SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
DESCRIPTION: The Song Sparrow has brown upper parts with darker streaks. The underside is light grey with brown streaks mainly on the sides. A distinguishing feature for this sparrow species is a dark brown spot in the middle of the breast. There is a beige bar above the eye, and another one in the middle of the head cap. Its bill is conical and grey-brown, and the legs are pinkish-grey. The tail is long and narrow. Sexes are similar. This sparrow is around 15 cm (6 inches) long. There are many subspecies of song sparrows.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Melospiza-melodia – As its name implies, this bird’s song is ‘melodious’ and diversified. As opposed to other songbirds who are usually silent in the middle of the day on hot summer days, this bird will happily send out a few tunes. But it will be silent in the fall, except for a repeated ‘chirp’ call (as heard in a video below).
NAME: The English name ‘Sparrow’ derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘Spearwa’, which means ‘flutterer’, (because of its tail movements), and it has been applied to many small birds (Choate). The English part of the name ‘song’, and the Latin species name ‘melodia’, both refer to the ‘melodious’ song of this bird. As for the Latin genus name ‘Melospiza’, it means ‘song’ and ‘finch’.
HABITAT: Very diversified – woodlands, scrubland, prairie, cultivated fields, suburban areas and some wetlands.
DIET: Omnivorous – seeds, grain, insects and other invertebrates, berries.
NESTING: Both parents are involved in nest-building. This one is placed on the ground in a well-concealed area, or low in a tree. It can even be placed near human dwellings (see photo and notes below). An average of five blue-green eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female for the most part. Both parents feed the young (see photos below).
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of this species covers most of Canada (up to the tree line). It is a year-round resident in southwest British Columbia and most of the USA, except the south plains and the southeast. Its wintering areas are the USA south plains and southeast, and along the northern border of Mexico.
ON PEI: The song sparrow breeds on Prince Edward Island, where it is commonly seen every season except in the winter, when it is uncommon (depending on the snow cover and the food sources).
CONSERVATION: Being widespread and common, the song sparrow is not considered at risk.
NOTES: The song sparrow is easily attracted to bird feeders but prefers to feed on the ground around them for spilled seeds.
Photographer Marie Smith has this to say about the song sparrows below: “They had a nest under our hedge at the front of the house. They both worked to bring food. However, the birds didn’t trust us. Any time we were outside when they came around with food for the chicks, they would not go near the nest area. They stayed around with beaks full of food until we went away. The pair was protective of the nest site” (photo on the left).
SIMILAR SPECIES: Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow
REFERENCES: https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/song-sparrow (Missouri Department of Conservation)
This first video below shows a song sparrow chirping continuously – an alarm call :
This video below shows a song sparrow eating black sunflower seeds in the snow on a March 11 (2014). This bird is uncommon in the winter as per the PEI Field Checklist of Birds, but with food available from bird feeders it likely changes the stats.