The last sparrow that I featured, the Savannah sparrow, is similar to this week’s bird, the song sparrow. However, there are a few key differences I will list in this column.
Like the Savannah, the song sparrow is a winter visitor to Oklahoma.
There are two dozen recognized subspecies of song sparrow on the continent. However, because I don’t have the space to deal with all that, and because the overwhelming majority of song sparrows I see in Oklahoma are of the “eastern” variety, that is what I will write about here.
A good idea — if you have a copy of the Jan. 26 edition of The Ada News — would be to do a side-by-side comparison of each bird. You’ll note the differences which I list in the following description.
The song sparrow is medium sized for a sparrow, about 4.5 to 6.5 inches in length.
The song sparrow is grayish on top, with brown streaks and stripes. It is whitish below with a brown-streaked breast and sides.
Both the song sparrow and the Savannah sparrow have brown-streaked breasts and sides. However, whereas the Savannah has fine streaks, the song sparrow has coarse streaks. Also, the brown on the song sparrow is darker than on the Savannah.
Think of it as the difference between milk chocolate and fudge. Sweet, right?
Both of these birds have a noticeable spot on their breasts. However, the spot is smaller and sometimes nonexistent on the Savannah. Almost every song sparrow I’ve seen had a noticeable dark brown spot.
One clear difference that I noted in the previous column was that the Savannah has a short tail, while the song sparrow has a long tail. The song sparrow’s tail also has a rounded end, while the Savannah’s is forked.
Also, the song sparrow has gray on its head and has a stout beak, which is larger than the Savannah’s. It also lacks the yellow lores of the Savannah sparrow.
The song sparrow can be found all over Oklahoma in the fall and winter. Its breeding range covers much of Canada and the United States, minus Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and the Southeast.
Open areas such as overgrown fields, woodland edges and even residential areas.
Like many other birds, song sparrows eat a large number of insects during the warmer months and seeds of grasses and weeds in the winter.
Insects on which they feed include grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders ants and wasps.
They are attracted to feeders and enjoy black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, millet, cracked corn and milo.
At my home, song sparrows are infrequent visitors to my feeders during the fall and winter, but they usually eat off the ground. They seem to go after the white proso millet first, if available.
Odds and ends
• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that song sparrows stay low and forage secretively, often walking or hopping on the ground and flitting or hopping through branches, grass and weeds. However, males will go to exposed perches, such as limbs of small trees, to sing.
• The Lab reports the the oldest-known song sparrow was more than 11 years old when it was recaptured, then rereleased.
• The American Bird Conservancy reports that the song sparrow lives up to its name by singing persistently throughout the year. The song consists of three to four short notes followed by a varied trill, sometimes represented as “maids, maids, maids, put on your teakettle-ettle-ettle ettle.” Its call is a loud and distinctive “cheemp.”
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at email@example.com.