Lots of Sparrow Varieties Start Showing Up in the Northeast in Late Fall
As October draws to a close, most of the warblers have already departed New England, as well as vireos, swallows, purple martins, and many other songbirds. But other passerines, including the relatively inconspicuous yet beautiful sparrows, are still migrating through, lingering to feed in weedy plots and plowed fields, and congregating in brushy areas.
Photo: Song Sparrow
What Migrating Sparrows Are Looking For
Foraging for small seeds wherever they can been found, sparrows may be as close to home as your lawn or backyard garden. By rough estimate, a single sparrow can eat nearly 40 seeds a minute, covering a whole lot of ground in a very short time. Certainly it's useful for a bird to fill itself up quickly when on the move and in need of sustenance for the long trip south or to survive the next cold night.
Photo: Tree Sparrow
Find out more about food for sparrows
Birdwatchers often look for a locally uncommon bird in a congregation of other sparrow species. A handful of Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows were recorded this fall in eastern Massachusetts, as was a single clay-colored sparrow, a rare fall visitor. Groups of the striking chipping sparrow frequent suburban yards, combing the ground for seeds when mowing season is over as grass growth slows in the colder months. Migrating flocks also descend upon weedy fields and grassy roadsides. This striking bird, distinct with its persimmon-rust cap (a little faded in the fall) and black eye line, even eats crabgrass seeds with great enthusiasm.
Photo: Chipping Sparrow
Find out more about locating feeders
Types of Sparrows to Look for
Among the most common of the migrating sparrows are the white-throated, song, field, and chipping sparrow. Not as numerous but also coming through, albeit in lesser numbers, are savannah, field, Lincoln's, swamp, fox, and white-crowned sparrows. If you're lucky, you might see considerably more unusual species appearing in seed-rich sites: a vesper sparrow, for example, once common in the region but now listed as threatened in Massachusetts, or perhaps a grasshopper sparrow of coastal grasslands, an endangered species in parts of its range.
Photo: Lincoln's Sparrow