Bird Identification – The Song Sparrow
This is most children’s favourite bird: is it yours? Although by no means the belle of the family, the song sparrow is beloved throughout its vast range if for no other reason than because it is irrepressibly cheerful. Good spirits are contagious: every one feels better for having a neighbour always in a good humour. Most birds mope when it rains, or when they shed their feathers, or when the weather is cold and dreary, or when something doesn’t please them, and cultivate their voices only when they fall in love in the happy spring-time. But you may hear the hardy, healthful song sparrow’s “merry cheer” almost every month in the year, in fair weather or in foul, in the middle of the night and in broad daylight, when a little mate is to be wooed with light-hearted vivacity, when two, three, or even four broods severely tax the singer’s energy through the summer, when clothes must be changed in August and when the cold of approaching winter drives every other singer from the choir. The most familiar song—for this tuneful sparrow has at least six similar but slightly different melodies in his repertoire—begins with a full round note three times repeated, then dashes off into a sweet, short, lively, intricate strain that almost trips itself in its hasty utterance. Few people whistle well enough to imitate it. Few birds can rival the musical ecstasy.
Artlessly self-confident, not at all bashful, the song sparrow mounts to a conspicuous perch when he sings, rather than let his efforts be muffled by foliage. Don’t mistake him for an English sparrow; notice his distinguishing marks: the fine dark streaks on his light breast tend to form a larger blotch in the centre. You see him singing on the extended branch of some low tree, on the topmost twig of a bush, on a fence, or a piazza railing from which he dives downward into the grass, or flies straight along into the bushes, his tail working like a pump handle as if to help his flight. Very rarely he flies upward. Diving into a bush is one of his specialties. He best likes to live in regions near water.
The song sparrows that come almost every day in the year among many other birds to my piazza roof for waste canary seed and such delicacies, show refreshing spirit in driving off the English sparrows who, let it be recorded, can get not a morsel until the song sparrows are abundantly satisfied. One of the latter is quite able to keep off half a dozen of his English cousins. How does he do it? Not by his superior size, for the measurements of both birds show that they are about the same length although the song sparrow’s slightly longer and more graceful tail makes him appear a trifle larger. Certainly not by any rowdy, bold assaults, which are the English bird’s specialty. But by simply assuming superiority and expressing it only by running in a threatening attitude toward each English sparrow who dares to alight on the roof, does he bluff him into flying away again! There is never a fight, not even an ill-mannered scolding, just quiet monopoly for a few minutes, then a joyous outburst of song. After that the English sparrows may take the songster’s leavings.