Living Bird Magazine
American Tree SparrowSpizelloides arborea
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
Plump and long-tailed, American Tree Sparrows are busy visitors in winter backyards and weedy, snow-covered fields across southern Canada and the northern United States. Hopping up at bent weeds or even beating their wings to dislodge seeds from grass heads, they scratch and peck the ground in small flocks, trading soft, musical twitters. Come snowmelt, these small rusty-capped and smooth-breasted sparrows begin their long migrations to breeding grounds in the tundra of the far North.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Winter is the time to go looking for American Tree Sparrows. Small flocks converge on snow-swept fields and bird feeders, where they feast on seeds on the ground. Here their bicolored bill and central breast spot help them stand out from other sparrows. Despite their name, you'll probably find them foraging on the ground rather than feeding in trees.
- Chingolo Arbóreo (Spanish)
- Bruant hudsonien (French)
This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- Misleadingly named by European settlers reminded of Eurasian Tree Sparrows back home, American Tree Sparrows are ground birds. They forage on the ground, nest on the ground, and breed primarily in scrubby areas at or above the treeline.
- American Tree Sparrows need to take in about 30 percent of their body weight in food and a similar percentage in water each day. A full day's fasting is usually a death sentence. Their body temperature drops and they lose nearly a fifth of their weight in that short time.
- Like many songbirds, American Tree Sparrows synchronize hatching and fledging so all of the chicks join in the foraging pretty much together. Although the female lays only one egg per day until she's got 4 to 6 eggs (and may even skip a day between eggs), the chicks hatch within hours of each other and may not even hatch in the order their eggs were laid.
- The longevity record among banded American Tree Sparrows is 10 years 9 months.
- Like most birds, American Tree Sparrows are sensitive to changes in day length, and this doesn't seem to depend on vision. Blind tree sparrows in captivity show normal responses to increasing day length in late winter, including sex organ growth.