Chipping Sparrows

On another soft, clear, sunny morning, lots of birds were singing – Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, House Finches, American Goldfinches, Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Pine Warblers, one Louisiana Waterthrush and one Black-and-white Warbler. 

The wispy spee-spee calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed to be almost everywhere. Now and then I caught a glimpse of a small, slender gray bird like a sprite, with a long tail edged in white, moving quickly through the branches and new-green leaves. 

Chipping Sparrows also seemed to be almost everywhere this morning, singing their long, level trills, and I had fun noticing, as I walked, the different qualities of their songs. They fascinate me. At first all Chipping Sparrow songs sound so plain, and so all-alike – a dry, almost mechanical trill. But it seems to me that when you listen closely, it’s amazing how many variations there can be on that one simple trill. A little faster, a little slower. A little shorter, a little longer. And subtle individual inflections that are difficult to describe. 

To be sure – I don’t know how much of this is in the songs themselves, and how much in the ear of the listener. Maybe the differences I hear can be explained by conditions other than the songs themselves – how far away the bird is, or high in a tree it might be, or even the time of day and the weather. I’m sure these and other factors can affect the subtle qualities I might hear in a song. And maybe it’s largely my own imagination. But I do enjoy listening. 

In one spot with trees on both sides of the road, there were lots of little birds flying back and forth between the oaks with new green leaves that seem to have come out almost overnight. I stopped to check them out – and all of them were Chipping sparrows. I watched two of them together in the same tree for several minutes, one of them lifting its head and singing, over and over again. 

Chipping sparrows are among the most common of our birds, but for some reason I never tire of watching them and listening to their songs. Small, brown-streaked sparrows, with smooth gray breast, long tail, a dark line through the eye, and a bright red-brown cap. I think I like them so much because they are not showy or obvious. It takes a closer look – and a more careful listen – to appreciate their charm. 

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