When most of us think of sparrows, we think of the English or house sparrow which
is commonly found at our bird feeders in urban and rural areas. At Limberlost, we are
fortunate to have a number of native sparrows who make their home at least part of the
year at Limberlost. Those include the American tree, chipping, song, savannah, field,
white-throated, white-crowned, and fox sparrows.
The song sparrow is one of the most common sparrows and can be found at the
Limberlost throughout the year. They were first described by Alexander Wilson in 1810.
Gene Stratton-Porter wrote that she enjoyed the song sparrow all year. She believed
that this beautiful bird was the “master singer of our winter woods.” They like to nest in
brushy habitats, usually around water. A perfect place to see them is at Rainbow Bottom
along the Wabash River. Ken Brunswick made sure a brush pile was left there as habitat
for the birds. These sparrows have nested here and also use it for cover as when a raptor
is in the area.
When most of the earth sleeps in winter, the meadow at the Loblolly Marsh still provides
nutriants for the song sparrows and American tree sparrows or they may be found
flocking to yard bird feeders when the snow covers much of the ground. Last January, at
a home on Rainbow Lake, there were twenty or so American tree sparrows along with
a couple song sparrows who regularly came to a ground feeder. Both species are seed
eating birds and enjoy the seeds of the thistle, goldenrod and coneflower. Last winter
both species were here in good numbers.
The small and slender chipping sparrow is a bird of summer in this area. They can
commonly be heard “chipping” early in the morning. Many will nest and raise their
young in northeastern Indiana. In the fall they will migrate south and return in the spring.
The chipping sparrows close looking counter part, the American Tree sparrow, is a little
larger has a dark spot on the breast and will spend the winter at Limberlost but will nest
and raise their young further north.
Field sparrows have seen their numbers decline in past years but their unmistakable
vocalization of clear whistled notes and a trill could be heard at several places at the
Loblolly Marsh and Limberlost Wetlands this past summer. This is one bird that is easier
to hear than to see. Habitat restoration is helping this species make a come back in the
One species of sparrow that are not as common and tend to be a little shyer is the
savannah sparrow. Jane Brooks Hine, a bird woman from DeKalb County, wrote in 1911
that “this little sparrow is one of her most intimate friends.” Jane wrote that he would
be outside her kitchen window and that like the song sparrow, used the brush heap for
shelter all year long.
Fox sparrows are few in numbers but one or two can be seen in the winter months at the
Loblolly Marsh. Jane Hine wrote that they were in greater numbers in the late nineteenth
White-throated and white-crowned sparrows are in the area in the early spring, fall and
winter months. Both species nest further north, mostly in Canada. The Loblolly Marsh
around Woody’s Retreat is a good place to watch for these birds. The white-throated
sparrow is a species that likes the woods or is found at the edge of wooded areas. The
white-crowned sparrow is commonly seen in shrubs or at the edge of a woods.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website is a good place to research these birds further or
listen to their calls www.allaboutbirds.org