When I first looked through the “compact guide to British Columbia birds” book, I saw the sweetest bird and decided that this bird, the song sparrow, would become one of my favourite Canadian birds and I would make it my goal to see one in the wild. I did in fact see one of these in the wild not long after moving to Canada, and have seen many more since. The song sparrow is one of the most common sparrows where I live. They are distinguishable by their pale eyebrows which are noticeable from afar and are rather big birds, though not as large as their cousin, the fox sparrow, in typical sparrow shape. In fairness to the illustrator of guidebook, the sparrow in the picture does have the same identification traits as those in the wilderness. However, the artist was almost too good as in my opinion, the pictured sparrow looks much smaller and cuter than the original. I am not saying the song sparrow is boring, as no bird could ever be boring to me, but let’s just say that unfortunately the song sparrow is no longer my favourite Canadian bird.
What I do find interesting about song sparrows is how they all seem to vary in size, shape, and colouring. Of course it is possible that half of the birds I am calling song sparrows are in fact a fox sparrows or some other species but for the sake of this post I am going to trust that my assumptions are correct. In my garden, we get two main “variations” of song sparrow. The first one is the drabber bird with less noticeable markings. This song sparrow is light brown with a darker brown stripes covering most of the back and striping across the chest. It is also tall slim, though not as tall and slim as a thrush. The other song sparrow that is a regular in my garden is “shorter” and its feathers are more puffed up. It is almost a white underneath and most of the stripes covering the back, sides, and head are in between red and brown.
The song sparrow is not a picky eater. Usually they will just eat the same food as the dark-eyed junco. The only difference is that sparrows spend more time picking seeds, insects, worms, or whatever it is they find on the ground and I have never seen one on the suet feeder. Also, as far as I can tell, they prefer the mixed seed to the nyjer seed. However as long as you have a garden with some dirt and vegetation, you can expect to be seeing song sparrows most days.
- As well as in gardens like I have been talking about, I will often see multiple sparrows at once by blackberry bushes in the summer and and on fences by grasslands in the winter. They should be just as common in northern BC but only in the summer during their breeding season because they tend to migrate down to Mexico in the winter.
- The song sparrow was not named at all randomly. These birds are some of the best singers in the world, and most birds will sing up to 20 unique tunes, not including the many variations of each tune. The young males have made their own songs before they are even a year old and will use it to woo the females during breeding season. The females are not nearly as vocal but have also been known to perform a couple of their own pieces.
- We all know that many species of sparrows look similar but the only one have have trouble telling apart from the song sparrow in my area is the fox sparrow. This sparrow is larger and darker than the song sparrow, not that being larger ever helps tell birds apart unless they are right next to each other. What I usually do is look above the eye. If the sparrow has a pale “eyebrow”, I identify it as a song sparrow and if not or if it seems enormous, it is almost definitely a fox sparrow.
I took this picture on a path running along the side of the Fraser river in Richmond in October. It clearly shows the song sparrow’s eyebrow as it sings among the grasses on the riverbank.