You need a DSLR that is capable of a fast frames per second rate and a mid to long range zoom lens to photograph sparrow sized birds successfully. I would suggest the canon eos 40D as it has a very fast frame rate without being too expensive. Other options are many, from manufacturers such as Nikon, Panasonic and Sony.
The lens is a matter of choice but I would recommend a minimum of 300mm at the long end to have any chance of capturing birds at a distance where they won’t be startled by your presence.
It is difficult to hold a lens at 300 mm so a monopod or tripod would be helpful controllingcamera shake when taking the photographs.
Camera settings are the key to getting the best photographs and I personally shoot in manual mode at a speed of no less than 1000th of a second using a 100-300mm lens at 300mm. Depending on the lighting that you are shooting in, this may mean you need to set your ISO to higher levels than you might use to take a portrait.
Frames per second should always be set to maximum and the 40D will usually let me shoot 5 frames per second using the above settings.
To photograph small birds you need to be still, quiet and very patient. Choose a spot where you can leave seed on a daily basis and the birds will come for it at certain times during the day.
Above all enjoy your time with nature and hopefully you will have some memories to remind you of your day. Practice, practice, practice and you will be rewarded.
Article and Photographs courtesy of Danny Vance 4th Dimension Imaging, Photography & Design.