A Chipping Sparrow Feeding on a Tall Grass Stem

This morning I watched as a Chipping Sparrow hopped to the top of a tall stem of grass on the side of the road, held on while the stem bent down to the ground, then stood on the stem and ate the seeds in its top. This may be common behavior, but I had never seen it before, and found it both interesting and entertaining. Feeding in a spot where there were many tall grasses that had gone to seed, it hopped again and again to the top of a stem, rode it down to the ground and held it there to eat the seeds.

A Chipping Sparrow is easy to spot by its bright reddish-brown crown. It’s a small, colorful, active bird with brown streaked back, gray breast, a long tail and gray rump, and a black line through the eye. Chipping Sparrows are common in our neighborhood year-round, but in the fall and winter months their numbers here increase as more migrate in for the season, forming flocks of several dozen and foraging together for food. They often spray up in flight like sparks from a roadside or a yard, when startled, into nearby bushes and low limbs of trees.

They feed on the ground or in low vegetation, usually scratching up seeds, small fruits and small bugs, and grass seeds are a favorite. This Chipping Sparrow appeared to be alone though there probably were others nearby.

“Even though common and abundant, the Chipping Sparrow is surprisingly under-studied,” notes the species account in Birds of North America Online.*

*Chipping Sparrows are known as partial migrants. Some populations do not migrate, while others move various distances. The species account notes that there’s still a lot that’s not known about Chipping Sparrow migration, and more data and studies are needed for all aspects of their seasonal movements. Alex L. Middleton. 1998. Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passserina), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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