Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bird Watch: June 18

The Fox Sparrow. Scientific Name: Passerella iliaca

June 18, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Professional bird photographer Heather Wolf, author of “Birding at the Bridge,” has taken many great bird photos being featured in the Brooklyn Eagle series “Brooklyn Bird Watch.” These birds are not necessarily birds native to Brooklyn Bridge Park, as many of them are migratory birds, or in layman’s terms, just passing through and that would certainly appear to be the case of this excellent Wolf photograph from earlier this year in February of the Fox Sparrow perched on a fallen tree limb sticking out of the heavy snow covering Brooklyn Bridge Park.

We found some interesting bits of information about this small bird. National Geographic described the Fox Sparrow’s song as a “melodic warble composed of 7 or more phrases”, which sounds appropriate, one imagines, for a bird with a scientific name as lyrical as Passerella iliaca. 

The Cornell Lab’s “Cool Facts” quotes an exuberant 19th century naturalist (William Brewster) who was obviously inspired by the song of the breeding Fox Sparrows in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, who sounds like he might have been influenced by the English Romantic Poet John Keats as much as the bird’s song. “At all hours of the day,” he wrote, “in every kind of weather late into the brief summer, its voice rises among the evergreen woods filling the air with quivering, delicious melody, which at length dies softly, mingling with the soughing of the wind in the spruces, or drowned by the muffled roar of the surf beating against neighboring cliffs.”

Interestingly, The Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds” describes, more recently of course, the Fox Sparrow song like this: “In spring and summer, listen for Fox Sparrows’ sweet, whistled song from scrub or forest; also, pay attention for a sharp smack call.”  So, next time one recognizes that “sharp smack call” from a Fox Sparrow in the spring or summertime, let us know. 

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