The explanation is simple, and is a basic fact of the feather arrangements of all songbirds. Not all streaky brown birds are impossible to identify: Take a closer look at this one and you’ll see an understated but distinctive sparrow with a short tail, small head, and telltale yellow spot before the eye. Often there is an obvious dimple where the feathers from both sides meet at the lower edge of the breast. Your email address will not be published. The belly is unfeathered (an adaptation that allows incubating birds to part their feathers and put their skin in direct contact with the eggs for warmth) so it has to be covered by feathers growing from the sides. The feathers that we call the breast (which really grow from the front of the neck) form a solid “shield” on the front of the body. For example, American Tree Sparrows show a spot, Chipping Sparrows don’t. The dark central breast spot shown by some species of sparrows is a simple and reliable, maybe even foolproof, field mark. Required fields are marked *. Can you identify the sparrow shown in this photo? Aside from the dark breast spot, things that distinguish Chipping from American Tree Sparrow are: Jerry Tang’s photos http://tangsphoto.photoshelter.com, Sergey Yeliseev’s Flickr photostream http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/with/2901875212/, Eric Bégin’s Flickr photostream http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericbegin/with/377147271/, Ah, yes, I’ve been fooled by this before. Also, might this area be slower to dry if the bird has been bathing or wetted? Thanks to Jerry Tang for the photo and for bringing it to my attention. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America: Second Edition, The Sibley Guide to Birds - Second Edition, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America: Second Edition, On identifying Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows, Sibley Guide in action – Redpoll Identification, New Product – A ten pack of greeting cards with art and text from my newest book, Scarlet Tanagers are bright red – but this one is yellow, A Cerulean-like song variant of Black-throated Blue Warbler, Exhibit of original art from "What it's like to be a bird" - Canton, MA, uniform gray-white underparts on Chipping (vs. rusty smudge at shoulder and orange-brown flanks on Tree), blackish line through eye (vs rusty-brown on Tree), all black bill in summer, pinkish with dark culmen and tip in winter (vs. always bicolored black above and yellow below), eyebrow whitish, paler than cheeks (vs. eyebrow gray, about the same color as cheeks), smaller size with more delicate head and bill. Here is a sparrow with an obvious dark central spot on the breast, so it must be a Tree Sparrow, right? Thanks for explaining so clearly how the arrangement of feathers creates the little dimple. Savannah Sparrows are one of the most numerous songbirds in North America, and while sometimes overlooked, are likely visitors across the continent. Learn how your comment data is processed. Thanks for indepth explanation!! This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Read on for the discussion and answer below. This forms a “seam” where feathers meet along the midline, and at any time of year it’s possible to see a slight crease along the center of the belly of any songbird. If so, it might look darker for a little while as it dries. ~karen. What else could cause that mark?”. Yes, I’ve noticed these “feather dimples” before; they are most evident on plain-breasted birds, of cours. If you are able to watch the bird in question move, the “dimple” will change as the bird’s feathers move, and as the light changes. Here is a sparrow with an obvious dark central spot on the breast, so it must be a Tree Sparrow, right? Below that, what we call the belly feathers actually grow from the sides of the body inwards. Your email address will not be published. It’s still a very useful clue to identification, but it’s always worth taking the extra time to double-check a few other features. In the case of the mystery sparrow above it’s a little more extreme, but I believe that the apparent dark breast spot shown by this sparrow is entirely the result of shadow, and this is a perfectly normal and typical Chipping Sparrow. What’s going on?! You can see it clearly in the two European Tree Sparrows below. For example, American Tree Sparrows show a spot, Chipping Sparrows don’t. David — The dark central breast spot is due to more than simply shadow; most birds have dark down that can show through with the breast feathers held in a certain manner. The dark central breast spot shown by some species of sparrows is a simple and reliable, maybe even foolproof, field mark. But you may notice some red flags: the black bill, thin blackish eyeline, pinkish legs, pale gray-white flanks, etc all look more like a Chipping Sparrow.
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