WORDS ON BIRDS
Fox Sparrows Are Memorable
March 17, 2018
Sparrows are those
“little brown jobs” that beginning birders often struggle to
identify. To the novice, most of them look alike. But if you look at
them closely, most have some specific field marks that make them
unique and, thus, can be identified with the help of a field guide.
It helps to learn some of the more common sparrows as they will help
you differentiate some of the less common ones.
During winter we commonly see the tree sparrows with their rusty
caps and a small dark dot in the middle of their plain breast. In
spring, the small chipping sparrows arrive with their clear breasts
and rusty caps. Similar to the wintering tree sparrows, the
“chippy’s” are smaller, lack the dark breast spot, and have a
distinct white eyebrow over a black eye line.
The adult white-throated sparrows sport a distinct black and white
striped crown and a white throat. Some white-throated sparrows, and
the immature birds, have tan and brown stripes on the head and a
white throat. The year ‘round song sparrow is striped all down the
breast and belly and has a dark spot in the middle of the breast.
They have a distinct song that starts with three clear notes
followed by a jumble of melodious notes.
My favorite sparrow is certainly the fox sparrow. The fox sparrow is
larger than the other sparrows and when you first see it you might
think it is a thrush. But its distinct rusty coloration on its head,
rump and tail, and bold rust stripes on the front, make it
unmistakable. It is a handsome bird with gray about the side of the
head and neck. It feeds mainly on the ground, kicking both feet
together back and forth, towhee-like, to scratch the leaves or earth
to uncover food.
The fox sparrows
are most often seen in early spring and fall as they migrate through
our area. There have been several reports of them around the North
Shore in the past week or so. We have seen them just a few times
over the past twenty or so years at the store feeders. So I was
delighted when I received a text from Margo saying that we had a fox
sparrow in our yard. It was a new yard bird for us!
The fox sparrow is also a favorite yard bird for our dear friends
Doug Chickering and his recently departed Lois, of Groveland. He
shares with us this poignant story of a fox sparrow seen in his
“This winter hangs on with a
familiar persistence. We in New England have seen this show before.
Last week I spent trapped in the house with the electricity gone as
the fury of a Nor’easter wreaked its vengeance upon us. The weather
forecasters are predicting another storm this coming week, with the
maddening good nature that is their way.
“It is March. The clocks have been pushed ahead, the vernal equinox
is on the horizon. There are an increasing number of Icterids at our
feeders. Spring is almost within touching distance. Yet it is March
and March is a winter month. This can be discouraging. However, the
natural world plays no favorites and is a place on relenting
an unmistakable sign of spring arrived at the base of my feeder
pole; scratching away at the detritus. A courier of the better days
to come. Like every March there was our Fox Sparrow. As I expect a
return visit in November.
Lois first built her house, she had a red bud tree planted in her
back yard. Red bud trees blossom into a spectacular reddish pink
every April and added to the color of the dogwoods and choke cherry
trees in her yard. Red bud trees are a southern variety and from the
beginning Lois never expected this tree to survive many brutal
Massachusetts winters. But it did. Although it slowly wore away
there was still a large part of it alive entering this winter. It
lasted thirty years.
last devastating storm, it finally was toppled as if with the loss
of Lois, it was finally time for it to go as well. Therefore, the
sight of the Fox Sparrow is accompanied by a tug of sadness. She
would have been delighted to see it. Therefore, so am I.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with you Doug.
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