Foam Lake Birding No. 154

No. 154
            After the deluge of several weeks ago (two inches in thirty minutes) we lost our Yellow Warbler family that I mentioned in my last article.  Whether the weather or a predator was responsible is impossible to tell but the young are gone and the nest is abandoned. 
            Another pleasant little bird that is commonly found in urban yards is the Chipping Sparrow.  Like the Yellow Warbler it seems to like being in the presence of man and often nests near buildings.  It especially likes building its nest in foundation plantings of cedar and juniper.  We have had them nesting in our yard in the past but not this year.  
            Like Yellow Warblers Chipping Sparrows are often parasitized by the Brown Headed Cowbird.  Yellow Warblers will usually abandon the nest or build a new one over top of the old one (cowbird's egg and all) thus eliminating the problem of feeding a young cowbird.  On the other hand the Chipping Sparrow will hatch and rear the young cowbird.  It is not unusual to see two "pint" sized chippers feeding a young cowbird twice their size.  As youngsters on the farm my brothers and I would go around from nest to nest and throw out the cowbird's eggs if there were any.  I hope the Yellow Warblers and Chipping Sparrows appreciated the effort. 
            In the summer time the Chipping Sparrow is very easy to identify.  It is a small brown bird with plain grey undersides and face, rusty red cap and a thin black line through the eye.  Like all sparrows males and females are the same.  There is no other bird like it except during spring migration when it can be confused with the American Tree Sparrow and the Swamp Sparrow that are on their way north.  The Swamp Sparrow is a darker bird that is quite secretive staying close to the ground under shrubbery; the American Tree Sparrow is paler with a distinctive black spot in the middle of its breast.  Both of these latter two birds prefer rural to urban settings and are seldom seen in town.  Probably the easiest way to identify the "Chipper" is by its song.  The Chipper's song is a long rattle (two seconds or so) in one pitch.  The only other bird that has a very similar song is the Dark Eyed Junco but the two birds are entirely different in appearance so misidentification is not a problem.  The Chipper also makes a distinct "chip" sound when calling or disturbed: hence its name.  Chippers are often seen on lawns stirring up insects to feed their young. 
            In the south western USA there are two other similar sparrows, the Rufous-Crowned and Rufous-Winged Sparrows.  With the exception of the American Tree Sparrow, four of the five species can be present in the same areas in the winter time.  It makes for some interesting birding.  For some fun check out the five birds in a good bird book for the similarities and differences, 
            This week's photos were taken in our back yard in the spring a few years ago.  One photo clearly shows the colour patterns especially the black eye line; the other is just a good profile.  The apple blossoms add appeal.