November 11, 2023 – Soon after the much-anticipated fall warblers have moved through, peaking in late September through early October and heading south towards their winter homes, autumn hardens its stance, and winter awaits its stage call. Arriving from the boreal forests of Canada, the sparrows, those northern nesters, show up like magic in the yards and the parks amongst the yellowing leaves and dwindling berries on their way to their winter ranges, which can include Illinois. White-crowned, Lincolns, White-throated, Tree, and Fox are just some of the sparrows we see here in Illinois during the spring and fall migrations, some of which stay throughout the cold months. Over a dozen species of sparrows visit Illinois at different times of the year and are considered seasonal. Some species of sparrows arrive in the early spring and nest throughout the summer on the prairies and in the grassy areas along wooded edges across the state. The non-native House sparrow, introduced in North America in the mid-1800s, is a year-round resident and often congregates in numbers at backyard feeders, a nemesis to the human seed provider and probably appreciated only by the Cooper’s hawk. Unlike the bright-colored neotropical warblers, sparrows have muted, earthy colors that can be as beautiful as any, with sharp edges and contrasted tones in their tiny plumage. It is always a treat to see the beautiful White-crowned sparrows arrive in our area in the fall. White-crowned sparrows nest in the far north in Canada and Alaska, which includes the vast arctic tundra region. When it suddenly appears on an exposed branch in a brushy area, the adult White-crowned sparrow is striking in its confident-looking posture, with a bold black and white striped head above a grey-to-brown body. The White-crowned sparrow is a winter resident across Illinois, with higher numbers in the southern part of the state. Another common migrant in Illinois is the Lincoln’s sparrow. These little sparrows are ground nesters, having a summer range from the northern United States across Canada and Alaska and east to the Maritimes. There are also summer populations in the western mountainous regions of the United States. The Lincoln’s sparrows go further south for the winter than the White-crowned sparrows. Their winter range is from the far southern tip of Illinois to Central America. While some continue south, many other species stay throughout the winter here in Northeastern Illinois; it is difficult to imagine a cold and snowy winter scene of leafless bushes and dried plants without those small birds of winter digging and scraping the snow for fallen seeds during those dark months.