Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Nature Study Lesson 21: The Chipping Sparrow



"The chipping sparrow is a cheerful and useful little neighbor." -HNS, p.88
I have a lot of trouble being able to distinguish the differences between the small, brown birds that frequent our yard -the wrens and sparrows, so I was pleased when Barb offered this assignment.
“Anyone who attempts to recognize birds by sight alone misses much of the pleasure that comes to those who have taken the time and pains to learn bird songs and use them as a means of bird recognition. It is true that not all people have a talent for music; but everyone interested in birds can learn to identify the songs and most of the call notes of common birds.”Handbook of Nature Study, page 42
I have been working with the kids on identifying birds by their songs as well as their field markings, so we decided to take our bird songs book to the front porch and play the songs it includes of the wrens and sparrows. It has a touch-button electronic module housing common vocalizations of 75 species of backyard birds. We would play a song and then listen to the various birds around, trying to match them. When we got to the Chipping Sparrow, we definitely had a match to birds singing in our yard. We had one bird in particular take notice of our project, and it came closer each time we played the song. After four or so times we played and listened, we had a Chipping Sparrow responding in kind from a bush just a few feet away from us. We decided we better put our bird song book away at this point because I wasn't sure what we were saying to our neighbor bird! (A challenge or a love song?)
Now that I knew we definitely had Chipping Sparrows, I decided to focus our nature study on these sparrows. Now I had the task of teaching the kids to identify a sparrow from a wren. We had already learned a bit about bird beaks, so I showed them how the sparrow has a shorter, heavier beak than the wren because the sparrow eats both seeds and insects whereas the wren eats mostly insects.
Then we went on to distinguish the Chipping Sparrow from other sparrows. The Chipping Sparrow's most distinguishing features are its rusty cap and white eyebrow. We reviewed the body parts of the bird in finding these features. The chipping sparrow also has a white breast which distinguishes it from the song sparrow, which has streaked breast. They colored pictures of the chipping sparrow, keeping these features in mind.
Now we knew what we were looking for, both in sound and sight, and we searched our yard. The boys used binoculars for the first time and were able to see birds more clearly, but they only were able to find cardinals, mockingbirds and grackles....no sparrows or wrens yet! We will keep our eyes and ears out in our future nature walks.
Burgess Bird Book can be found here.

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