“Colorful” sparrows can brighten a day


Photo by Chris Bosak A Song Sparrow seen in Selleck's/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Conn., March 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Song Sparrow seen in Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods in Darien, Conn., March 2014.

When we think of sparrows, the word “colorful” likely does not come to mind. In fact, many people refer to them collectively simply as LBJs (little brown jobs).

But if you look closely enough, a world of beauty can be found in the plumage of sparrows. We see Song Sparrows almost every day and, indeed, from a distance they do look like a boring old brown bird. When the light catches that plumage, though, an endless variety of browns and tans come together to make a striking bird. Sure, browns and tans are not necessarily colorful in the obvious sense (reds, blues, purples) but it’s a more subtle beauty.

So subtle in fact that it often takes time to appreciate. When I had artist Catherine Hamilton on my Birds Calls Radio program a few years ago, she talked about how much she liked to work with sparrows. The answer surprised me because I was expecting her to say a more colorful bird such as a cardinal or Wood Duck. I understood where she was coming from, but wasn’t completely sold on the whole beautiful sparrow thing. Then, somewhere along the line, I started to look more closely at the sparrow photographs I took. Sure enough, I discovered what Catherine was talking about. The brown birds are not simply brown. You can’t grad a brown crayon from a box and color in a sparrow. You would need fist fulls of different browns and need to change crayons frequently to capture the true essence of a sparrow.

Also, when we think of sparrows the House Sparrow is often the first one that comes to mind. House Sparrows have a beauty of their own (I guess), but I’m referring more to the native New England sparrows such as Song Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.

Despite my relatively new appreciation for sparrows I still have to catch myself. I still sometimes see a sparrow and immediately gloss over it and look for the next bird. Then I quickly come back to the sparrow and appreciate its subtle markings. I’m always glad I did.

So what’s your favorite sparrow of those listed below? I know “I like them all” would be most people’s answer, so I’m not even going to include that in the options. Take a stand for your favorite sparrow.


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