Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the chipping sparrow.
The chipping sparrow is a slender, fairly long-tailed songbird found most frequently in the Pagosa area during breeding season. This sparrow is a small, gray-brown bird with a clear gray chest, rusty crown, white eyebrows with a black eye line, thin gray-black bill and two faint wing bars. The male and female look alike. The male has a fast chirping call and a trill which are common sounds in the woodlands in summer.
Chipping sparrows forage on the ground for seed of a great variety of grasses and herbs, and are often seen below bird feeders. During breeding season, they also hunt for protein-rich insects. Typically, the female builds her nest between 3 and 10 feet off the ground hidden in foliage at the tip of a branch. She will use many different types of trees and shrubs but prefers evergreens. Her nest is a small compact cup, 4.5 inches by 2 inches and is rather flimsy, which may allow a peek at the pale blue, lightly spotted, tiny eggs. Only the female incubates the eggs, but the male stays close by to guard the nest. Both mother and father feed the hatchlings for 10 to 12 days.
These small birds gather in large family groups to feed in the fall in preparation for migration. The chipping sparrow migrates at night in groups of 20 to 30 birds for overwintering in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Their migration is over a long period in both spring and fall.
The overall chipping sparrow population has declined 36 percent from 1966 to 2015, but these small birds do thrive in open, tree-filled spaces that are found in suburbs and parks.
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