The Chirping Calls of Song Sparrows

The day began cool and foggy, but by mid-morning the clouds had disappeared, leaving a deep-blue sky and a bright November sun. The first sounds I heard were the blurry calls of Eastern Bluebirds, then the chatter of Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe. A Hermit Thrush called its liquid chup from somewhere deep in the trees. Small songbirds were feeding in the grass here and there – in one place Eastern Bluebirds, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and one warm-yellow Pine Warbler.

In the Old Field along the dead-end road outside our subdivision, two White-throated Sparrows came out of damp privet thickets into the morning sun, and one of them posed in perfect light on a tall blackberry cane. A big, plump sparrow with a clean white throat that makes it easy to recognize, it’s a stylish-looking bird, with a sense of flair – a gray breast and warm brown, dark-streaked wings and back, a black-and-white striped head, gray face, and deep-yellow mark over the bill.

Just a few yards away, in tall grass on the edge of a power cut, two more modest, rumpled, brown-streaked Song Sparrows also came out to sit in the sun, twitching their long tails nervously. An Eastern Mockingbird appeared, and a male Northern Cardinal – and a tiny, jewel-like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with its crisp green-gray color and white-ringed eye, flicked in and out of a bush.

Several White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows were calling from hidden spots in the field, dotting the weedy grass and shrubs with their different sounds, and giving me a good chance to compare the dry tseets and ringing chinks of White-throated Sparrows, with the more chirping chips of Song Sparrows. Even after many years of birding, sometimes it seems a lost cause to try to recognize sparrows by their calls because the differences can be pretty subtle and confusing. But I always enjoy trying, and gradually have become familiar with some. There’s something almost magical about recognizing birds by the smallest of sounds, and knowing they’re there without having to see them. Really listening opens a quite amazing new perspective on so much that often goes unnoticed.

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