Drew Weber

http://www.nemesisbird.com/

Drew Weber
I am a young ornithologist living and birding in Pennsylvania. I am pursuing a master's degree at Penn State University studying grassland birds and their relationships with different agricultural practices. When I am not working feverishly on my thesis, I enjoy adding new birds to my county, state and life lists, digiscoping and getting outdoors. I am active in the Pennsylvania birding community as a member of the bird records committee, as well as a reviewer for sightings submitted to eBird.org in central and southeastern PA. Some topics that really interest me are migration, bird distributions and vagrancy. Contact me if you have any questions about birds and birding in PA.

Throw Back Thursday: Happy Birthday John James Audubon!

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Thursday, April 25th, 2013

To celebrate John James Audubon’s 228th Birthday on April 26th download all Audubon Single Subject Apps for only $0.99! Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android, KindleFire & NOOK.  (Sale runs 4/25/13-4/29/13)

Bluebirds © John James Audubon

Today birders and naturalists around the world are celebrating the 228th (this year) birthday of John James Audubon, the French-American naturalist and artist.

An iconic figure in ornithology, Audubon revolutionized the practice of field identification, created fantastical yet realistic works of art, and worked hard to follow his passion of illustrating birds. Indeed, his name is emblazoned across the top of this page – now the figurehead of an organization synonymous with birds and conservation.

California Quail

California Quail © John James Audubon

Here are some brief – and perhaps less-known – facts about Audubon:
1. Audubon was born in Haiti, raised in France, and moved to Pennsylvania at age 18 to avoid conscription to Napolean’s army.
2. After moving from southeastern Pennsylvania to Kentucky (with his wife Lucy), Audubon was briefly thrown in jail due to bankruptcy from a failed business venture.
3. Besides the familiar collection of his paintings, Birds of North America, Audubon released Ornithological Biographies (life histories of various bird species) and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (a compilation of illustrations and text, started by Audubon and completed by his sons after his death).

His paintings, though, are what define him for modern birders. The birds’ unique poses – that attempted to bring some life and nobility to the dead specimens he often used as guides – invoke the extraordinary from the common.

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelican © John James Audubon

It is interesting to reflect back on the days before high-quality optics were widely available for the study of birds. It was acceptable- actually the norm back then- to go out and “collect” specimens, a euphemism for killing birds to study. Studying these lifeless forms formed the basis for his artwork, and it is actually quite amazing that he was able to incorporate such life and action into his paintings. I can only imagine what his artwork would have looked like if he had been able study live birds in equal detail. Would his paintings have become as iconic?

So let’s celebrate the artist, his legacy, and the organization that bears his name. Happy 228th birthday to John James Audubon!

Throwback Thursday: Winter Sparrows

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Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Winter Sparrows by Drew Weber Originally Posted 2/16/12

As I related in my last post on ducks, the winter months can appear to be a slow period for birding. However, in addition to ducks, there is another group of birds that is more diverse and easy to observe in the winter compared to the summer: the sparrows.

Sparrows have always had the bad rap of looking the same and being difficult to identify. They are often lumped into a group of birds called the “lbj’s” or “little brown jobbies”: birds that all look the same and aren’t worth the time it takes to identify them. To these folks I say: nonsense! With some patience, sparrow identification is pretty straightforward with most species having obvious features that can be used for identification.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow © Drew Weber

Across much of North America, the Song Sparrow is the default sparrow. It is worth the time to really get to know the field marks of Song Sparrows. It has smudgy red-brown streaks on its chest and a spot in the center of its chest.

White-throated Sparrow birds

White-throated Sparrow © Drew Weber

During the winter months, one of the most common sparrows is the White-throated Sparrow. Aptly named, the White-throated Sparrow has a bright white patch on its throat, as well as white stripes on its head that turn bright yellow near the beak. These are one of the most common feeder birds in many areas, especially when snow has covered up their more natural food sources.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow © Drew Weber

A close relative, the White-crowned Sparrow, has bold black and white barring on its head. White-crowned Sparrows are less common at feeders, often tending to hang around overgrown hedgerows along fields. Depending on the habitat around your yard, you may be lucky enough to host these large sparrows.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco © Drew Weber

Another easy to identify winter sparrow is the boldly patterned Dark-eyed Junco. Dark above and white below, the little twittering noises of these birds as they scavenge for seeds under my feeder always makes me happy. Juncos vary widely in their plumage across their range and it can be fun to scan through the flocks, looking for a ‘pink-sided’ junco.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow © Drew Weber

The most northern of the winter sparrows is the American Tree Sparrow. With its red cap, it is superficially similar to the Chipping Sparrow, a summertime resident. However, the bi-colored bill and spot on the breast separate it from Chipping Sparrow.

These are the most common sparrows you will encounter during the winter in the northeast. Most of them have pretty distinctive features, so the next time you see a sparrow hopping under the feeder or in the shrubs, take the time to identify it and add it to the list of birds that you can quickly recognize.

Bird Topography – The Head

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Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Bird Topography – The Head by Drew Weber

Understanding topography, or the different external features, of a bird is an important step in identifying different closely related species. The head is a good place to start because there are many separate feather tracts that give rise to different physical appearances. The colors of the different feather tracts gives rise to the unique appearance of each species. Below we’ll look over the different characteristics of a birds head along with species that show distinctive features on those tracts.

Crown

Tufted Titmous

Tufted Titmouse, adult © Arthur Morris/VIREO

 

The crown is the top of the head, and like most other feather tracts, birds can raise and lower these feathers. Some birds have longer feathers on their crown which changes their appearance by giving them a crest like the Northern Cardinal and Tufted Titmouse. Other species without an crest can still raise those feathers, creating a slightly peaked appearance when they are displaying or agitated such as when Ruby-crowned Kinglets flash the usually hidden red feathers in their crown.

Supercillium

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush, adult © Steve Mlodinow/VIREO

 

The supercillium is the white line that arches over the eye one the Northern Waterthrush, as well as many other species including many of the sparrows. The supercillium runs from the base of the bill to some point near the back of the head. On most species, this supercillium is white, or some lighter color than the surrounding feathers. The shape, color and size of a supercillium can be a key identification in separating confusing species like Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes.

Eye line

Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler adult male, breeding © Garth McElroy/VIREO

 

Eye lines are prominent features on many species. Interestingly this eye line is invariably dark, possibly giving some glare protection to birds, much like the black grease baseball and football players swipe under their eyes. Late in the fall, it can be tricky to separate Orange-crowned and Tennessee Warblers. Looking at the face and seeing an eye line would be a strong indicator of a Tennessee Warbler.

Eye-ring

Connecticut Warbler

Connecticut Warbler, adult male © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

 

A ring of feathers around the eye, often light in color and very useful for identification. Not all eye-rings are created equal, some species have bold complete eye-rings, while other similar species have a split ring around the eye such as MacGillivray’s Warbler. Eye-rings are particularly useful when you are identifying tricky flycatchers– some show a hint of the eye-ring, others have prominent round eye-rings and some have eye-rings with a tear drop shape towards the back of the eye. These subtle differences can take a while to notice but are crucial to identifying one of these cryptic species if it is not vocalizing.

Auriculars

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler adult male, breeding © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

 

The auriculars, or ear coverts, are a group of feathers that covers the side of a bird’s head where the bird’s ear openings are located. Several of the warblers such as Blackburnian Warbler show a dark patch in the auriculars and Vesper Sparrow has darker brown feathers that outline the auricular region. The auriculars are a prominent feature on a birds face and therefore probably one of the first things many notice as it defines the face.

Nape

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Chestnut-collared Longspur adult male, breeding © Greg Lasley/VIREO

 

The nape goes from the back of the head and lays over some of the upper back feathers. One many birds, the nape blends in with both the back and the rest of the head. However some species have bold napes like the chestnut on a Chestnut-collared Longspur which aid in quick identification when you see it. A group of species where the nape can aid in identification is the sharp-tailed sparrows (in the genus Ammodramus). These small sparrows are secretive and often pop out of the vegetation only briefly, so a look at a purple spotted nape can identify a Le Conte’s Sparrow, an olive-green nape points to Henslow’s Sparrow and a gray nape would narrow it down to Nelson’s, Saltmarsh, and Seaside Sparrow.

Get to know the feather tracts of the face to boost your identification skills when you are out in the field. This knowledge will quickly add to the number of solid features you can use to separate similar looking birds when you might only get a glimpse of them.

Jaegers – Pirates of the Sea

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Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Jaegers – Pirates of the Sea by Drew Weber

A tribe of birds patrol the coasts and oceans, tormenting seabirds and snatching away their food and usually losing. These kleptoparasites are the jaegers, which get their name from the German Jäger, which means hunter. Jaegers are pelagic species, spending up to ¾ of their time at sea and generally remaining elusive from birders who spend a great deal of effort to get a chance to see them.

 

Jaegers

Long-tailed Jaeger, adult © Hanne & Jens Eriksen/VIREO

There are three species of jaegers– Long-tailed, Parasitic, and Pomarine. Identifying jaegers is a tricky business indeed, as the Parasitic Jaeger overlaps with both the smaller Long-tailed Jaeger, and the larger Pomarine Jaeger. There are a couple ways that you can go about seeing one of the jaegers. The first, and most productive for most people, is to go on pelagic boat trips miles out from the coast. Once you are far out (30-100 miles or even more) birders actively scan for any flocks of birds or pods of cetaceans that might indicate a feeding frenzy. If you are lucky enough to find a feeding frenzy, it is hopefully only a matter of time before one of the jaegers is attracted to the commotion.

Jaegers

Parasitic Jaeger juvenile, light morph © Herbert Clarke/VIREO

If you are not so brave, or prone to seasickness, there are other tactics that you can try. At certain points along the coast, and along the Great Lakes, you can try your luck watching from shore. Generally certain weather conditions make it more likely that you will see jaegers, and the common thread is that you need winds blowing towards, or at least on an angle to the coast or shoreline. These same conditions are also often responsible for pushing migrating waterfowl close to land in spectacular numbers. On a good day, depending on location, you might be able to tally tens of thousands of scoters, loons and ducks. Occasionally, amidst all the migrating ducks, a jaeger while stream by, low over the water.

Jaegers

Pomarine Jaeger adult, breeding, light morph © Jeff Poklen/VIREO

Recently I was birding at Derby Hill Bird Observatory at the east end of Lake Ontario in New York. The winds looked great for the location– strong and from the west. Despite the great winds, there were very few birds moving until we picked up two dark birds flying low over the water, chasing each other and nearby Ring-billed Gulls. To our excitement, the two jaegers flying together were very different in both size and plumage. TWO SPECIES! We were able to observe both birds at length as they flew back and forth along the lakeshore. The larger bird had long twisted central tail feathers indicating it was an adult plumaged Pomarine Jaeger while the smaller bird flew close enough that we could see just 2 ivory colored primary feather shafts. It was exciting to watch the jaegers harass the gulls for a while before they spiraled up into the sky and sped off over land, presumably not stopping until they reached the Atlantic.

To see photos and video I took of the Long-tailed Jaeger and Pomarine Jaeger, visit http://www.nemesisbird.com/2012/10/jaegers/

Phalaropes – The Spinning Shorebirds

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Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Phalaropes – The Spinning Shorebirds by Drew Weber

Perhaps my favorite group of shorebirds are the phalaropes. These gregarious little birds are unique in many different ways. For one – it is the females and not the males that have the bright showy plumage, an oddity in the bird world. Second – instead of wading in the water like every other shorebird just getting their feet wet, phalaropes don’t mess around and jump right in to swim for their meal.

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalaropes
Top Photo: adult female, breeding © Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Bottom Photo: adult male, breeding © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Crazier still, Red-necked Phalaropes actually spend up to 9 months at sea, braving the high seas and feasting on plankton. Red Phalaropes are even more pelagic, both migrating and wintering out over the open ocean.

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope adult male, breeding © Garth McElroy/VIREO

Red-necked and Red Phalaropes breed in Alaska and across northern Canada so the time that most birders encounter them is during migration as they move to wintering grounds off the coast of South America. Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in the western US and are less common in the east even during migration.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope adult, nonbreeding © Bob Steele/VIREO

Phalaropes kick up their food from lower in the water by frantically paddling their legs and spinning around as they eye up their next target. They are fascinating to watch because of their very active feeding strategy and it actually makes them very easy to pick out of a flock of other shorebird species.

August and September are the best months to find phalaropes migrating through much of the US, so keep your eyes open.  These birds can also been seen off the East and West coasts during the winter months.

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope Range Map © NatureShare

Finding Fall Warblers

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Friday, September 14th, 2012

Finding Fall Warblers by Drew Weber

Finding warblers in the fall can be much trickier than finding them in the spring. Males are singing less often because they are no longer attempting to attract mates, and most of their vocalizations are difficult-to-identify chips. These chips are actually the best thing to clue in on, as they can often lead you to a feeding flock of warblers. The feeding flocks can vary in size, but when you locate one warbler there is a good chance that several others are nearby.

warblers

Black-throated Blue Warbler adult male, breeding © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The first thing to do is find some suitable habitat. Fall warblers often concentrate along the edges of woods where early morning sun is hitting the trees and warming the air, increasing the activity of insects which the warblers are seeking out. Walk along the forest edge listening carefully for chips. In addition to listening for warbler chips, pay attention to any chickadees. Warblers will often forage in a loose flock with chickadees. Since the birds aren’t vocalizing as much, take your time as you scan the area and walk slowly. Also don’t be afraid to backtrack as a small flock can emerge from the woods and forage along the edge with no warning after you passed it.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee adult, Rocky Mountain © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Another habitat type you should check out for fall warblers are fields of dense goldenrod. Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers can all be found in this type of habitat as they forage in the goldenrod. Successional habitat with a mix of smaller trees and shrubs can also provide ideal habitat for finding warbler feeding flocks.

warblers

Wilson’s Warbler adult female, Eastern © Claude Nadeau/VIREO

Looking for fall warblers can be very rewarding because of the patience it can require. It is very exciting to find a mixed flock of 6 different species of warblers and get great looks at them as they forage at eye level, rather than in the treetops as is typical in the sling. And getting a good look is important.

Fall warblers get a bad rap for being hard to identify. They also have the reputation of being less colorful than the spring warblers. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, spring migration is a quick and hurried affair as birds race northward to stake out territorial claims to some prime breeding habitat. In all the rush, we generally only manage to see the birds that are singing…males with their distinctive bright plumage.

warblers

Cape May Warbler adult male, breeding © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

In the fall, migration is a much more leisurely event. The warblers take their time and stop for days at a time to feed and replenish the reserves they require for their long flights. This gives birders a chance to see females as well as males, adding an additional plumage variation that has to be identified. Also, each successful pair of birds raised maybe 2-5 young, meaning there are now more immature birds than adults. The plumage of immature males and females are often different as well.  Generally young males look similar to adult females, while immature females are even drabber colored.

warblers

Black-throated Green Warbler immature male (1st spring) © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

This means that in the fall, a birder often needs to be familiar with at least three, and sometimes four different plumages of a bird to be able to correctly identify each warbler they see. Adult males are still mostly in their bright breeding plumage, young males and adult females are drabber and sometimes hard to differentiate, and young females are the drabbest.

warblers

Cape May Warbler immature female (1st winter) © Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

If you get a chance to study females and immatures closely, you will discover although their colors aren’t as gaudy as the spring males, there is still a lot of color on many of the young warblers. Young Chestnut-sided Warblers, for example, have a beautiful lime-green back.

warblers

Chestnut-sided Warbler immature female, 1st winter © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

So, are fall warblers really harder to identify? The answer is yes, but a species often shares specific characteristics between all the different plumage. Learn these shared characteristics and identification will be much easier. Spend some time getting to know the fall warblers, and I am sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Early Migrant Warblers

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Friday, August 31st, 2012

Early Migrant Warblers by Drew Weber

Migration may seem like it is just beginning, but some species are already moving south, and some have all but disappeared.  Some of the earliest migrants are Cerulean WarblerHooded WarblerLouisiana WaterthrushPrairie Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. These species were already migrating south at the end of July, heading towards their wintering grounds. These species have all but disappeared from many parts of their breeding grounds already, and have completed vacated northern parts of their range.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler, adult male © Greg Lasley/VIREO

If you want to find these species yet this year, there is time to get out and search for them but time is slipping away. Worm-eating Warblers are on their way to Mexico and Central American, while Cerulean Warblers are heading for high quality forests in the Andes. On a trip to Costa Rica in early August several years ago, I was surprised to find a Louisiana Waterthrush chipping along a stream, looking quite at home already.

Louisiana Waterthrush Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

The distances these birds fly between breeding and wintering grounds is quite stunning.  The Louisiana Waterthrush that I saw in Costa Rica had just finished flying over 2,000 miles if it came from somewhere in Pennsylvania which is the central part of their range. To top it off, this 0.7 oz bird just flew across the Gulf of Mexico, possibly island-hopping from the Florida Keys thru Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico before arriving at this final destination.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler, adult female © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

In order to make their trip a bit easier, these long distant migrants are primarily making their flights at night when the air is more stable. Another advantage of migrating at night is that most of their predators are visual hunters and so the warblers are relatively safe at night. All night long while you are asleep, warblers and other migrants are streaming overhead, almost undetectable except for the occasional chip notes that alert us to their passing. These early migrating warblers are taking advantage of ample food supplies such as insects as they travel. A perk for us birders is that the birds then spend the day foraging to fatten up for the next leg of their journey. This makes them easier to find because they are actively moving around.

Hooded Warbler Range Map

Hooded Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

Once these birds reach their final wintering destination, they join up in mixed species flocks with other Neotropical migrants, as well as tropical species that live in Central and South America year round. In the tropics there are lush forests that have a bounty of food resources, enough for both the residents and the migrant warblers. A good question would be, “why don’t they just spend the entire year there if the food resources are so great?” The answer is that the food available to them at their breeding grounds is abundant as well, and they have likely evolved to migrate to both take advantage of these resources as well as avoid competition with the year round residents of the tropical forest.

So, the next time that you are out looking at birds and find a warbler, think about the journey that this tiny bird is about to embark on. With some good fortune, the same bird will be making the same journey back next year to nest again.

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

Red-spotted Newts

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Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Recently we spent a weekend at our cabin in northern Pennsylvania and had some time to explore the nearby forest. In addition to the fantastic breeding birds such as Blue-winged Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, we noticed that there were Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) everywhere along the trails. Luckily, they are so bright that it was easy to spot them and avoid stepping on them. We easily saw over 50 of these colorful little salamanders and I had to take the opportunity to get some close-up photos. I considered moving them off of the path, but since it is infrequently traveled, I decided to let them continue on in whatever direction they were moving.

Newts

Red-spotted Newt by Drew Weber

The brilliant red-colored creatures we were seeing are actually the juvenile stage of the Red-spotted Newt, and are often called red efts. Red-spotted Newts have 3 life stages– an aquatic tadpole or larva, the terrestrial red eft, and the once again aquatic adults. Red efts can spend 2 to 3 years wandering around in search of a pond, before transforming into adults which are olive-brown but still retain their distinctive spots. These spots signal to predators that they are slightly toxic, an adaptation that allows them to coexist peacefully with fish that are generally quite happy to munch on other salamanders.

Newts

Red-spotted Newt by Drew Weber

Red-spotted Newts thrive in both deciduous and coniferous forests and prefer a moist environment to live in. The terrestrial efts can often be found in forests after a good rain which was likely why we were seeing so many. These red efts were likely dispersing in their search for a good pool of water to transform into an adult.

Newts

Red-spotted Newt y Drew Weber

Red-spotted Newts are found across the entire eastern half of the US, so the next time you are out in a forest after a good rainstorm, keep your eyes on the ground and see if you can find a few of these efts. It is/was definitely enjoyable to observe so many.

Happy Birthday John James Audubon!

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Thursday, April 26th, 2012

To celebrate John James Audubon’s 227th Birthday download Audubon Birds for only $0.99! Currently available on iOS and Google Play.

Bluebirds © John James Audubon

Today birders and naturalists around the world are celebrating the 227th birthday of John James Audubon, the French-American naturalist and artist.

An iconic figure in ornithology, Audubon revolutionized the practice of field identification, created fantastical yet realistic works of art, and worked hard to follow his passion of illustrating birds. Indeed, his name is emblazoned across the top of this page – now the figurehead of an organization synonymous with birds and conservation.

California Quail © John James Audubon

Here are some brief – and perhaps less-known – facts about Audubon:
1. Audubon was born in Haiti, raised in France, and moved to Pennsylvania at age 18 to avoid conscription to Napolean’s army.
2. After moving from southeastern Pennsylvania to Kentucky (with his wife Lucy), Audubon was briefly thrown in jail due to bankruptcy from a failed business venture.
3. Besides the familiar collection of his paintings, Birds of North America, Audubon released Ornithological Biographies (life histories of various bird species) and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (a compilation of illustrations and text, started by Audubon and completed by his sons after his death).

His paintings, though, are what define him for modern birders. The birds’ unique poses – that attempted to bring some life and nobility to the dead specimens he often used as guides – invoke the extraordinary from the common.

Brown Pelican © John James Audubon

It is interesting to reflect back on the days before high-quality optics were widely available for the study of birds. It was acceptable- actually the norm back then- to go out and “collect” specimens, a euphemism for killing birds to study. Studying these lifeless forms formed the basis for his artwork, and it is actually quite amazing that he was able to incorporate such life and action into his paintings. I can only imagine what his artwork would have looked like if he had been able study live birds in equal detail. Would his paintings have become as iconic?

So let’s celebrate the artist, his legacy, and the organization that bears his name. Happy 227th birthday to John James Audubon!

Winter Sparrows

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Thursday, February 16th, 2012

As I related in my last post on ducks, the winter months can appear to be a slow period for birding. However, in addition to ducks, there is another group of birds that is more diverse and easy to observe in the winter compared to the summer: the sparrows.

Sparrows have always had the bad rap of looking the same and being difficult to identify. They are often lumped into a group of birds called the “lbj’s” or “little brown jobbies”: birds that all look the same and aren’t worth the time it takes to identify them. To these folks I say: nonsense! With some patience, sparrow identification is pretty straightforward with most species having obvious features that can be used for identification.

Song Sparrow © Drew Weber

Across much of North America, the Song Sparrow is the default sparrow. It is worth the time to really get to know the field marks of Song Sparrows. It has smudgy red-brown streaks on its chest and a spot in the center of its chest.

White-throated Sparrow © Drew Weber

During the winter months, one of the most common sparrows is the White-throated Sparrow. Aptly named, the White-throated Sparrow has a bright white patch on its throat, as well as white stripes on its head that turn bright yellow near the beak. These are one of the most common feeder birds in many areas, especially when snow has covered up their more natural food sources.

White-crowned Sparrow © Drew Weber

A close relative, the White-crowned Sparrow, has bold black and white barring on its head. White-crowned Sparrows are less common at feeders, often tending to hang around overgrown hedgerows along fields. Depending on the habitat around your yard, you may be lucky enough to host these large sparrows.

Dark-eyed Junco © Drew Weber

Another easy to identify winter sparrow is the boldly patterned Dark-eyed Junco. Dark above and white below, the little twittering noises of these birds as they scavenge for seeds under my feeder always makes me happy. Juncos vary widely in their plumage across their range and it can be fun to scan through the flocks, looking for a ‘pink-sided’ junco.

American Tree Sparrow © Drew Weber

The most northern of the winter sparrows is the American Tree Sparrow. With its red cap, it is superficially similar to the Chipping Sparrow, a summertime resident. However, the bi-colored bill and spot on the breast separate it from Chipping Sparrow.

These are the most common sparrows you will encounter during the winter in the northeast. Most of them have pretty distinctive features, so the next time you see a sparrow hopping under the feeder or in the shrubs, take the time to identify it and add it to the list of birds that you can quickly recognize.