Jane’s Deck Of Birds – American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

The American Tree Sparrow is a medium-sized sparrow also known as the Winter Sparrow.   They spend  the winter months in southern Canada and the US.  You can distinguish this sparrow from other sparrows by looking for the small dark spot on their grey chest.  They have a grey face with a rusty cap and line through their eye. Their back is also rusty in colour with lighter stripes, and brown wings with white wing bars.  American Tree Sparrows also have a two-toned bill, darker on the top and yellow on the bottom. They look similar to a Chipping Sparrow, but these sparrows will have started their migration south before the American Tree Sparrows arrive.

Photo Credits – Jocelyn Anderson

Despite their name the American Tree Sparrow spends little time in trees.  They breed in the tundra, north of the Arctic tree line in Northern Canada and Alaska.  They are commonly seen in open fields, thickets, brushy and weedy areas. The nest is built on or near the ground.  It is a cup shaped nest made with twigs, moss and grasses and lined with fine grass and Ptarmigan feathers. American Tree Sparrows have one brood in the nesting season.  She will lay 4-5 eggs, one per day. The eggs are bluish-green with brown speckles on the end. Incubation is by the female lasting 11-13 days. The nestlings are able to fly 14-15 days after hatching, but may leave the nest a few days before this.  The parents will continue to feed the young for two weeks after leaving the nest.

Photo Credits – Andrew Cannizzaro

During the spring and summer months their diet consists mostly of insects.  In the months of June and July they eat beetles, flies, wasps, spiders, snails and caterpillars.  This is important for feeding their young. Once the young are gone they will revert to their winter diet which includes grass, ragweed, goldenrod, sedge and occasionally berries.

We are able to enjoy these sparrows during the late fall and winter months.  You will often see them feeding with the Juncos. Feeding American Tree Sparrows is important as they need to eat and drink 30 percent of their body weight daily.  Having a heated bird bath will certainly help with this. Ground feeders will help attract them to your back yard. Millet, fine sunflower and sunflower hearts can be put in the feeder or sprinkled on the ground and under shrubs and bushes.  You can also listen for their beautiful song which consists of several clear notes followed by a rapid warble!

American Tree Sparrow – Call & Song

Happy Birding!

Author- Jane Paradis

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