The sparrow species derives it name from its colorful repertoire of songs. Enthusiasts report that one of the songs heard often in suburban locations closely resembles the opening four notes of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The male uses a fairly complex song to declare ownership of its territory and attract females.
Singing itself consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs—as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme, unlike thrushes, the song sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.
Song sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared in common between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the song sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared in common with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that song sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate's songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.
This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
In spring and summer, Song Sparrows are one of the most conspicuous of all sparrows. Males sing often, perching around eye level on exposed branches. Also watch for Song Sparrows moving along wetland edges, ducking into dense, low vegetation after short bursts of their distinctive, tail-pumping flight.