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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week", the "Song Sparrow"

Aug 31, 2016 09:13PM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach “Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the "Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)"

The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.

If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link: 

Bryan Brillhart Photography

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), a medium-sized American sparrow, and one of the most abundant, variable, and adaptable bird species. Very widespread in North America, this melodious sparrow is among the most familiar birds in some areas, such as the Northeast and Midwest. At times it is rather skulking in behavior, hiding in the thickets, seen only when it flies from bush to bush with a typical pumping motion of its tail. Usually, however, sheer numbers make it conspicuous.

Song sparrows vary in appearance over their wide range, from large dark birds on the 

Aleutians to small pale ones in the desert Southwest. Adult song sparrows have brown upperparts with dark streaks on the back and are white underneath with dark streaking and a dark brown spot in the middle of the breast. They have a brown cap and a long brown rounded tail. Their face is gray with a streak through the eye. They are highly variable in size across numerous subspecies. Some local populations are vulnerable to loss of habitat, especially those in coastal marshes, but species as a whole is still widespread and abundant.

Habitat is in thickets, brush, marshes, roadsides, and gardens. Habitat varies over its wide range. In most areas, they are found in brushy fields, streamsides, shrubby marsh edges, woodland edges, hedgerows, and in well-vegetated gardens. Some coastal populations live in salt marshes such as our own Tijuana Estuary.

They forage mostly on the ground, sometimes scratching in the soil to turn up items. They also sometimes forage in very shallow water (fractions of an inch deep) and up in shrubs and trees. They will come to bird feeders placed close to good cover. Diet is mostly insects and 

seeds. Song sparrows eat many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and also spiders. They also feed heavily on seeds in winter, mainly those of grasses and weeds. Birds in coastal marshes and on islands also feed on small crustaceans and mollusks, and perhaps rarely on small fish.

Males often defend only small nesting territories, so high densities of Song sparrows may be present in good habitat. In courtship, a male may chase a female, and may perform a fluttering flight among the bushes with their necks outstretched and their heads held high. Nest site varies, usually on ground under a clump of grass or a shrub, or less than 4' above the ground, but sometimes up to 10' or higher. Raised sites may be in shrubs, low trees, or marsh vegetation, often above water. Song sparrows rarely nest in the cavities of trees. Nests, built mostly or entirely by female, are an open cup of weeds, grass, leaves, strips of bark, lined with fine grass, rootlets, and animal hair.

After mating, females lay typically 4, often 3-5, rarely 2-6, pale greenish white, heavily spotted 

with reddish brown, eggs. Incubation is apparently by females only for about 12-14 days. Both parents feed the nestlings. Young normally leave the nest in about 10-12 days after hatching, and remain with their parents for about another 3 weeks.

It is easy to spot this common bird in our own, Tijuana Estuary, but do not confuse it with the more rare and endangered Belding’s Savannah sparrow. Look for the Song sparrow’s distinctive dark brown spot in the middle of their breast. Until next week, happy birding!


Bryan Brillhart


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