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Exploring the Western NY Wilds: The backyard sparrow

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Chipping sparrows are with us only in the spring and summer months

By Bob Confer,

One of the joys of being a birder or gardener is seeing what creatures you share your yard with. There’s something special about birds nesting around your home – you see them every day and experience their life moments, from building their nests to hatching their eggs to feeding their chicks to seeing those babies fly off. It’s almost like you see your home life played out in theirs (but much more quickly).

There’s one bird that affords many of us the opportunity to be part of their lives, a tiny one that’s as equally at home in the woods as it is in our backyards – the chipping sparrow.

With a reddish cap, brown back, and unremarkable grey underside, this diminutive sparrow, coming in at just 4.5 to 5 inches in length, seems like a slim-and-trim sprite compared to the common house sparrow, which is the fat sparrow that’s more than an inch longer that you see in the villages and cities, begging for French fries. The chipping sparrow isn’t a beggar, but it can be as tame as the house sparrow, allowing you to get quite close to them. Unlike other birds, they’ll actively feed near you when you’re working or relaxing in your yard.

Chipping sparrows have a mixed diet. They eat insects and seeds which they collect while foraging about on the ground.

In wild environments, these birds are found in open woodlands in the East and in mountain meadows out West. A backyard is perfect for them as it gives them open space and plenty of opportunities for nesting and shelter – if you have coniferous trees. Chipping sparrows prefer to nest in pines and spruces. I have quite a few Norway spruces of various ages, so it’s perfect habitat for them – I typically have three pair of these birds nesting in my yard. 

These small sparrows have a song that some compare to smaller creatures – insects. It is a series of “chips” (hence the name) that can be as few as three chips or as many as seven played out in rapid succession.

Chipping sparrows are with us only in the spring and summer months. Every fall they make their way south – to Florida, Mexico, and parts of Central America – to spend their winters.

Enjoy them while they’re here. They make for a pleasant member of our summer landscapes. They’re good neighbors to have.  

Bob Confer writes opinion columns and nature columns for the Wellsville Sun. He is a Niagara County resident and businessman who, as a camp owner, considers Allegany County to be his beloved home-away-from home. You can email him at: bobconfer@juno.com  

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