Tag Archives: sparrows

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows, Spizella passerina, have been gathering into larger groups for the autumn.  These little brown jobs can be difficult to distinguish from other sparrows this time of year, especially clay-colored sparrows (Spizella pallida, which have a mustache and white central crown stripe) or American tree sparrows (Spizella arborea, which have reddish eye stripe and dark spot center chest) .

S. passerina males in the breeding plumage have a reddish cap that contrasts with their black eye liner and makes them look very distinctive in the summer.  As we head into fall, they are mostly identifiable by the unstreaked gray neck and chest and longish tail.

These birds often are found foraging on the ground and seem to especially like open areas near protective trees.  They can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada during the summer, and they migrate to the southern U.S. or Mexico for the winter.

The name chipping sparrow derives from their song, which sounds a bit like “chip-chip-chip-chip-chip” at full speed.

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Nature


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Green-tailed Towhee

Though the weather seems to be trending towards fall, with cooler nights and gold hints in the aspens, the birds have not yet departed for the year.  On a short hike east of Laramie in Medicine Bow National Forest this morning, I encountered juncos and steller’s jays, robins and ravensNot to mention the ubiquitous (and lovely) flickersThe most exciting bird sighting to me was the green-tailed towhee, Pipilo chlorurus.  I have only seen these large sparrows very occasionally, as they tend to stay hidden in the forest underbrush or in clumps of sagebrush.

Green-tailed towhees are the littlest towhee, quite a bit smaller than the spotted towhees that I often saw in the springtime.  These guys are cool, because, besides the metallic green on the tail and edge of the wings, they have reddish crests that they can raise into bouffants.  They also have interesting white stripes on their faces that call to mind handlebar mustaches!  The females, interestingly, also have the crest and the mustaches, but they are sometimes not quite as vibrantly colored.


The U.S. Forest Service has a document online that includes everything you ever may have wanted to know about the green-tailed towhee.  As for me, I’m just glad there are still here, because that means it’s not quite the end of summer just yet!

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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Nature


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White-crowned Sparrow

Walking to work this morning, I spotted a white-crowned sparrow, Zonothrichia leucophrys, easily identifiable by its cute black and white striped head.  It wouldn’t pose for a photo, so I’ve had to post some pictures from my collection. The perched bird in the photo to the left is from Glacier National Park, Montana, and the one at the bottom of the page was taken on the scenic Oregon coast.

I often see these birds in beautiful locations on hikes throughout the west, but it is nice to see that they visit town, too.  I have even found them in my backyard once or twice, but always hiding behind branches!

I would have expected the female of this species to be more plain, but both the male and female sport the marvellous striped look.

There are five subspecies of white-crowned sparrow, found all across the country, which may account for some variation in bill and facial coloring.  Males, however, sing in regional dialects!


Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Nature


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Vesper Sparrow

Vesper sparrows, Pooecetes gramineus, have come back to Wyoming and Northern Colorado’s open spaces for the warmer months.  I usually only see these guys when they are flying away from me, their white outer tail feathers flashing in the sunlight.  But this week, one perched serenely in a ponderosa pine and allowed me to take some pictures.  The white eyering that helps to distinguish this sparrow from other LBJs (little brown jobs, as one birder I met called them) can be clearly seen, as can the streaked chest.

This species feeds and nests on the ground, but the males perch in trees in order to sing.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology explains that Pooecetes means “grass dweller” and gramineus means “fond of grass”. This one in the tree was not singing, instead taking the opportunity to preen his feathers, but since it was the middle of the afternoon I did not fault him.  As the name suggests, these birds sing particularly noticeably in the evening.

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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Nature


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Junco on the Town

The wind was still blowing today, so, even though I tried to ferret out new species during my walks, not much was happening in town.  I was very pleased to return home to find a little dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis, of the pink-sided race (mearnsi), visiting my backyard for the birdseed that had dropped from the feeder to the ground.

While these cute birds do manage to live in Wyoming year-round and I blogged about seeing them in January while cross-country skiing in the national forest east of town, this is their first visit to my backyard this year.  I photographed some juncos visited my feeder last April, so I wonder if this might be one of the same birds checking things out again.

This bird was braver than even the ever-present house sparrows, scratching at the ground with both feet even while I sat a few feet away.  The sparrows usually remain in the shrubbery or come to the feeder for very quick bites while I am in the backyard, but this friendly little junco came close enough to get his portrait taken.  Thanks, little guy!


Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Nature


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