In today’s episode, we’ll compare three birds that have some similarities – all are plain sparrows with a reddish cap (at least in the summer as adults), plain undersides and an eyestripe.  I’m going to stick to adults for now, as the young birds can be tricky even after you’ve been birding for a while.  We’ll start with the easy one – Field Sparrow.  This common bird is often heard in the summer in weedy fields, giving its musical call, a ‘speeding-up’ series that sounds like tew, tew-tew, tew-tew-tew-tew-t-t-tew.., often changing pitch near the end.  It’s easy to identify as an adult, with its little pink bill and strong eyering, which always makes me think it’s very surprised.  Not that you really need it, but note the reddish line only extending behind the eye.

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Next up is the one that looks most like it – although it’s usually found in our area only in the winter – Tree Sparrow.  In this one, the thing to notice is that it has a two-toned (not pink) bill, very weak eyering, and usually shows a noticeable spot in the center of the breast.  Otherwise, it gives a similar reddish impression from the wings, eyestripe and back, and the red cap is much stronger than the reddish cap of the Field.  The strong eyestripe of the Tree Sparrow also goes past the eye, in contrast to the Field’s eyestripe, which looks like it barely makes it to the eye at all.  One last thing that often shows up well is a reddish mark – frequently semi-circular – in front of the shoulder.  Distinctive to Tree Sparrows.

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Finally, a bird which is a common summer resident, and sometimes well into fall and even early winter – the Chipping Sparrow.  The summer plumage is very distinctive, but it fades in the fall to a less dramatic plumage.  Still, you’ll note the strong, dark (not red) eyestripe and dark bill (two-toned in winter), with a grayish (not reddish) impression from the wings and back.    Winter adults have a streaky, less red crown, and no center spot on the breast, which separates them from Tree Sparrows.

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