Posted by: atowhee | February 7, 2015


The American Song Sparrow is a lively and widespread bird.  Here in the west it tends to be found around moist places and riparian habitat.  And it varies in plumage tone from one breeding area to another.  Here in southern Oregon we have a resident population but likely get numbers of migrants from further north every winter.  I do not see Song Sparrows in my upland garden in summer, but every winter there’s usually one.  They are not gregarious so I don’t expect a flock as I would with finches or Golden-crowned Sparrows.  I think this winter’s bird is probably not far from home.   She or he look much like the ones I know that breed hereabouts.SOKSP FACES (1280x960) SOSP-DEJU2 (1280x960)Here you see this winter’s model of Song Sparrow nest to his smaller cousins.  The pale background color is a whitish hue nd there’s a whitish malar stripe. SOSP-DEJU3 (1280x960)

Not all Song Sparrows are created equal.  Size and especially plumage tones vary widely across the many sub-species found in North America.  In dryer climates the local birds get paler, as you head up the Pacific Coast the climate gets darker and wetter, the Song Sparrows do too.  It wouldn’t pay to be a pale sparrow in the damp shade of the Olympic Rainforest.

Here are two Song Sparrows images from winter on Sauvie Island.  That’s about 300 miles north of Ashland and so the sparrows there are likely to be more northerly in origin.  It seems to be their pale background color  is more a gray than a white:sosp SOSP2Paler birds live in places like Colorado and the Southwest,  and leading a group of Colorado birders up the wet Olympic Peninsula I’ve seen them incredulous at the dark shades of the local Song Sparrows up there.  Here’s an example of what those Coloradans see when they spot a local SOSP at home:co song sparrowIf this bird showed up one winter in my garden I’d be stumped as I poured over my Sibley…

The sparrow spectrum (for breeding birds) in southern Oregon for streaky sparrows goes thus from pale to dark: Grasshopper, Savannah, Sagebrush, Lincoln’s, Song and finally Fox.


And you’ll be able to register for the 2015 Mountain Bird Festival here in Ashland, Oregon.  It’s a fund raiser for the Klamath Bird Observatory so most of your fees are tax deductible.  Registration opens Feb 11 but you can click here to preview all the trips available.   Jackson and Klamath Counties have more resident Great Gray Owls than any other spot south of the Canada border and our GGO trips fill up quickly.  Rogue Valley Audubon and donors have put up 11 new nest platforms for the owls this past fall and winter.  We hope to see one or more get used as spring progress.  Watch this space.MTBF logo


  1. Thanks for your great “treatise” on song sparrows.

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