A Chip on My Shoulder

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

Henry David Thoreau

Sparrows….seems like people either love them or hate them. And most people tend to lump all of the three dozen or so North American species of sparrows together as if they were one. But that does not do them justice. Even though they can be difficult to distinguish in the field, they are a diverse and subtlety beautiful group of birds. One of my favorites is the tiny Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow on garden fence

Chippies, as they are often called by birders, are a gregarious species, sometimes forming flocks of twenty or more birds that feed together in winter. These flocks are common right now out along the roadsides, the power line right of way, and at my feeding stations. When disturbed, they quickly fly to cover in shrubs and low branches. Adults can be distinguished by the lack of streaking on their breasts, the black line through their eye, and their rusty cap. Soon, I will hear the trill of chip notes of the male as they set up nesting territories. Chipping Sparrows build a flimsy nest placed low in a shrub or small tree, often an evergreen. The nest is made of grasses or root fibers woven into a small cup and is often lined with fine hair like horse or dog hair. With the approach of their breeding season, Chippies will take a back seat to many of the other common birds here in summer. But, with the approach of cold weather next year, they will once again flock together and be one of the more common birds I enjoy.

One thought on “A Chip on My Shoulder

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