The American Tree Sparrow

28 January 2024
American Tree Sparrow

Photo credit: Dan Tallman

      Many people think of winter as the time when birds are gone from Minnesota, having migrated south during the last autumn. However, some birds have an opposite trend to this, like the American Tree Sparrow. American Tree Sparrows are only in southern Minnesota during the winter, breeding in the northern reaches of Canada in the arctic tundra, and migrating down to the comparably mild Minnesota climate during the late autumn. They usually can be spotted between November and April and are recognizable by their gray face and rusty crown.

Unconventional to their name, tree sparrows can frequently be spotted on the ground in bushes foraging on seeds, grasses, and plants. In the Arb, tree sparrows are often spotted in flocks in the prairie grasses or in other open country. Tree sparrows drink around 30% of their body weight each day. ( In the winter, they obtain their water from eating snow.

Tree sparrows express dominance hierarchy in these flocks, the birds at the top of the hierarchy express more aggressive behaviors and are more likely to pick fights. (National Library of Medicine) However, these hierarchies put the sparrows at the bottom of the hierarchy more at risk if there are food shortages. Next time you venture into the Arb this winter, listen out for bird calls and there is a good chance you may hear the American tree sparrow!

Geoffrey Bynum ‘25, for the Cole Student Naturalists

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