In Western culture, sparrows get no respect. They are trivial. God famously notes even a sparrow’s fall. Matthew 10:29. And in North America, for the most part, they aren’t even sparrows, an Old World family of birds. European ornithologists apparently thought the New World birds looked like sparrows. But they are Emberzids, more closely related to finches than to the old world Passeridae.
But these little birds are beautiful, elegant and inhabit an amazing range of Alaska habitats. Here are a few.
The Savannah Sparrow prefers grasslands and fields, although it is adapatable. WC has seen and photographed it above tree line in alpine tundra, and in the marshland habitats of the Yukon River delta.
If there is a prize for most adaptable Alaska sparrow, it would got to the White-crowned Sparrow. They breed in high alpine tundra, swampy lowlands, coastal marshes and the boreal forest. As well as being fairly comfortable around humans. During the spring, it’s hard not to hear White-crowned Sparrows singing wherever you are in Alaska.
Not all sparrows are called “sparrows,” Snow Buntings, for example. A flock of Snow Buntings in flight looks like a blizzard, as they migrate to northernmost Alaska. The most reliable place to see breeding Snow Buntings in Alaska is Barrow, Alaska. Snow Buntings are famously the earliest arriving bird in spring migration.
The Song Sparrow doesn’t make it to Interior Alaska, but is common in Kodiak, south coastal and southeastern Alaska. Like a lot of sparrow species, it is highly variable in appearance.
The American Tree Sparrow, with its distinctive black dot on the enter of its chest, is an alpine specialist, most common in the shrubbery near or at treeline.
There are 60 New World sparrows in North America, and perhaps a dozen that regularly breed in Alaska. WC doesn’t even have photos, let alone good photos, of most of them. They are tough little birds, wonderfully adapted to their environments, and deserve more respect than they get. “Just a sparrow,” should be a compliment.