Sunday, November 30, 2008

Plume Zoom, answers revealed

Thanks to all of you who participated in the inaugural Plume Zoom quiz! I deem you all Darn Cool Birders just for making the effort.

Everyone got the Song Sparrow ID correct, which is awesome. The American Tree Sparrow was a little more tricky. It took me a few seasons before I was able to differentiate it from the Chipping Sparrow that one of you guessed. One way to tell the Tree Sparrow apart from the Chipping Sparrow is that the Tree Sparrow has a bi-colored bill (the top half is grey, the bottom half is yellow). Another characteristic that sets the Tree Sparrow apart from the Chipping Sparrow is breast markings: Tree Sparrow has a spot on its breast (not visible in this photo), whereas the Chipping Sparrow is clear-breasted.

Don't let my information about sparrow markings trick you into thinking that sparrow identification is easy for me. Quite the contrary. Every FeederWatch season is a lesson anew in sparrow ID. Sometimes there are as many as 4 different sparrows on the ground at once, and I'm often looking at them from up above, so seeing breast markings is sometimes a challenge, and keeping them all straight enough to count each species is even more of a challenge. Who has 1 wing bar and who has 2? Who has a spotted AND streaked breast? Who has just the spotted breast? Eye stripes? Eye rings? Pink bill? Yellow bill? AAARGHHH!

The challenge, however, is part of why I enjoy FeederWatching. It helps me to feel more engaged with the birds, and to appreciate them in their uniqueness.

By the way, there's a great guide to tricky sparrows over at the Great Backyard Bird Count site, along with other tricky bird ID guides, and great birding info in general.
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Mary said...


I give you credit. Those sparrows drive me crazy. Sometimes I'll post a photo of a sparrow without naming for fear I'd be giving an incorrect ID and believe me, I've done that many times!

I don't believe I've seen a Tree Sparrow. But, I might have and called it something else :o)

Thanks for the lesson. I do know that those little sweet Chipping Sparrows have light and clear breasts. I clean out my hairbrushes regularly for the Chipping Sparrows and place the hair in a special pot near the front porch. I think they like it :o)


RuthieJ said...

Aw shoot, I should have gotten the Tree Sparrow by the 2-colored beak (instead I looked at the rusty cap and immediately thought Chipping Sparrow).

When's the next challenge?

Shellmo said...

I'm glad you posted these birds side by side - I can never remember my sparrows. Thanks for the help!

Andy said...

That is a great summary of Sparrow Identification. I'll definitely use it.
Plus, thanks for stopping by my site as well.