Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spizella Sparrow Identification

There are six species of sparrows that occur in the United States that are in the genus Spizella. This includes Black-chinned, American Tree, Field, Brewer’s, Clay-colored, and Chipping. Many people have trouble when it comes to identifying sparrows because of their overall drab appearance but the identification of sparrows is similar to all other bird identification. Of these six species the Black-chinned is the most distinctive and the Brewer’s is the least distinctive. The most common is the Chipping which occurs throughout the US but each of the Spizella sparrows are common in their range.

Black-chinned Sparrow:
This is a very easy sparrow to identify. The adult has a gray head, chest, and belly with a black chin and a pink bill. This alone should allow you to identify this sparrow very quickly and concisely. The first winter is very similar to the adult but does not have a black chin. The gray body and head with a pink bill should be sufficient to differentiate this bird from any other.

American Tree, Field, and Chipping Sparrows
The Adults
Both the adult American Tree and Field Sparrows look the same year round. The Chipping’s plumage changes from summer to winter. The small pink bill, white eye-ring, and rufous coloring throughout the wings, back, and cap are important to notice when identifying Field Sparrows. Field Sparrows do show variation in the amount of rufous that they show so the best way to recognize them is by the big white eye-ring and pink bill. Everyone looks for the spot on the chest of the American Tree Sparrow to identify them which is a very good field mark but other factors are easy to pick up on as well. Look for the bicolored bill, dark upper mandible and pale lower mandible. The American Tree also has more gray on the nape, neck, and eyebrow than Chipping or Field. The Chipping Sparrow is much more gray overall than American Tree or Field. The gray chest, belly, nape, and cheek in addition to the black eye-line should make for an easy identification.

American Tree Sparrow

Clay-colored (Non-breeding Plumage) and Chipping Sparrow (Non-breeding Plumage)
The Clay-colored and Chipping Sparrows can look very similar when in nonbreeding plumage. The overall coloration is a little different but without experience it can be tough to differentiate the two. The Clay-colored is buffier on the chest, sides, and face. The face patterns of Clay-colored and Chipping Sparrow contribute to the overall different appearance between these two species. The Clay-colored has a much more contrasting malar stripe and gray nape than the Chipping Sparrow and the Clay-colored has pale lores while the Chipping has dark lores. Using these field marks these sparrows should become much easier and quicker to identify leaving more time for observation.

Chipping Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow
This sparrow is much more subtly colored than any of the other Spizella sparrows. It is a sparrow with very little contrast throughout its plumage, the very drab look to this sparrow should help to clinch the ID. Listen to this sparrow sing and you will soon learn that this sparrow is anything but dull once it starts its song. The streaking on the cap, eyebrow, and nape in addition to the eye-ring should end any confusion with other species.


Julie said...

I love your images, very inspiring!

Romicas said...

Both pictures of sparrows are really beautiful.
Thanks for coming to my blog and the words you left there.


Kelly said...

...beautiful American Tree Sparrow photo, one of my favorite winter birds. Soon I guess he will be changing guard with the Chipping Sparrow...beautiful also--always love seeing that black stripe through the eye.

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Modesto Viegas said...

good photos,

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