by Marjorie Clark
What are those pretty, small, brown birds, resembling, although larger than, the Chipping Sparrow of summer but inhabiting our feeders and windowsills in winter, you ask? Feisty in nature, they dispute over seed amongst themselves. The American Tree Sparrows, migrating overnights, arrive from the north, when the Chipping Sparrows are departing for the south, to spend the winter with us. They brighten the short days with their sweet song, like the tinkling of tiny bells.
These active birds have grey under parts with a small dark spot on their breast, rusty stripes on their back, brown wings with white bars, a rust cap and a long notched tail. The sexes are alike.
Tree Sparrows eat insects in summer and seeds in winter, making them happy visitors to our feeding stations. As they are ground foragers, sprinkle seed on the ground or on your windowsill, where they can be observed in close proximity.
These tiny creatures will live from two to four years. Their enemies are hawks, owls, weasels, foxes and red squirrels.
In early spring, they will leave us for the far north, where they will breed and nest. The females require about seven days to build nests in grass clumps on the ground or under shrubs, far from the activity of humans. In that seclusion, the females will lay and incubate approximately five eggs. Should the family survive, they will return to our feeders to again lift our spirits the following winter.