A Field Sparrow’s Backwards Song

Field Sparrows are singing in the Old Field on the edge of our neighborhood. But they’re singing songs that are backwards from the familiar ones that end in the jumble of bouncing notes. For several days last spring, I heard this song around the Old Field, and could not figure out what it was. I knew it sounded like something I should recognize – but couldn’t place it. It began with a sort of jumble of notes, and ended with a clear, ringing, down-slurring “tew-tew-tew.”

Finally, one morning I tracked the singer down, and there, sitting on the branch of a small tree was a Field Sparrow – a small, rather plain sparrow with a rusty cap and a pink bill – singing the mystery song. Although I couldn’t find this song on any of my birdsong recordings, the species account in Birds of North America describes it clearly, and identifies it as the Chipping Sparrow’s “complex song,” as opposed to its more familiar “simple song.” The authors explain that males sing the complex song at dawn and in defending their territories.*

This makes sense to me, because I’ve heard this song mainly early in the spring. Later in the season and all summer last year, the old familiar Field Sparrow song, which begins with three clear whistles and ends in a jumble of notes that sound a little like bouncing ping-pong balls, is usually heard instead.

(*Carey, M., D. E. Burhans, and D. A. Nelson. 1994. Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla). In The Birds of North America, No. 103 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’ Union.)

One Response to “A Field Sparrow’s Backwards Song”

  1. clate says:

    I enjoy your blog very much.

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