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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