Bird of the Week: Song Sparrow

Photo by Albert Kerelis

Photo by Albert Kerelis

Species: Song Sparrow, or Melospiza melodia

Family: Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

Star sign: Cancer

Rating: 10/10

Ideal Date: A night at the karaoke bar.

The Song Sparrow is an unassuming and humble friend with a big voice. As one of the most common songbirds in the United States, they are a ubiquitous presence in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike. But don’t be mistaken; common does not equal boring. These feathery little fellas are the ideal cute bird shape, hitting a solid 8.5/10 on a scale of bird to borb, and just one look is enough to elicit warmth in even the iciest heart. And although they like to use their unassuming brown coats to help them hide in foliage and shrubs, they cannot help but give themselves away with their beautiful, striking songs. What artists!

The enchanting song of this melodious friend begins with three short notes that are then followed by a unique trill which varies from bird to bird. The trill of any given bird depends on where and who they learned to sing from; bird songs are not an instinctual noise but rather are passed from bird to bird. Male juvenile Song Sparrows use songs to seduce the ladies and learn them from older tutor birds, of which they usually have between two and five. Thus, every Sparrow’s song is special! On the receiving end of these beautiful love songs, female Song Sparrows don’t just prefer the male with the nicest song, but instead search out those mates whose songs most closely mimic those of their tutors, thus demonstrating a strong capacity for learning. We love to see a species of bird that wants both looks and brains in their partners! How wise of them! They truly are birds of modest and smart character.

This fluffy friend can be found pretty much anywhere in the US, although the Song Sparrow’s appearance will vary ever so slightly from place to place because of its large number of subspecies and regional variants. While on Reed campus, if you see a rotund brown songbird, it’s probably a Song Sparrow. But to be sure, watch out for a slightly speckled warm brown body that is slightly smaller than a fist, as well as stubby beaks and russet brown and grey stripes on their round heads. The friends can often be seen flitting around in bushes or in the branches of short trees. But of course, the easiest way to find a Song Sparrow is to wait quietly and listen until one lets out a beautiful song! Once you can hear the performance, it’s only a matter of figuring out where the show is happening and getting a front row seat!

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