Although we are less likely to hear a field sparrow calling in the fall, this species is still viewable through October. Its pink bill and plain breast are useful field marks for identification.
There is a lot of sparrow activity through October, so it makes sense to pay attention to this challenging family of birds as some birds head south, some fly through and others arrive from the north to stay for the winter.
Although many birders find sparrow identification daunting, if we build on what we already know, sparrow watching will become more satisfying than frustrating.
House sparrows stick around all year. They are well named because they do prefer a built habitat. This invasive species of bird is distinctive in part because of its relatively large size. The adult male has an obvious black patch on its face.
The song sparrow is another familiar member of the family. Look for the “tie pin” in the middle of its streaked chest and listen for its distinctive vocalizations. Song sparrows are here in good numbers in October. Even though many of these birds will fly south at the end of the month, it is a species that you may see in each month of the year.
If we have eliminated house sparrows and song sparrows, keying in on particular field marks and habitat can help us determine what other sparrows we may be seeing.
Field sparrows will be viewable through the month. This bird does indeed like field habitats. Watch for its unmarked grey breast, a rufous and grey head pattern, and its pink bill.
White-throated sparrows have returned. I saw some last weekend at Komoka Provincial Park. This is a well-named bird that typically has a white throat and white crown markings. These white field marks may appear to be washed out in first-year birds.
Like the white-throated sparrow, the white-crowned sparrow returns now. It too typically has white crown markings but its throat is grey. Numbers spike in October. Most will fly through and overwinter in the U.S.
Fox sparrows will start showing up across Southwestern Ontario now. Although not an everyday bird, the identification is straight forward. Fox sparrows are even bigger than house sparrows. They have an obviously rufous tone to the plumage on their back and tail, and there is much grey on their face and nape. It’s a beautiful bird.
American tree sparrows will start appearing this month. They migrate from our territories and Northern Quebec. They prefer brambles and shrubs. A central breast spot and a bicoloured beak are two field marks to watch for.
This brief primer covers off more than 95 per cent of any sparrows we may see now.
There could be a late savannah sparrow reported but most leave in September. We could also get reports of Lincoln’s sparrows (which resemble song sparrows) and swamp sparrows flying through Middlesex County this month. These birds are more difficult to identify. Studying a field guide will acquaint you with each of these birds’ distinctive field marks.
• The dark-eyed junco is part of the sparrow family even though its grey and white plumage is completely different. Ric McArthur posted an early sighting of this handsome bird in Rondeau Provincial Park in late September. It has since been seen elsewhere in Southwestern Ontario.
• London naturalist Lisa Bildy was recently honoured by the Ontario Field Ornithologists for her contributions to the birding community and in particular for her active support of the province’s young birders.
• In collaboration with the historic sites committee of the London Public Library, Nature London invites Londoners to witness the unveiling of a plaque at Springbank Park that commemorates more than 150 years of the organization’s history and contributions. A short nature hike will follow the unveiling. The event will take place on Friday at 3 p.m. Meet just north of the parking lot at the Civic Garden Complex at 625 Springbank Dr.
• If you are planning a birdwatching route, you may wish to determine where the trees are particularly colourful. Search “Ontario Parks Fall Colours Report” for a map that is updated daily.
• Like many birds, dragonflies migrate. Another little-known fact about dragonflies is that these beautiful insects are predators. A recently published short video about dragonflies is part of the tremendous Deep Look series viewable on YouTube.