The bird is an american pipit, which breeds on the Arctic tundra and alpine meadows and normally passes through Chicago in fall and spring. Pipits are of their own family--Motacillidae--and occur on every continent. It's unusual to see one during mid-winter here--its mapped winter range stretches only as far north as Arkansas--though I've noticed other reports this winter. There are a couple more photos here.
Monday, January 3, 2011
I went birding at Montrose Point in clear, cold conditions on Sunday. It was snow-less because of the recent thaw. I saw some nice birds, but nothing unusual. I was a little frustrated at the lack of standouts when I stopped to examine a group of birds being fed human food just south of Montrose Harbor. Frankly, I was hoping for a house sparrow since I hadn't checked one off the list yet (a modest goal to be sure). There were a lot of geese, gulls and starlings feasting on bread and other household offal. Soon I saw one sparrow-like bird on the ground, in the shadow of a small tree. It was unusual because it was streaked on its flanks, which quickly ruled out house sparrow and american tree sparrow (which I had seen many earlier). It also bobbed up and down a little when it started walking, and was a bit larger than a sparrow--but not quite a thrush either. I got out of the car and crept within about 10 yards of the bird, which really didn't spook easily, as though it was tired or ill.