It's easy to dismiss sparrows as nondescript little streaky brown birds that lurk in the bushes. Actually, the fourth bird I recorded on December 5, 1948, the day I started keeping a life list, was an "English Sparrow." Now called the House Sparrow, it is not a member of the American sparrow family, but rather is classified as an Old World weaver finch or "true sparrow."
Until I matched it with a picture in my first bird book I called it a "Chippie," because that was what my grandmother called them. Here is the page from a copy of that book, Chester A Reed's 1923 "Bird Guide - Land Birds East of the Rockies." Notice the properly dressed lady approaching on the sidewalk, and also the note of disgust in Reed's description.
We see very few House Sparrows in our NE Illinois yard, although they are common around nearby shopping centers. Until new homes replaced the open fields around our condo, our most common sparrow was the Savannah Sparrow, illustrated two pages later in Reed's guide.
The actual sparrow does not resemble the rotund, broad-tailed and weary-looking one in Reed's painting. My first ever photo of a Savannah Sparrow captured its mischevious nature as it peeked out at me from a clump of grass. I took this photo in Florida, the first of my few sightings of this species there in the local wetlands
This bird occupies one of the utility markers upon which I focused my camera while parked near our Illinois condo. The photo shows off the bright yellow highlight over the Savannah Sparrow's eye.
They often posed atop the rock piles they shared with other prairie bird species. I had the advantage of positioning the car in a spot where the early morning sun would provide perfect light. The only variable was what kind of bird would be the first to alight.
Savannah Sparrows are usually found on or near the ground...
...but they will sing from the highest point available when claiming or protecting their nesting territory.
When agitated, the sparrow may raise its crown.
All Savannah Sparrrows have crisp breast streaks that often coasesce into a central spot resembling that of a Song Sparrow, but they are smaller than the latter species and their thin and proportionally shorter tails are usually notched rather than rounded. This individual was quite pale.
In another bird the breast streaking was rather sparse. Note the distinctive black malar streak, or "moustache."
One local bird had very narrow streaking.
This specimen, photographed at Forsythe National Refuge (Brigantine Unit) in New Jersey, was remarkably dark.