Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Beautiful Little Brown Bird

To the uninitiated, sparrow identification can be frustrating endeavor. I suspect many a promising birder has been turned off by a day in weedy sparrow fields. They all are little brown jobs.

During the Charlotte Christmas Bird count I was able to locate a Lincoln’s sparrow, a species that is both often mis-identified and often overlooked. Swamp sparrows are often called Lincoln’s sparrows by the over enthused birder while the more laid back birder may actually call a real Lincoln’s a song, savannah, or swamp sparrow.

Lincoln’s sparrows are tough to find here at any season though. Too bad because they are subtle little beauties. Take a look at the photos below of a Lincoln’s sparrow and  its look-a-likes. 

Lincoln's Sparrow by Phil Fowler

Lots of sparrows are streaky little brown birds. the Lincoln's above combines common characteristics of streaky breast, a middle breast spot, and streaked crown. In the Lincoln's, note the nice buff wash across the top of the chest and the fine vertical streaking of the chest. The combination buffy and gray face makes this a Lincoln's sparrow. The species also has a slight crest which it will raise when alarmed, just as this bird is doing.

Savannah Sparrow by

Savannah sparrows are more heavily streaked on the breast, lack the buff wash there, and have white and sometimes a yellowish wash on the face.

Song Sparrow by 

Song sparrows are perhaps the most abundant sparrow in our area in winter. Note the even heavier streaking with heavier central breast spot. Compared to the daintier Lincoln's, song sparrows are much bulkier and overall much larger.

Swamp Sparrow by Jeff Lemons
Swamp sparrows can show alot of buff coloring and some diffuse streaking with a central breast spot on the underside. The buff is in the wrong place though, restricted to the flanks. and they never have the clearly defined streaking of the Lincoln's.


Linda said...

I love birds, I can watch them for hours. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photos.