American Tree Sparrows

On this mild, breezy afternoon, my wife and I took a walk around Perry Phillips Lake, south of Columbia, Missouri.  Two pair of red-tailed hawks cavorted in the wind but the lake remained frozen and no waterfowl were observed.  However, we did come across a flock of American tree sparrows, foraging in thickets along the south shore.

Residents of Alaska and Northern Canada where they breed in the Arctic Zone, these attractive sparrows are best identified by their rusty cap, white wing bars and light gray underparts with a central breast spot.  Gregarious during the winter months, they visit northern and central latitudes of the Lower 48, favoring open country with wooded streams or wetlands; while they visit backyard feeders on occasion, these sparrows are far more common in rural areas.  And though their name suggests otherwise, they spend most of their time on the ground or in low shrubs and saplings.

By late winter, the males begin to sing, longing to return to their northern homeland before warm, humid air invades the Heartland.  There they will pair up with a female and construct a nest in willow thickets or directly on the tundra.  Feasting on both insects and seeds during the breeding season, they consume grass and wildflower seeds during the winter months.