Project Chekov: Sparrows, Swifts and Swallows

Today is one of those difficult days in the birding realm.  If you have spent any time with this blog you probably know by now that when it comes to Sparrows I generally throw in the towel.  There just isn’t enough differences discernible in the field to really come out confident on what you have in the tin.  There are also difficulties when it comes to the Swallows and Swifts so figured it was time to get them all out of the way.

Let’s start with the Sparrow.  Now, throughout this post please keep in mind that the identification can be freely debated and if you know specifics please share!  With that, this is a small brown and gray bird so we’ll tag it with Sparrow.

Admittedly, this on is a little darker hued that we see and it has some darker tones in the under feathering along the neck.  One cause may due to the fact that this shot (and the one below) were taken in a storm which may have deepened the colors from either the wetness or the clouds.

I do like the picture and why I tell everyone there is no reason to get down if their designated day to hit the field turns out dreary.  Sure, you’ll need to tap that ISO dial up a bit and probably even back off the shutter speed but you have one thing going for you.  The rain tends to slow down the birds and cause them to spend a little more time on their perches (under cover of leaves of course).  For the hyper birds this is a godsend when it comes to getting shots of them.  UPDATE: By the way, while doing  quick search for one of the pictures below I stumbled on the House Sparrow which does match the neck coloring – pretty darn close in my opinion so let’s go with that for now.

Here is another Sparrow likely taken in a similar setting.

If I had to take a guess, the reference books tend to point to a Chipping Sparrow with that rust cap and eye-line.  Small, brown, gray … it’s a Sparrow in my book – any finer classification is just icing on the cake.  Again, I do like how the composition came out on these two shots – the branches seem to push the viewer’s eyes right to the desired focus of attention – granted it is just Sparrow.

Hit the link to read more about this difficult to identify set of birds.

At first I was going with a female Grosbeak on this next one, but the line coloring was off – They have a thicker black line coming back from the eye.  It is a little skinnier than most Sparrows which opened up a couple of other possibilities including a female Purple Finch or hell, maybe a Longspur.

Without spending much more time on this, it is brown, some gray and streaked – Sparrow! (hehehe).  As a note, believe this was taken up in the Porcupine Mountains as opposed to my backyard based on the pine needles.  Sparrows generally annoy me because they tend to find my feeders and then proceed to put out the call to their relatives from miles away that there’s a buffet in our backyard.  This overwhelms the feeders and pushes the more preferred birds away.  If they get too abundant I’ll let the feeders go empty for awhile which tends to drive them off – the other birds return quickly giving me a couple of weeks before the Sparrows find me again.  Guessing this one is also a Chipping Sparrow.

Then we get to these two birds.  Once again, not entirely sure based the lack of detail – these were all the way across a big body of water at Banner Marsh.  Always difficult to get anything crispy when the focus point is larger than the subjects.  I mainly took their picture because they were acting like they were in the stands at a tennis match – ball hit to their left…

… ball hit to their right.

Eventually one turned slightly to give a better look at the side coloring.  Based on where they were at and how damn fast they could maneuver in the air I’m going to go with Tree Swallow.  The white on the neck stayed below the eye-line which kind of ruled out the Violet-Green Swallow (along with the region map).  The coloring seems to fit that VG Swallow better but we’ll use the lighting as an excuse for that.  Sorry, no flight pictures that would have helped to identify them but that is nearly impossible with The Beast – trust me I tried.

Then there is the easily distinguishable Barn Swallow.  These are extremely common around our parts and based on our travels, pretty common everywhere in North America.  We tend to come upon them at trail heads the most where there is usually an informational sign giving details about the sites along the hike – if they have a roof over them, take a gander up in the rafter and you will usually see a nest up there and maybe one or two hanging out in them.  I recommend waiting for them to land in the nest before bothering to try and photograph them – they are the jet fighters of the birding world.

And if you took note of the title you are probably guessing the Swift is up next.  Well, this is what usually happens when you try to capture one of these fast moving birds while hand holding an 8 pound glass.

Actually that is a little bit of a lie – you usually get a hundred blurry pictures and if lucky one or two shots you can actually make out what it is.  I’ve combed through the books trying to match this less than crisp profile up to the reference pictures and the best I can come up with is the Chimney Swift.

It was taken on top of a mountain in the Porcupine Mountains – I was busy keeping myself amused while Linda was taking some scenery shots (you know, because she is a SCENERY photographer hehehe).  So these specimens were flying really high and diving down below us in loose flocks.  The fact they didn’t really sport a lot of light gray underneath pushed me away from the Swallow and the narrowed tail took me to the Swift area.  Didn’t see a lot of Chimneys around there but plenty of cracks and hallows to hang out in.

Sorry for the weak identifications on these, but this is the best I can do at the moment.  Again, feel free to comment on any of them confirming or alternatives.

5 thoughts on “Project Chekov: Sparrows, Swifts and Swallows”

  1. I knew the House Sparrow when I saw it, and I knew the Tree Swallow as soon as I saw the first picture, as well as the Barn Swallow. I’ve heard of the Chipping Sparrow and of course the Chimney Swift but would not have been able to identify them. I have no idea what the other Sparrow is, but there are a lot of them that you can’t really distinguish. There’s a Savannah Sparrow that I’ve sworn I’ve seen–lets look that one up–nope, it’s got yellowish stripes on its head. I know there are endangered Henslow’s Sparrows in the prairie preserve (a major reason it was kept a prairie rather than the originally-planned lake!)–nope, they are tiny and have yellowish heads.

    Let’s see–not a female Chipping Sparrow. Hmm, this guy got a picture of what looks like the same bird but, in my opinion, incorrectly guesses it to be a Song Sparrow (second photo from the bottom):

    All in all, I think the best I can offer is the Diamond Sparrow:

    The range is a bit tricky to reconcile, though.



  2. Hmm, my comment needs moderator approval because I had two links in it. Just an additional comment here to let you know there was a comment.


  3. Checks on the House Sparrow, Tree Swallow and Barn Swallow. The Birdseye view sight has a LOT of birds on it – will probably start following that blog but I’m with you, that Song Sparrow doesn’t really match my reference shots which tend to be a lighter brown, beak a little thinner and the head slope seems to be off – it is, however, exactly the same bird I have in my picture. I am also going to vote against the Diamond Sparrow – as uber cool as it is, not likely to be in our parts (road trip! …er plane trip!). It really has the shape of a Lark Sparrow, but doesn’t have the brown splotch at the rear of the eye. The Savannah just doesn’t seem to sport the sleeker head profile but the coloring in closer. Just don’t know for sure – think there is a lot regional differences as well in these sparrow like birds so tossing in the towel on that one – least I have the others confirmed – thnx


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