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American Tree Sparrows : Winter Visitors

One of New England’s common winter visitors from the far northern tundra is the American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), often spotted in large flocks in weedy, snow-covered fields moving from one spot to another as they feed..  These seed-eating sparrows are known to beat weeds with their wings and then fly to the surface of the snow beneath the weeds to retrieve seeds they have caused to fall.  

Their common name is a misnomer, for American Tree Sparrows feed on the ground and often breed and nest on the ground above the treeline.  They apparently reminded European settlers of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), a cavity-nesting bird which has very different habits than the American Tree Sparrow. 

In part because of the loss of weedy old fields and other open habitats, the American Tree Sparrow population has declined by 53% over the last 50 years.  Even so, they are a common sight during the winter in fields, on road sides and at feeders throughout the northern half of the United States.

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7 responses

  1. Such a beautiful little creature! And one more great reason to let some (or all!) of our yards be a bit more wild.

    February 22, 2021 at 9:10 am

  2. Ed Stockman

    It’s been 4 years since a tree sparrow visited my feeders in Western Mass. A sharp decline.

    February 22, 2021 at 9:19 am

  3. What a charming little beauty. I must admit that I pretty much lump all the sparrows into the one heading of “sparrow.” But are these particular sparrows only around here in the winter?

    February 22, 2021 at 11:23 am

    • Yes, Dell, only in the winter. Check out their range in a bird book or online — their breeding grounds are about as far north as you can go! (And I’m a sparrow lumper, too!)

      February 22, 2021 at 1:16 pm

  4. Alice

    It’s so sad to hear about the decline of so many species: insects, birds, fish, mammals…but most of all the horror of the Pangolin & Ivory trade. Humans should be so ashamed. Many should realize what they are doing to our planet. I’ll stop, there…

    February 22, 2021 at 11:26 am

    • I couldn’t agree more, Alice.

      February 22, 2021 at 1:16 pm

      • Alice

        Thank you! 🙁. There are many who care so much…hoping they/we’ll make the ‘others’ understand. Not to mention plastics in the oceans.

        February 22, 2021 at 3:54 pm

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