Sparrows Get No Respect


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.

Savannah Sparrow, Creamer's Field

Savannah Sparrow, Creamer’s Field

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.

White-crowned Sparrow, Creamer's Refuge

White-crowned Sparrow, Creamer’s Refuge

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.

Snow Bunting Foraging

Snow Bunting Foraging

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.

Song Sparrow, Sitka, Alaska

Song Sparrow, Sitka, Alaska

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.

American Tree Sparrow, Denali Highway

American Tree Sparrow, Denali Highway

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.

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3 thoughts on “Sparrows Get No Respect

  1. As always, your pictures are beautiful, but the second one is amazing. You caught the expression in the eyes of the little dude (dudette?) perfectly. Lovely!

  2. I’ve had finch off and on as pets a few times and really enjoy them. The first pair I had were zebra finch. We named them eve and jack, after my grandparents, because all they ever did was peck at each other. But I did build them a cage that was about three feet square by about five foot long so they would pretty much get to fly. I felt that was the least I could do for them. Although, like fish, after watching them for months on end, you get the distinct impression that there just isn’t much going on inside their brain, other than eat, procreate and sing. I guess that makes them Baptists….

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