You might guess from their name (both common and scientific) that American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea) inhabit wooded areas, but, in fact, you are much more likely to see them in small flocks on the ground in habitats more like their tundra breeding grounds — weedy fields, marshes and hedgerows. European settlers thought they resembled the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and named them accordingly, but they are far different birds. They forage, feed and nest on the ground.
American Tree Sparrows do not breed in New England – they are strictly winter visitors and feed primarily on seeds and berries. They need to take in about 30 percent of their body weight in food and a similar percentage in water each day. Often they are observed scratching the ground for seeds, and occasionally beating their wings against grass seedheads in order to knock the grass seeds onto the ground where they quickly consume them. Look for American Tree Sparrows foraging beneath bird feeders during the winter months — come spring, they will disappear. (late edit: a photograph of a Swamp Sparrow accompanies this post. Although there is similarity in the appearance of Swamp Sparrows and American Tree Sparrows, this blogger should have taken more time when selecting the photograph for this post!)
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