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The Sparrow family includes a larger proportion of the bird population of any region than any other family, but many of its representatives go by the name of Finches, or conceal their relationship by other names. One branch of the family contains chiefly bright tree-haunting birds of northern affinities. Many of these are of only irregular occurrence in southern New England; such are the Crossbills, the Redpoll, and the Pine Grosbeak. The Goldfinch is common throughout New York and New England, and the Purple Finch common north of Connecticut. Another branch of the family includes three or four bright-colored birds of southern affinities; these are the Indigo-bird, the Rosebreasted Grosbeak, the Cardinal, and the Chewink. The rest of the family is mainly made up of the brown, groundhaunting birds, that are commonly referred to as Sparrows.

These inhabit every sort of country except the deep forest; some are local, and never occur except in salt marshes or wet meadows; others, like the Song Sparrow and the Chipping Sparrow, are widely distributed. The White-crowned, Tree, and Fox Sparrows breed north of the United States, and occur here only as migrants; others, such as the Whitethroated Sparrow and the Junco breed only in northern New York and New England. In trying to identify a brown Sparrow one should notice first of all whether the breast is streaked or not; the next important point to settle is the presence or absence of yellow, buff, or black lines on the side of the head.

[Hoffmann had in this group a series of species that are now part of the Cardinalidae and Passerellidae families.They have been moved to their corresponding section.]


[EASTERN] TOWHEE; CHEWINK. Pipilo erythrophthalmus
8.35 in.

Ad. ♂.— Head, throat, breast, back, wings, and tail black; the wing-feathers margined with white; the outer tail-feathers with large white spots; belly white; flanks chestnut. Ad. ♀.— The black of the male replaced by a light reddish-brown; otherwise similar. Im.— Head and back brown; breast streaked with black; wings brown and white; tail as in ad.

Nest, on the ground, often under a heap of brush. Eggs, white, evenly speckled with brown.

The Chewink is a common summer resident of southern and central New England and of the Hudson Valley. In the northern parts of New York and New England it is confined to the more settled portions, and frequents pastures that are becoming overgrown with bushes. It arrives late in April, and stays into October. It is abundant in scrubby oak, such as is common on Cape Cod and on Martha's Vineyard.

When undisturbed, it scratches energetically in the dry leaves under the bushes, or mounts some low tree to sing.

The song varies considerably, but as a rule resembles the syllables dick-yoo, chiddle-chiddle-chiddle. The Chewink has two broods, and therefore sings well into July. The alarm-note, chi-wee', has given the bird its name; often the southern name, Joree, seems to suggest the note better. During the breeding season it has a sharp, sibilant callnote which suggests the sst of certain of the sparrows.

When startled, the Chewink flies with jerks of its widespread tail, so that the large white spots on the outer tail-feathers show clearly. When seen from below, the angle made where the black breast meets the white belly is an excellent field-mark. At close range the bright red iris is conspicuous.




Tail of Towhee

FOX SPARROW. Passerella iliaca

7.26 in.

Ad.— Top of head and back reddish-brown and gray; tail reddish-brown; sides of throat and breast thickly marked with bright reddish-brown spots, forming a heavy blotch in the centre of the breast; belly and sides marked with dark brown arrow-shaped spots.

The Fox Sparrow is a common migrant through New York and New England from the middle of March to the end of April, and from the middle of October to the end of November. The bushes along the edges of cultivated fields and open places in woods are the resort of this large and handsome sparrow. When a flock of Fox Sparrows are startled from the ground, they generally fly into a tree, one after another, instead of diving headlong into cover after the manner of their frequent companions the Song Sparrow. The rich tawny color of the back and head, and particularly the reddish-brown tail, are then conspicuous. When seen on the ground, the large arrow-shaped markings on the white breast and flanks are prominent. When on the ground, they scratch with both feet at once, jumping forward and back, often making a noticeable rustling among the leaves. Often the little flocks which we meet are silent, but sometimes they sing freely.

The song is loud and rich, one of the finest of sparrow songs; there is a suggestion of generosity and courage in the manner of its delivery and the fullness of its tone; it is occasionally heard in the autumn. The ordinary call-note is a st, similar to that of the Song Sparrow and the Whitethroat, but slightly heavier. The bird also utters a chuck of alarm.

The fox color should distinguish this sparrow from the others. Certain Song Sparrows, especially those seen in early spring, are so unusually reddish brown on the upper parts, that a beginner might be puzzled to decide whether they were Song Sparrows or Fox Sparrows, but as in many similar cases, a doubtful Fox Sparrow is probably a spurious one; the genuine Fox Sparrow is so very tawny that, when he really appears, no doubt of his identity is left in the mind. The White-throated Sparrow's period of migration slightly overlaps the Fox Sparrow's, both in April and October, but the tail of the former is grayish-brown. The Fox Sparrow is not infrequently mistaken for the Hermit Thrush; the tail is reddish-brown in both birds, but the back and head of the Thrush and his breast-markings have none of the rich tawny color of the Sparrow.

SWAMP SPARROW. Melospiza georgiana
5.89 in.

Ad. in summer.— Crown rich reddish-brown, blackish on the forehead; back brown, streaked with black; wings reddish-brown; breast and sides of throat ashy gray, unstreaked; throat whitish; flanks washed with brownish. Ad. in winter and Im.— Crown streaked with black and reddish-brown.

Nest, on the ground. Eggs, whitish, thickly covered with brownish markings.

The Swamp Sparrow breeds in any extensive grassy swamp throughout New England and the Hudson Valley, arriving early in April, and remaining through October. Along the sea-coast of southern New England and New York, where the winter is not very severe, it occasionally winters in the edges of the cat-tail swamps. In migration, especially in September and early October, when Swamp Sparrows are often abundant, they may occur at some distance from swamps or wet meadows.

The song of the Swamp Sparrow is simple but musical, as if a Chipping Sparrow were singing in the marshes an unusually sweet song. Toward evening the birds make many little twittering and scolding sounds, as they pursue each other to and fro. The call-note is a metallic chink, resembling that of the White-throated Sparrow, but a little less heavy.

In spring the chestnut crown and reddish-brown of the wings, without white bars, distinguish the Swamp Sparrow from all but the Chipping Sparrow; the latter, however, never resorts to the wet swamp lands and has a more slender, less stocky figure. In the fall the unstreaked breast distinguishes it from the Song Sparrows which abound in the swamps at that season. The Swamp Sparrow has a square whitish throat-patch, but it is far less conspicuous than the pure white throat of the White-Throated Sparrow; the latter moreover may readily be distinguished by its greater size and the black and white head markings.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW. Melospiza lincolnii
5.75 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown, finely streaked with black and gray; under parts white, finely streaked with black, and washed across the breast with buff.

The Lincoln's Sparrow, or Lincoln's Finch, is a rare migrant through New York and New England in May, late September, and early October. It is probably less rare in western New England than along the eastern coast. In spring it frequents the bushes on the edges of swampy or wet places, especially in valleys which are good migration routes. In the fall it accompanies the migrant Song and Swamp Sparrows, and may be found near the grassy swamps and wet meadows where these species then congregate. It rarely sings on migration, and only occasionally utters its alarm-note, a slight tsup.

It requires a well-trained eye to distinguish it from the Song Sparrow. It is possible to find it by persistently gazing at every sparrow in a migrating company in turn, using the opera-glass, until one is at last discovered with a pale buff band across the narrow streaking of the breast. When one has become familiar with the species, other differences are apparent; the bird is smaller than the Song Sparrow, trimmer, more elegant. Its tail is shorter, and the color of its back and the side of its head is olive-gray rather than reddish-brown. It is more apt than the other sparrows to raise its crest-feathers slightly when alarmed. (See "Bird-Lore,” vol. ii. p. 109.)

SONG SPARROW. Melospiza cinerea melodia
6.30 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown, the back streaked with darker brown; top of head reddish-brown, with streaks of gray through centre and over each eye; breast and sides streaked with reddishbrown, the streaks generally coalescing to form a large spot in the centre of the breast; two other large spots at the sides of the throat; tail rather long.

Nest, placed either in grass or sedge on the ground, or in a low bush. Eggs, heavily spotted with reddish-brown.

The Song Sparrow is a common permanent resident in the lower Hudson Valley and in southern Connecticut and Rhode Island; it winters not uncommonly in the edges of marshes or in piles of brush along the Massachusetts coast. In the rest of New York and New England the Song Sparrow is an abundant summer resident, arriving early in March and remaining through October. Where the bird winters, its song may be heard on mild days, even in the winter months, and especially during the latter part of February, but in general its song is one of the signs of spring.

From about the middle of July, through the late summer and fall, the Song Sparrow utters from the weeds or cornfields a low warbling song, quite different from the ordinary sprightly song. The ordinary alarm-note of the Song Sparrow is a sharp tschik; another very common note may be written sst; White-throats and Fox Sparrows both utter notes similar to the last, but slightly heavier. The song is subject to endless variation in the species, and varies to a considerable degree even in the same individual, but it commonly begins with three brisk notes or pairs of notes, whit, whit, whit, or o-lit o-lit o-lit, and in the middle of the song there is apt to be a harsh burring note, after which the song runs quickly out to some ending.


Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow is found wherever there are bushes, but particularly near water. It is a brisk, active bird, but not at all fond of the open, diving headlong into the nearest tangle when alarmed. When in the bushes it is continually hopping about, with jerking movements of wing and tail. Only when preening its feathers after a bath, or when singing from the top of some low tree, does it sit quiet. (See under Vesper Sparrow, and under Savannah Sparrow.)

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