I went back to Ash Creek (Lassen County CA) to again look for Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana). None to be found! For about ten minutes I did watch a song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) feeding along the creek shore under the cover of willows. Probably the most widespread sparrow in the United States, song sparrows are also found in Canada and parts of Mexico. I suddenly realized that this medium-sized sparrow is so common that I tend to overlook it and never did a song sparrow post.
Song sparrows can be found in almost any habitat including areas of human habitation. Their preferred habitat includes brushlands and fresh or saltwater marshes. Except in the spring when the male sings from exposed perches, song sparrows are rather secretive. They hop along the ground, wade in shallow water or flit through the low branches of shrubs foraging mainly for seeds and fruits. Insects also supplement their diet.
Song sparrows exhibit a lots of variety in plumage and many look very different from each other. Depending on the taxonomy, there are 20 to 30 or more subspecies of song sparrow in the United States. Generally, song sparrows have heavily streaked gray and brown upper parts. The under parts are dull white with a dark central breast spot and thick brown streaks. The head has a brown crown with a paler median stripe and a pale gray eyebrow. The white chin contrasts with dark brown “mustache” stripes. A song sparrow has a long tail and pink legs. The sexes are similar.
Throughout the spring and summer the song sparrow lives up to its common name. Its distinctive call of three short notes followed by a trill is a persistent background sound while wandering through the woods or along streams.
Although I often take song sparrows for granted, I would miss them and their beautiful songs if they disappeared.