Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Arctic Wild Neighbors: American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow- note white wing bar.
When it comes to the American tree sparrow, where there's one there's probably thirty. Sauntering the Pine Creek Rail Trail at its northern terminus near Stokesdale this-morning I happened upon a sizeable flock of them. In typical fashion they're foraging on the ground beneath the cover of trail-side vegetation. I've been alerted to the sparrow's presence by the distinctive jingled notes of the flock; a simple two note "tee-tle" with the emphasis on the first note.

American tree sparrow- note dark central breast spot.
It might be easy for most to look upon the American tree sparrow as nothing special, but there is much to be appreciated about this living treasure. For one, its another arctic breeder, inhabiting the edge of the Canadian and Alaskan tundra. It is a hardy bird of the north. Small yet mighty.

American tree sparrow- note bi-colored bill.
Typical sparrow shape, rusty reddish cap and eye line, grayish face, varying shades of brown streaks upon its back and wings, white wing-bars, and a clean light-grayish breast and belly with a dark central breast spot are the distinguishing plumage markers of the American tree sparrow. Another identifying trait is the bi-colored bill (yellow lower mandible, dark upper mandible)

On its breeding grounds the American tree sparrow eats mostly insects but here on its wintering grounds in places like Pennsylvania it ekes out a living on the seeds of grasses, weeds, and other plants.

The American tree sparrow is a bird of low, wet, and shrubby habitats that border open areas such as fields or streams.

The flock seems to be always on the move. Always foraging. It's interesting and beautiful how this single species flock of 30+ birds moves as one organism through the underbrush adjacent to the trail. I can't always see them. I catch a glimpse of a bird here and there through the twigs and branches. But I can tell where they are and how fast they are moving by following the location of those jingled notes.

It is small. It is unassuming. It is relatively inconspicuous.

It is a living treasure and a visitor from the frigid north.

If you want to experience the American tree sparrow for yourself, head to the northern terminus of the Pine Creek Rail Trail and walk it about a mile out. Chances are you'll find them there.


  1. Love to learn about our winter birds! Thanks!

  2. Flo, you are welcome! It is such a joy to watch them and to share a love of wildlife and wild spaces with others. Thank you for leaving a comment! Peace, Rich