A Chip on the Block

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
A Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) showing its bright rufous cap and strong, black eye-line.

I’m not sure but it seems to me that Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina) are becoming more and more common on Vancouver Island. I recall several years ago being surprised that another team had had several on the Comox Valley spring bird count in early May – our team never seemed to get them and I couldn’t remember ever having seen on while out birding on the Island.

I passed on this year’s spring count (I offered was delegated to look after the kids as a trade off for being able to do the Brant Fest Big Day earlier in the year) but on the year before last I was amazed at the number of Chipping Sparrows that turned up in our count area. I’m not sure if I’m just noticing them more or if their numbers are increasing.

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
A typical look at a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) from below. This one was singing from the alders at Standard Park in Courtenay, British Columbia.

This spring I’ve already seen several. There’s been a couple down in Standard Park in Courtenay that have been singing from the red alder and occasionally they make their way up the couple of blocks to our backyard. I’ve also seen and heard them regularly on my lunch time walks out along the Lever Road in Merville.

There’s at least two singing males along this stretch of road. Sibley describes the song of this sparrow as “a simple, usually rather long and mechanical trill” and it’s little like the Orange-crowned Warbler in that sense. The chip of the Chipping Sparrow refers to its call.

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
This Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) was focused on eating seeds of small weeds and grasses, allowing me to watch it from a fairly close distance.

This week I managed to get a great look at a Chipping Sparrow in breeding plumage feeding on small seeds of weeds and grasses alongside a gravel road. Note the bright rufous cap and that strong black line through the eye. In comparison, an American Tree Sparrow (which also has a rufous cap) has a rufous eye-line and a bicoloured bill.

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
The breast of the Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) is a clean gray which contrasts beautifully with its striped back.

I’m really enjoying getting a closer look at some of the sparrows that make their homes on Vancouver Island. It’s amazing the number of different birds you can see on a short lunch time stroll!