by Gary Pendleton
Fox Sparrow Heralds Spring
The Field List of Birds of Maryland, also known as The Yellow Book, is published by the Maryland Ornithological Society. In The Yellow Book are bar graphs for every species that occurs in Maryland, illustrating their occurrence and relative abundance.
The bar graph for fox sparrow starts as a thin line for January, doubles in thickness in mid February through the third week of March. This tells us there is a small winter population of fox sparrows, but that in late winter the population doubles as birds migrate through from south to north.
As they pass us by, the line breaks, then spreads out into dots and finally goes blank
Fox sparrows are among the very earliest migrating song birds. They precede a wave of warblers and vireos that peaks in early May. The Yellow Book also tells us that fox sparrows prefer wood margins, hedgerows, scrub, pine woods, bottom land, forests, flood plains and swamps. They occur in every county in Maryland, though they soon leave us to breed in northern Canada, which The Yellow book does not mention.
They are large, chunky sparrows with bold spots on the breast that coalesce into a solid brown color below the throat. These sparrows bear a passing resemblance to brown thrashers and wood thrushes. They get their name because they sport a lot of rusty, reddish brown on their plumage, especially on the tail.
Along with the fox sparrow, the arrival of phoebes and osprey are other March reminders that spring is coming, as is the blooming of the hard-to-find hepatica in woodlands.
To order your own Yellow Book, also known as Field List of the Birds of Maryland, send a check for $3 to Larry Fry, MOS Executive Secretary, 1202 Ridge Rd., Pylesville, MD 21132 • www.mdbirds.org.