IT'S GOOD TO BE BROWN
By Mark McKellar
The truth is that our native sparrows are a great group of birds that are quite beautiful, but they have a fiercely undeserved bad reputation because of an impostor. The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is over abundant, really aggressive and generally a pain to deal with. They were introduced into this country to be the savior of the American farmer, but instead became the scourge of bird feeders coast to coast. Even more insulting for good sparrows, these aliens are not even true sparrows. They belong to an old world group of birds known as weavers.
If you can bring yourself to sift through the little brown birds at your feeders this fall and winter, you will notice several great birds but how do you tell them apart? My first rule is to separate them into striped chests or plain chests. From there, look at face and head patterns.
If your yard and neighborhood has lots of trees, the most common native sparrow with a stripe-free chest should be the White-throated Sparrow. You should notice two major color forms, with both having striped heads alternating dark and either white or tan stripes. Both will have yellow eyebrow spots that become more vivid in the spring.
In more open areas, the American Tree Sparrow can be really numerous some years, while quite scarce in others. This small rufous-capped bird has a stick pin spot in the center of its otherwise plain chest. Its yellow lower bill is unique as well. Most common in my very open area are the White-crowned and Harris Sparrows. These large cousins of the White-throated Sparrow are quite handsome and a treat to have around. The Harris Sparrow has a restricted range and Kansas City is on the eastern most side of its wintering grounds.
Dont be scared to look at the sparrows in your yard. Dont cheat yourself by being turned off by the impostors, study your sparrows and enjoy the fruits of your labors. If you want more information about our winter sparrows get on-line and go to http://mdc.mo.gov/nathis/birds/sparrows. It was written a few years ago but it can still be helpful.
BACKYARD BIRD CENTER
6212 NW Barry Road Kansas City, Missouri 64154
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