Declare you saw a sparrow, and most people invoke an image of a small, dull, brown bird. But tell that to an experienced birder, and he or she will ask, “Which species of sparrow did you see?”
In actuality, the bird most people call a sparrow is not really a sparrow at all. The dingy brown birds that invade feeders and build their nests in nooks and crannies of buildings and billboards are, in fact, in a family of birds called weaver finches.
These “house sparrows” as we call them, were introduced into America from Eurasia and are not related to our native sparrows, about a dozen of which live in or migrate through Minnesota.
And unlike our so-called house sparrows, many of our native sparrows are quite colorful.
Now, in May, there are about 12 species of sparrows an avid Minnesota birder can expect to see. A few are year-around residents. But most are passing through on their way north. These species are the white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow, Harris’ sparrow, chipping sparrow, clay-colored sparrow, swamp sparrow, American tree sparrow, fox sparrow, vesper sparrow, song sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow and savannah sparrow.
With some persistence, a birder might also find an additional six sparrow species in Minnesota including the lark sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, field sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, Le Conte’s sparrow and sharp-tailed sparrow.
The images on this page show four species of sparrows one can expect to see in the coming weeks — if not already — in Minnesota. And, as noted, other sparrow species will show themselves here as well. Binoculars and a bird ID guide will aid in identifying the subtle differences between some of the look-a-like sparrow species.
So the next time someone says it’s “just a sparrow,” look again.
You’ll be amazed how colorful some of them can be.