It must be winter…the American Tree Sparrows are back at the feeders! This “American” species spends its summers in remote areas of Canada. The breeding range extends over the northern third of Canada and much of Alaska. When winter winds begin to blow, the entire population journeys into the northern two thirds of the United States. And they readily make the transition from summer isolation to vacationing in residential areas, parks, and gardens.
Male and female American Tree Sparrows look alike. Both have a rusty cap and line from the eye to the ear patch. This pattern is composed on the lovely grey palate of the head and neck. What is the best way to recognize the specie? Look for a single, central dark spot on a clear grey breast. The grey lightens across the flanks and belly. The short, conical bill is bi-colored: notice the yellow lower mandible and black upper. You may also see the two white wing bars on the wings. The upper plumage pattern is a streaky blend of browns, black, grey, and white. Altogether, the American Tree Sparrow presents a sporty visage.
Summers are spent as solitary pairs in open tundra near tree lines. They take seeds from the ground as well as foraging for insects and berries. At the end of the nesting cycle in late summer, tree sparrows gather in large flocks and begin their southward migration. They remain together on the wintering range and often arrive at feeders in numbers.
American Tree Sparrows are ground-feeders. They often forage by scratching among dried leaves and grasses. These little guys can be creative in their foraging techniques. They have been observed beating grasses with their wings to release the seeds, and then picking the fallen seeds off the snow.
The ideal feeder for this common winter visitor is a platform feeder placed directly on the ground. Favored seeds include cracked corn, white proso millet, and milo. Aspen Song® Value Blend and Choice Blend make ideal offerings for American tree sparrows.
Far from human presence while on their remote breeding grounds, and benefiting from the affection of the bird feeding community in the winter, American Tree Sparrows have a yearly cycle that assures these beauties will continue to bless us with their presence.
Reference: Naugler, Christopher T. 1993. American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.