Field Sparrow

On a brightly sunny, cool and breezy morning, the new green leaves of oaks shimmered with the gentle songs of Yellow-rumped Warblers. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet sang its sharp, rapid, complex little song. The whistled songs of White-throated Sparrows rose like curls of fog from thickets and bushes, fading into the air. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called wispy spee-spee. A White-eyed Vireo sang its percussive chick-per-chicory-chick from a tangled area of vines and young trees in the tangled corner I call the Lost Woodland. 

From this same patch of land came another song, too, that I hadn’t heard in quite a long time. A series of three or four clear, accelerating notes, followed by a cheerful tumble of notes that sound like a bouncing ping-pong ball – the song of a Field Sparrow. 

A Field Sparrow is a small, brown-streaked sparrow that used to be as common as its name still sounds. Their bouncing songs were a familiar part of the landscape in rural and partly suburban areas in this part of the South. But in the past ten years or more, populations of Field Sparrows have declined sharply throughout North America, and here around our neighborhood it’s now very unusual to find one. 

It took me a few minutes to find this one, listening to the song, repeated again and again, and watching for movements in the leaves. Finally I saw it through a loose screen of green leaves – first the round head capped with a rusty crown, and a gray face with a small, neat white ring around the eye, a rusty smudge behind the eye – and a small pink bill. Then it moved a little, and came fully into view, showing its brown-streaked wings, gray breast, rather long tail, and pink legs. It lifted its head, and sang.

I watched it through the leaves for several minutes, not wanting to leave, not knowing when I might have another chance to see a Field Sparrow. Until it finally flew deeper into the tangle of leaves and disappeared.

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