Bird Identification – Tree Sparrow – Winter Chippy

When the friendly little chippy leaves us in autumn, this similar but larger sparrow cousin comes into the United States from the North, and some people say they cannot tell the two birds apart or the field sparrow from either of them. The tree sparrow, which, unlike the chippy, has no black on his forehead, wears an indistinct black spot on the centre of his breast where the chippy is plain gray, and the field sparrow is buffy. The tree sparrow has a parti-coloured bill, the upper-half black, the lower yellow with a black tip, while the chippy has an entirely black bill, and the field sparrow a flesh-coloured or pale-red one. Only the tree sparrow, which is larger than either of the others, although only as large as a full grown English sparrow, spends the winter in the Northern United States, and by that time his confusing relatives are too far south for comparison. It is in spring and autumn that their ranges over-lap and there is any possibility of confusion.

When the slate-coloured juncos come from their nesting grounds far over the Canadian border, look also for flocks of tree sparrows in fields and door yards, where crab grass, amaranth and fox tail grass, among other pestiferous weeds, are most abundant. I do not know how Professor Beal of the Department of Agriculture, arrived at his conclusions, but he estimates that in a single state—Iowa—the tree sparrows alone destroy eight hundred and seventy-five tons of noxious weed seeds every winter. Then how incalculably great must be our debt to the entire sparrow tribe!

Tree sparrows welcome other winter birds to their friendly flocks that glean a comfortable living from the weed stalks protruding from the snow. Their cheerful, soft, jingling notes have been likened by Mr. Chapman to “sparkling frost crystals turned to music.”