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Tips for identifying American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow, adult, June on Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Photo by Brian E. Small

Sparrows are scary. At least, that’s their reputation. People new to birding, or even not so new, often regard sparrows as sneaky and streaky, hard to see and hard to ID. But these fascinating birds become easier to recognize when we break them down by season and by groups.

Dividing sparrows up into groups is especially helpful. Some types are solitary and elusive, lurking in dense cover all the time. Others are more sociable, and flocks may gather in open habitats where they are easier to see. Looking at scientific names in your field guide is a good way to start separating out these groups; the first part of the name, the genus, gives you a handle on which species are closely related.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media