Friday, April 11, 2014

Finches, Sparrows, and Their Allies--Birding Adventure, Week 6

Sparrows are difficult to tell apart, which is often why they get lumped into one big group. However, there are many different types of them and once you can identify their distinguishing characteristics, sparrows are a bit easier to differentiate between. It will make spotting a Chipping Sparrow that much more exciting, instead of dismissing it as "just another House Sparrow."
A female (left) and male (right)
House Sparrow

Speaking of House Sparrows, they're a great place to start this week. These little birds are ubiquitous in urban areas. They were actually introduced by the American Acclimatization Society around the 1850s because a member of the society happened to love Shakespeare and decided to introduce each avian species he mentions in his plays to America. That's why we have birds like House Sparrows and European Starlings; they do very well here, but they are not native. The House Sparrow is actually not related to native North American sparrows at all. Its body type is "chunkier" and its head is usually larger. These are good birds to practice your identification skills on, but if you go out to the woods, you will not find them--they like urban areas best and generally need humans to survive.If you live in a city, though, you can definitely look out your window and see some! The male has a black chin and chest with a darker "chestnut" brown back and eye stripe and a grey crown. The female has a buffy chest with a mottled brown back.
Here's that bird topography map again,
just for your reference

We in North America have a number of native sparrows that you are likely to see if you venture just a short ways away from urban life. In order to identify these natives, I think it is important to talk about what ornithologists refer to as "field marks." A field mark is a characteristic that is distinguishable in the field and can help you to correctly identify a species. Remember when we talked about bird topography a few weeks ago? Well, this is where it comes in especially handy. Many of these little sparrows have one or two field marks by which they can clearly be identified, and it is easier to explain those field marks if you have a general knowledge of bird topography. For our class, we used a "dichotomous key" to learn the different sparrows, which was really helpful. It divided them by those with rusty-red colored crowns, black-and-white striped crown, or a streaked/striped crown. Some sparrows have yellow just above their eyes, some have very streaky chests, and others have spots on their chests. These are all little characteristics that will help you determine which type of sparrow you are looking at.

1. Swamp Sparrow
2. Chipping Sparrow
3. Field Sparrow
4. Lark Sparrow
5. American Tree Sparrow
6. Fox Sparrow
7. Grasshopper Sparrow
8. Clay-colored Sparrow
9. White-crowned Sparrow
10. White-throated Sparrow
11. Vesper Sparrow
12. Savannah Sparrow
13. Lincoln's Sparrow
14. Song Sparrow

Passeriformes: Emberizidae
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Passeriformes: Fringillidae
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Passeriformes: Passeridae
House Sparrow

Passeriformes: Calcariidae
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting

Most recently in our birding lab, we have seen Song Sparrows and Fox Sparrows hopping about. These little guys are coming back and more are on their way, so get outside and test your identification skills! The links to the birds, as always, provide pictures, characteristics, and calls. Enjoy this beautiful weather with a pair of binoculars and a field guide!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern

1 comment:

  1. A dichotomous key is a tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world, such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks, and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. "Dichotomous" means "divided into two parts".You can use Creately dichotomous key maker to create dichotomous keys online. There are templates and examples to get started as well.