Wildlife and Nature Photography

Winter Sparrows Return To Southwestern Ontario

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White-Throated Sparrows can now be readily observed in our area.

Now is the perfect time to get out and search for Sparrows. Several species breed to our north but spend winter months across our region, making fall and winter the only times to see these birds in our area. Among these are the American Tree Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow and White-Throated Sparrow. Good numbers of these Sparrows can now be observed across the region.

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The winter range of the American Tree Sparrow includes Southwestern Ontario.

Sparrows are an easy bird to find. They prefer a habitat that consists of open areas, thickets, and undergrowth, making forest edges an excellent place to locate them. As with most birds, their diet varies depending on season and is comprised of insects, seeds, and berries. This time of year I prefer to search Goldenrod fields on the edge of a forest for Sparrows, as they can be found feeding heavily on the seeds from this common wild flower.

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White-Crowned Sparrows are another species that breed far to our north, but overwinter throughout the area.

Sparrows forage on, or close to the ground so looking low will yield the best results. These birds, especially the ones that have recently migrated from the north can be extremely skittish, so walk slowly and quietly while searching for them. Sparrows can also be located by listening for their songs and calls which consist of various chirps, tweets and whistles. The songs of these birds are quite beautiful, making listening to them as rewarding as observing them.

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Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Identifying Sparrows can be far more difficult than locating them. At a quick glance, Sparrows appear as a brown flash, but subtle differences are key to proper identification. In particular, pay attention to crown colour, beak colour, throat and chest colour, wing bars and breast markings. Many Sparrows at this time of year are still displaying juvenile plumage making identification even more confusing. For more advanced birders, Sparrows can also be identified by their song.

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House Sparrows are year round residents in our area.

Resident Sparrows are also found throughout our area. These species include: House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows. These birds can be found in the same habitat as overwintering Sparrows, with the exception of Swamp Sparrows which prefer areas consisting of marshes, ponds and wet areas.

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Field Sparrows are short distance migrators. Some will leave the area, but their winter range extends along the north shore of Lake Erie making winter sightings not uncommon.

Many Sparrows, including the winter species often visit backyards and can be observed around feeders. Most species prefer to feed on the ground consuming seed that other birds have scattered, but some will land directly on a feeder, especially platform feeders. A quality mixed feed consisting of sunflower seed, cut corn, white millet, and peanuts will attract Sparrows. Having cover around your yard will make it more attractive to Sparrows. Hedges, small shrubs and dense gardens are much more appealing to them than an open yard. If your yard lacks cover, but you wish to attract more Sparrows consider adding a brush pile. Instead of bundling sticks from around your yard and placing them to the curb for collection, create a pile of them in one area of your yard. Not only will Sparrows be attracted to a brush pile, other birds including Juncos, Wrens and Cardinals will too. Brush piles provide shelter from the elements and predators and are a great addition to any bird lovers yard.

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Song Sparrows can also be found year round in Southwestern Ontario.

If you are like me and keep a life list of birds, then watching for Sparrows and properly identifying them is a great way to add several species to your list. Sparrows are much more colourful than many may realize. Feather colours consist of white, yellow, tan, and rust; in addition their various streaked and striped markings make them a beautiful bird. Next time you are out, pay attention to Sparrows and see how many different species you can identify and add to your own list.

Good birding,




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4 Responses to “Winter Sparrows Return To Southwestern Ontario”

  1. Tracy

    Hi Paul! I’ve been reading for blog for about a month now and am thoroughly enjoying it! Your writing is wonderfully descriptive, thorough, interesting and flows beautifully. And your photos are quite stunning. My son lives in London and I am looking forward to checking out some of the bird watching spots you have mentioned the next time I go visit him. I live up north in Algonquin Highlands and enjoy watching our birds up here. We had a small flock of 7 Evening Grosbeaks on the weekend for the afternoon enjoying our feeders, such a lovely treat to see! I was wondering if you would share what camera you use and settings for your bird photos. Thank you sharing your stories and photos of the birds you observe. Tracy

    • Paul Roedding

      Hi Tracy,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I am delighted to hear that you enjoy my blog and photos. I am currently using a Canon 7D with a Canon 100-400mm lens. I like the versatility of a zoom for the rare occasions when a bird is too close. It is a reasonably light weight set up. I can easily hand hold it and carry it around all day. I like to use the lowest ISO possible to avoid noisy photos, but also like the highest shutter speed possible to freeze the action. Usually I try to shoot at a minimum of 1/1000 and adjust the ISO and aperture accordingly. I also like to make sure I have enough depth of field to capture the entire bird in focus when focusing on its eye. Feel free to contact me before you visit the London area and I can let you know what spots are hot at that time.

  2. Debbie Lefebre

    I loved these Sparrow images! I am going to pay more careful attention to the large number of Sparrows that flick to my big bird feeder to see if they are not, in fact, all House Sparrows. Your photos will help guide me.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thank you Debbie. I admit, I was once guilty of not paying close attention to Sparrows. In fact, I may have even said once or twice, “it is just a sparrow”. I have a much greater appreciation for them now and find all of them uniquely beautiful.

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