For the Birds: Chipping sparrow the source of the chirping

Photo by Chris Bosak A chipping sparrow perches on a garden stake in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

The chirping was coming from the small tree right next to me. That much was clear. What wasn’t clear was where the bird was exactly or what type of bird it was. 

I looked among the leaves for a minute or two to no avail. Then the bird jumped down to a dead branch just above eye level. It was a chipping sparrow. If it had been singing instead of chirping/calling I would have recognized it without having to see it. I can recognize many calls or chips but apparently not the chipping sparrow’s.

I was glad the bird hopped down to offer a good look. Too many times to count I’ve zeroed in on a bird following its song or call only to have the bird eventually fly off with me never having seen it or identified it. It’s one of the more frustrating things when it comes to birdwatching. 

It’s not a surprise that I couldn’t find the bird in the tree initially. Chipping sparrows are one of the smaller birds in New England and a single maple leaf can easily conceal the bird’s whereabouts.

Hummingbirds, at about 3 to 3 1/2 inches long, are our smallest birds, followed by the kinglets at about 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. Chipping sparrows are roughly the same size as a chickadee — about 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches long. 

By comparison, house sparrows and white-throated sparrows are 6 inches long, or slightly more. Even juncos are an inch or so longer than chipping sparrows. 

So it’s no wonder I couldn’t find it in the leafed-out maple. Thankfully, it made an appearance on a dead branch and lingered there for several minutes.

Chipping sparrows, in my opinion, are one of our more handsome sparrows as well with a rusty cap, black eye stripe and bright white stripe in between. Their song is also easy to recognize and rather ubiquitous in the spring. The song, as the bird’s name suggests, is a series or trill of chips. It can easily be confused with the song of the pine warbler or junco, but the chipping sparrow’s trill is heard most frequently in New England, particularly after April.

Chipping sparrow numbers have declined by an estimated 28 percent between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, but thankfully their numbers remain high and are of low conservation concern.

The chipping sparrow, it seems to me, is one of New England’s more underrated birds. It has a pleasant song, beautiful plumage and is a common sighting throughout summer when many birds have seemingly disappeared. Sometimes, they even find obvious perches when someone is looking for them.

1 thought on “For the Birds: Chipping sparrow the source of the chirping

  1. Thank you for your praise of Chippers! I have always found them to be a cheerful and attractive bird and I compare its chip to that of a chipmunk only pleasant. As you know, it’s often the smaller birds who are the bravest and that holds true with these guys who don’t mind being seen and conversed with.

    Liked by 1 person

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