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American Tree Sparrow

Common Name: American Tree Sparrow.

Scientific Name: Spizelloides Arborea.

What to look for?  American Tree Sparrows give an overall impression of reddish-brown and gray. Two distinguishing characteristics are the reddish-brown or rusty cap and eye-line. They are small, round-headed birds with a gray head, a streaked brown back, and a smooth gray to buff breast. Among sparrows, they have small bills and long, thin tails. Note bi-colored bill with black upper mandible and yellow lower mandible.  American Tree Sparrows often fluff out their feathers, making their plump bodies look even chubbier.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? American Tree Sparrows are one of those unusual birds that winter here! They are busy visitors in winter to backyard feeders. And you will not find just one as they forage in groups, including with other birds.

How big are they? The American Tree Sparrow averages just over 5 ½ inches in length. And their wingspan is just over nine inches. They weigh in at around ¾ of one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? American Tree Sparrow is agile flier; often seen flitting among thickets and between bushes and feeders. They have an undulating flight pattern. This is called "Flap-Bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body.

How else do they behave? In winter, American Tree Sparrows often forage in small flocks, scratching the ground for dried seeds and pecking at feeders. American Tree Sparrows are very hardy birds that will often continue foraging undaunted as winter storms move in. In their summer range, they search out insects from weeds and bushes or snatch them from the air as well.

What’s for dinner? Depends on the season! From fall through spring, American Tree Sparrows are almost exclusively vegetarian, eating grass, sedge, ragweed, goldenrod, and other seeds. This is when you will see them at our bird feeders. In summer, after their migration north, they eat almost exclusively insects such as beetles, flies, moths, and caterpillars - protein-rich foods that are particularly important for the growing chicks.

Where do they take up residence? American Tree Sparrows reside in different places depending upon the season. In spring and summer, they live in very northern Canada – arctic tundra! In the fall and winter, they reside in southern Canada and northern U.S. such as here at Carillon Stonegate Pond. And they are primarily ground birds - foraging on the ground, nesting on the ground, and breed primarily in scrubby areas at or above the treeline.

When and where do they breed and nest? American Tree Sparrows breed in the far north and are rarely seen south of northern Canada in summer. They nest in open tundra, although most of their territories include at least a few small trees that the males can sing from, along with a source of water.

Where do they migrate? During spring and fall migrations, they'll search out weedy fields, marshes, hedgerows, and open forests for foraging between nights of flying. They winter in similar habitats in their southern range – northern U.S. and southern Canada, adding gardens and backyards with feeders in settled areas.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern although the species has suffered steep declines over the decades. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population at 26 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? American Tree Sparrows toss back and forth a musical twitter, sometimes described as a “teel-wit” or “teedle-eet”. Songs are used to defend territory and to attract mates. Here is a link to the sounds of the American Tree Sparrow.

Interesting Facts About the American Tree Sparrow:

  • American Tree Sparrows - misleadingly named by European settlers – spend much more time on ground than in trees - foraging, nesting and breeding.

  • American Tree Sparrows need to take in about 30 percent of their body weight in food and a similar percentage in water each day to survive.

  • Like many songbirds, American Tree Sparrows synchronize hatching and fledgling so all of the chicks join in the foraging pretty much together.

  • The oldest banded American Tree Sparrow was nearly 11 years old.

For more information on the American Tree Sparrow and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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