Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19: Chipping sparrow

There's normally nothing too exciting about the song of the chipping sparrow. The sparrow falls into a group of songbirds often referred to as "trillers" by birders. Its dry, almost staccato trill is barely distinguishable (by me, at least) from the trill of a junco, palm warbler, pine warbler, swamp sparrow, or, in the right habitat, worm-eating warbler. Every year I think I've got down some slight variation that will help me distinguish between them, and every year I'll get my binoculars on whatever bird is trilling and my guess will often be wrong. But the challenge is part of the fun of birding by ear.

Chippies commonly nest in some pines across the street from my office. I hear them through the summer, and sometimes even see them on the window feeder at my office. These small, pert sparrows are cute, scientifically speaking, with a thin red cap over a black eye stripe. They flit about the lawn, calling to each other with high, sweet chip notes, punctuated now and then by the males doing their trilling thing. The repetitive song can be a bit monotonous. But there's something very exciting about hearing it today for the first time this spring, and then tracking down the little triller with my binoculars to confirm that chipping sparrows are indeed returning to their breeding grounds in my neighborhood.

Chipping sparrow's song--
so much conveyed to bird's ears,
just a trill to ours.

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