Those Small Brownish Non-Descript Jobbies

Back to mining the previous photography file before it gets put away…

We used to have a Birds and Butterflies committee, but that was subsumed into Environment or Conservation.  So, I guess, our blog is as good a place as any to talk about those chirpy things.

Every so often I have come to be disappointed in the sameness of what bird life shows up. I just want to put a new check mark in my Audubon bird identification book!  Eagerly I grab the binoculars, hoping while focusing that *this* time I’ll get to see something Unusual. Maybe blown off course while migrating or one of the occasional visitors from further north that show up unannounced.  Aaaaand….it’s a sparrow.

But wait. There’s actually more to them than painting them all as “those little brown jobbies–so what”. And I laugh when one site describes them as “skulking about in the weeds”.

According to the site Birds of North America, there are 15 species of sparrow that are widespread over the U.S. and just 6 mostly seen in the Eastern States. Winnowing them down to which species we are most likely to find either year round, wintering or migrating though our area  we find the following. Click the hotlink to take you to great pictures with the associated bird song sound tracks. See if you recognize the bird songs for any of these.


Mostly Eastern Sparrows. Just one for the Piedmont Region of Maryland.

  1. Field Sparrow  Widespread in our area, year round. “Found at all seasons in brushy overgrown fields, second growth, woodland edges, hedgerows in open country. Sometimes around brushy edges of marshes. Does not usually live in wide-open grassy fields unless they contain scattered shrubs. Forages on ground or in low vegetation. When feeding on grass seeds, will fly up to perch on grass stems, bending them to ground”.Food: “Seeds and insects. Diet is more than 90% seeds in winter, mainly small seeds of grasses. Also eat many grass seeds in summer, but insects make up more than 50% of summer diet. Nestlings are fed spiders and insects, especially caterpillars, with many grasshoppers fed to larger young.””Male defends nesting territory by singing persistently. Adults with young may put on “broken-wing” act at approach of danger. Nest site on or near the ground in clumps of grass, or in dense low bushes or saplings.”

For the most nationally widespread also found in Maryland

  • American Tree SparrowCommon in winter. Forages on ground or in low bushes. Diet in winter is almost entirely seeds, from grasses, weeds, and other plants
  • Chipping SparrowCommon most seasonsMr.One Note, like a sewing machine
     Forages mostly on the ground, but also up in shrubs and low trees. Mostly insects and seeds. Diet varies with season. In summer, feeds mostly on insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, leafhoppers, true bugs, and many others, plus some spiders. Also eats many seeds, especially in fall and winter, including those of grasses, weeds, some waste grain.Occasionally makes short flights to catch insects in mid-air. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.  A few males have more than one mate. Nest site varies. Usually in a conifer, but can be in a deciduous tree or sometimes on the ground
  •  Fox SparrowCommon in winter Forages on ground, characteristically scratching in the soil or snow, making a little forward jump and then scratching back with both feet at once. Majority of diet at other seasons consists of seeds, mainly of weeds (such as smartweed) and grasses. Also eats some berries.
  • Song SparrowCommon year round. Forages mostly on the ground, sometimes scratching in the soil to turn up items. Also sometimes forages in very shallow water (fractions of an inch deep) and up in shrubs and trees. Will come to bird feeders placed close to good cover.Mostly insects and seeds. Eats many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and many others, also spiders. Feeds heavily on seeds, especially in winter, mainly those of grasses and weeds.”
  • Swamp SparrowCommon year round in fresh wetlands. “Forages mostly on the ground, especially on wet mud near the water’s edge, and sometimes feeds while wading in very shallow water.Feeds heavily on insects, perhaps more so than related sparrows, especially in summer. Diet includes many beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, ants, and many others, as well as other arthropods. Also eats many seeds, especially in fall and winter, including those of grasses, weeds, and sedges.”
  • White Crowned SparrowMigration. Apparently feeds mostly on seeds in winter, mainly those of weeds and grasses. Forages mainly while hopping and running on ground. Flocks.
  • White Throated SparrowCommon winter grounds. .Forages mostly on ground under or close to dense thickets.Winter diet is mostly seeds of weeds and grasses. Also eats many berries, especially in fall.

Note that I am leaving off the “Old World Sparrow” known as the House or English Sparrow which has become such a pest since it was introduced to New York’s Central Park in 1850. What were they thinking?! One good bit of news is that it has been gradually decreasing in numbers in the Eastern U.S.