probably is about 30 more than what you may be familiar with. Personally, in Pennsylvania, mostly here in the Times News coverage area, I have recorded 15 species. If I include the East Coast region, that number jumps to 17.

parrows have adapted from living and nesting in relatively sterile, manicured backyards to swampy areas to even rather hot and dry beach type habitats. One sparrow of which you may be most familiar is a bird that was introduced in Philadelphia and really isn’t a sparrow. The house sparrow is technically a type of weaver finch. They are rather persistent and adaptable and live almost anywhere there is a human presence.

If you have begun filling your feeders, two sparrow species are probably feeding there currently. White-throated sparrows in the last month have moved southward from their Canadian breading areas and can be found scratching the ground for seeds.

Resident song sparrows usually brave the elements, and after breeding here, remain close to the nesting areas if food is still available. Bolstering the sparrow numbers, tree sparrows will soon follow the “white throats” and will make a winter appearance for you.

Departing in October, chipping sparrows, once common feeding in your manicured lawns, will head to our southeastern states to overwinter. The past two weeks I have been observing a pair of fox sparrows. They are the largest sparrows (7 inches) uniquely colored for the rather drab sparrow family. The smallest sparrows locally are chipping and field sparrows about 5 inches in size.

Most sparrows are seed eaters, but when summer arrives and young mouths are to be fed, insects become a much bigger part. Most sparrows nest in low vegetation, but some, like the grasshopper sparrow, nest on the ground.

Song sparrows seem to sing the most, and lengthening days in spring will stimulate them to open up their “pipes.” See what sparrows you can find this winter around your feeders or on your “social distancing” outdoor treks. Enjoy.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: I mentioned that song sparrows will begin singing as the days lengthen. Which of these birds often sings even during the winter months? A. Carolina wren, B. cardinal, C. house sparrow.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The rose-breasted grosbeak is the only one of the three grosbeaks that breeds in our region.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

White-throated sparrows breed to our north but arrive here in late September. They'll scratch for seeds under your feeders until early May. Look for their yellow lores. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Sparrows aren't particularly noted for their beauty, however the male white-crowned sparrow may disprove that. Look for them occasionally in fall, but more likely the first two weeks of May.
Chipping sparrows adapt well to our backyards, nesting in your hedges and feeding on insects on your lawns.
Tree sparrows arrive here in fall to feed along field edges and at your feeders. The dark breast spot will distinguish them from chipping sparrows.
Shy, a bit reclusive and dropping in numbers is the grasshopper sparrow. They nest in hay fields, and extensive “cleaner farming” has been a problem for them. A male, with its stubbier tail, will sing from a weed stalk and fly low to the grass in short, rapid wing beats, only to “disappear” back into the field.
The song sparrow is one of the few sparrows that will breed and also overwinter here. Boldly striped with a brown breast spot helps to identify it.
Ahh, that feels good. A male swamp sparrow sings to claim his territory on a sunlit April morning along Lizard Creek.
The field sparrow with pinkish bill and plainly marked breast returns each spring to this region. Its song trails off like a ping-pong ball dropped on a table.
Typically found near farms, like the barn swallow, house sparrows were introduced from Europe to Philadelphia. They are now found throughout the U.S.
The fox sparrow, boldly marked rusty brown, including the tail, migrates through our area in fall and spring. I observed this one gobbling up seeds I scattered on a forest edge for at least two weeks.
The eastern towhee, although not given a sparrow name, is in the sparrow family. They're less common today and we're not certain of their decline factors.