It's a good thing sparrows don't know Latin, because the Field Sparrow would not be happy with the name given it by the folks who name birds. Spizella pusilla. OK, no problem with Spizella. That just IDs the Field Sparrow as one of a half dozen species of sparrow that are very similar physically.

But "pusilla?" It means small. Not just small; more like "tiny," "petty," "insignificant." Come on! Give a sparrow a break. The only English word I know of that contains pusilla is "pusillanimous," which means "tiny in spirit" or faint-hearted.

The English name--Field Sparrow--isn't much better than pusilla, but it seems this bird is happy with it. Just don't ask to see its birth certificate....


The Spizella pusilla is not petty or insignificant, and definitely not pusillanimous. They are among the earliest arrivals to the midwest during the spring migration, while the snow is still falling. They get down to the business of making babies early enough to allow them to raise three broods before the autumn winds drive them and the kids south. And no re-using of old nests by this sparrow. A mating pair build a new nest each time they start a new brood. In the early spring, the nest is on the ground. Then, in summer, when snakes and other villains are out and about, they build the nests off the ground in high shrubs or trees.


Even in the hottest days of summer, you can count on being serenaded by Field Sparrows if they're around. I heard three yesterday in a nearby grassland. Their song is interesting. Imagine a pinball machine with whistles instead of bells. As the ball descends, the whistles start out slowly, then they quickly speed up as the ball bounces faster and faster between several bumpers. I'm willing to bet that you've heard one sing before, even if you didn't know it was a Field Sparrow you were hearing. Now you know!

Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.