WILD GEORGIA: Chipping sparrow more than just a ‘little brown job’

A chipping sparrow at a feeder. The chipping sparrow is Georgia's most common sparrow species and one of the state's most common yard birds. It is also the state's smallest and tamest sparrow species. (Courtesy of Todd Hartz / Creative Commons)

Credit: Todd Hartz

Credit: Todd Hartz

With some 20 species of sparrows inhabiting Georgia at least part of the year, and with many of them having similar brown plumages, the small birds can be a headache to identify. I’ve taken classes in sparrow identification, but I still have trouble telling them apart.

Many sparrow species spend only the winter in Georgia. Some of them, including white-throated and swamp sparrows, are arriving now and will be common sights during the cold season. Some, such as Le Conte’s and Henslow’s sparrows, are relatively rare, and even veteran birders consider themselves lucky to get a glimpse of one.

But there’s one native, year-round sparrow that’s one of our most common yard birds in Georgia — the chipping sparrow. It’s the state’s smallest and tamest sparrow, one that you’re most likely to see at your feeder at any given time during the year in rural areas as well as in towns and gardens.

Even so, many people don’t know its name, or they might simply call it sparrow or even label it as a “little brown job,” a general name given to any small, unidentified brown bird. (Sparrow comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “flutterer.”)

Little brown job, however, doesn’t do the 5-inch chipping sparrow justice. On closer inspection, it’s a beautiful bird with its small size, conical bill, bright rufous crown, black-bordered white line over the eye, and unstreaked, gray underparts.

Named for its high-pitched chip call and song that sounds like a rapid series of chips, the “chippie” is relatively tame, permitting a reasonably close approach before becoming alarmed and flying away.

Chipping sparrows forage primarily on or near the ground, feasting on weed and grass seeds and some smaller fruits. But they will easily come to backyard feeders offering black-oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet and other foods.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The Orionid meteor shower will peak at a maximum 20 meteors per hour Tuesday night. Best viewing: In the eastern sky after midnight. The moon is in new phase. Mercury is low in the west around dusk. Venus is low in the east and rises about an hour before sunrise. Mars rises in the east at dusk. Jupiter and Saturn are high in the southwest after dark. Jupiter will appear near the moon on Thursday night, and Saturn will do so on Friday night (Oct. 23).

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