Chipping Sparrow

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By Wilson Lutz

When I was still in knee pants many years ago, I usually spent the afternoons enjoying my newly acquired ability to read. On one such afternoon I was enjoying the comic strip in our daily paper when my mother called me to the front yard.  Across the front of our house was a thick mass of spirea bushes along with other flowering plants just a few feet high. When I got outside, she carefully parted the shrubbery. What she revealed therein was a neat little bird’s nest.  I had had no idea that it was there. Nor did I know what bird had made the nest. My mother informed me that it was the nest of a chipping sparrow. Within the nest were four little eggs. Each egg was light bluish-green with brownish-black spots concentrated at the large end. The chipping sparrow, Spizella passerina, is what I have learned to call a neatbird. It is a trifle smaller than other sparrows. The forehead is black, divided in the middle by a thin white stripe. The plumage on its crown is chestnut colored. Beneath the crown is a light gray horizontal stripe above the eye.  A narrow black stripe proceeds horizontally through the eye. The throat, neck, and abdomen are a uniform light gray. The back and tail are a darker gray. Extending along the darker gray back is a series of  black lines. The tail is deeply forked. The bill is small and black — well adapted to eating small seeds and insects. Chipping sparrows like to use animal hair as a nesting material when it is available. Horse hair is a particular favorite. The female lays a clutch of three or four eggs. The breeding range of the “chippie” is extensive.  It covers nearly all of the United States and extends north into Canada as far as Nova Scotia. Out west the chippies are slightly larger than the eastern birds. [Desert areas are not very hospitable to chippies.] I have often seen chipping sparrows tearing apart the “heads” of dandelions that have gone to seed. Beneath each fuzzy white “parachute” is attached a small, elongated brown seed that the chippies evidently relish. Small insects, worms, and larva are also favorites. The song of the Chipping Sparrow is quite distinctive. It consists of a closely spaced series of notes, all on the same high musical pitch. It is better described as a staccato rather than a trill. To hear the sound of the chipping sparrow on a cool April day is truly one of the welcoming sounds of spring.

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