Backyard Bird of the Month for February: American Tree Sparrow

Is that a Chipping Sparrow hopping around under your feeder in the middle of winter? Not quite! It is most likely an American Tree Sparrow. These lookalikes were in the same genus until recently (Spizella), along with several other small, rufous-capped sparrows. American Tree Sparrows are the hardiest of the bunch, only showing up in Maine in late fall, just when the last Chipping Sparrows start to head south. Don’t be fooled by the name: they are almost always seen on the ground, in both their breeding and nonbreeding habitats. They spend the winter here, foraging for seeds under feeders and in fields. Come spring, they will return to their breeding grounds at the treeline on the edge of the Arctic tundra in northernmost Quebec and Labrador, where they nest on tussocks of grass or hummocks of moss near the ground. Little is known about their breeding habits in these remote locations, so be sure to enjoy them while they are in your yard this winter!

Backyard Bird of the Month is a feature by Maine Audubon created for the Maine Home Garden News, the newsletter of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Garden and Yard