Each year I look for 10 different sparrow species during the month of October in Eliza Howell Park. In the last six years, I have twice seen all 10 and twice seen 9 of the 10.
Note 1: Detroit Audubon is sponsoring a Field Trip at Eliza Howell on October 20, 2018, at 9:00 a.m. Sparrows are among the target birds, as are migrants like Golden-crowed Kinglet and Purple Finch. Non-Audubon members are welcome.
Note 2: All bird photos in this essay were taken by Margaret Weber.
The 10 October sparrows fall into three categories: 1) those that migrate through in the spring and again in the fall; 2) those that are summer residents and are about to leave for the south; and 3) those that are just arriving to spend the winter in Detroit.
Six of the 10 are in the migrant category. White-crowned Sparrow is one. It breeds in north Canada, where it is common, and winters in parts south of Michigan.
Southeast Michigan is part of the breeding range of the Field Sparrow, but I typically see it in Eliza Howell only in the spring and the fall. Thus, I count it as a migrant in relationship to the park. It is a regular brief visitor in October.
The White-Throated Sparrow is another migrant regularly seen in late September and in October. It breeds in northern Michigan and Canada and winters just to the south. In fact, we are at the northern edge of the winter range and they are sometimes seen in SE Michigan in winter.
Three other migrants that usually show up in October in EHP are not pictured here: Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.
The Chipping Sparrow is one of two summer resident sparrows that are normally still seen in October. It always arrives in April and heads for the deep south states for winter before the end of October.
The Song Sparrow, the other summer resident on this list, is the most common EHP summer sparrow and the closest to a year-round resident among the sparrows. Some years, one or two individuals stay through the winter.
American Tree Sparrow
The A. Tree Sparrow is a winter visitor and the one of the 10 that is least reliably seen in October – simply because it sometimes doesn’t arrive until November.
It is a true northern breeder, as can be seen from the range map, taken from the Cornel Lab of Ornithology.
American Tree Sparrow range map
The other winter resident is always found in October in EHP, the Dark-eyed Junco. Though “sparrow” is not a part of its name, that is what it is. It usually arrives early in October and stays until April. Known as the “snowbird,” its arrival signifies to many that winter is coming.
There are two other sparrows (Savannah Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow) that I am likely to see in the park each year, but not on a predicable basis and not in October. Next week is October and I am ready with my sparrow expectations.